The Business Case for Hiring People with Disabilities

I have just reviewed a very compelling new research report which concludes that companies who “embrace best practices for employing and supporting more persons with disabilities in their workforce have outperformed their peers.”

The study, presented in a report from Accenture in partnership with Disability : In and the American Association of People with Disabilities, found that companies that championed people with disabilities had higher revenues (up 28%), net income (up 200%) and profit margins (up 30%). The results were based on an analysis of the financial performance of 140 companies that averaged $43 billion in annual revenues and participated in the Disability Equality Index, a benchmarking tool that rates organizational disability practices and policies.

These research findings emphatically contradict a mistaken, but prevalent, perception that hiring employees with disabilities would be a drag on company profitability and performance.

The four key actions that leading companies are taking to reap the benefits of a more inclusive employee population are:

  1. Employ. In order to ensure that individuals with disabilities are included in their workforce companies need to take a close look at their hiring and interviewing process:

“In the case of people with autism, the knowledge base and technical aptitude of individuals can be very high, so we had to figure out why we weren’t placing them. We discovered the problem—the interview process. We changed our approach to what the process should look like. Now we work with a local group to bring candidates in for a week-long academy. We offer team work and technical exercises, and a lot of training. At the end of the week, we have an idea of those who will receive a job offer.” Jenny Lay-Flurrie, Chief Accessibility Officer, Microsoft

  1. Enable. Leaders should provide employees with disabilities with accessible tools and technology and/or a formal accommodations program:

“We have a support services team that is made up of 300 people with intellectual disabilities. They work in four different locations in the U.S., and do fulfillment services and external client engagement. That helps the individual, the community, and us. They service all customers – those with and without disabilities; both internal and external.” Wil Lewis, SVP of Diversity and Inclusion, Bank of America

  1. Engage. Companies need to foster an inclusive culture and build awareness through recruitment, disability education programs and grass-root events:

“Four years ago, we started sponsoring the National Wheelchair Basketball Association. Their youth tournaments are a blast! But we are there for more than the fun. The events allow us to talk to youth about what it means to work at T-Mobile. These conversations are pivotal because many of these kids have never considered that they have an option for an independent life. My favorite part is seeing their self-confidence improve, and the inspiration that comes from these events.” Bri Sambo, Senior Program Manager, Military & Diversity Sourcing, T-Mobile

  1. Empower. Leaders should provide mentoring and coaching initiatives to help people with disabilities to succeed:

“People with disabilities tend to be some of the most creative, innovative and, quite frankly, most loyal employees. A person with a disability wakes up everyday thinking about being innovative – that is a skill set. That ability to problem solve is innate to them. Our training programs quickly went from philanthropy to skill search.” David Casey, VP, Workforce Strategies & Chief Diversity Officer CVS Health

Other companies, such as SAP and Ford, have recently started neurodiversity initiatives to recruit and retain job applicants on the autism spectrum for an array of positions from graphic design to data analysis to software testing. In doing so, they are tapping into an underused but highly talented workforce. Companies can benefit greatly from having these loyal, focused, and uniquely detailed employees, if they can learn how to accept and engage them.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 29% of Americans with a disability were employed in 2018 compared with 75% of those without a disability. With the U.S. labor market as strong (and tight) as it has been in decades, this disparity presents a huge opportunity for savvy recruiters.

As we have observed so many times before in this blog, doing the “right thing” can frequently turn out to be a profitable business decision.

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