Why Inclusive Hiring Is Good for Business

Hiring people with disabilities is not only ethical—it's strategic. In this era when consumers and employees are demanding more of organizations, one advocate explains why inclusive talent recruitment is good for the bottom line.

Dave Power is a former venture capital and tech firm executive who now serves as president and CEO of the Perkins School for the Blind. His own son is a Perkins School graduate. You might say he has a unique perspective on the value of building a workforce that includes people with disabilities.

“We can start with the fact that ‘it’s the law, and it’s the right thing to do,’” says Power who is also an instructor at Harvard Extension School. “But the advantages of inclusive hiring go well beyond compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.”

According to Power, hiring practices reveal salient information about a company’s core values. “The composition of your workforce speaks to your company’s identity,” he says. “It tells your customers, employees, and other stakeholders that your organization cares about diversity and about having an environment that is accessible to all.”

And then there are the millennials—an increasingly powerful economic force—who are drawn to mission-driven organizations. They want to work for companies that care about their employees and appreciate the contributions of those with different abilities.

The composition of your workforce speaks to your company’s identity. It tells your customers, employees, and other stakeholders that your organization cares about diversity. — Dave Power

Finally, Power hints at the sizable pool of resources organizations might lose if they don't dive in. “An estimated 10 to 15 percent of the population has some kind of disability,” he says. “That’s a huge segment of the hiring pool with talents you will miss out on if you can’t figure out how to accommodate their differences.” 

If you’re a bit behind, you can start building better practices. Power offers four tips for building a team with a diverse set of abilities. 

Four Tips for More Inclusive Hiring

1. Building Awareness at Your Organization

Awareness is the first step in learning how to attract and retain employees with disabilities. Diversity is already on the radar of hiring managers and recruiters. But according to Power, “Top executives who have a huge amount of influence over the priorities that define company culture need to be more aware of the challenges faced by job seekers who have disabilities.”

“I’m pretty sure most CEOs have no idea, for example, that the unemployment rate among the blind population in the US is between 60 and 70 percent,” he says. In Boston, Power helped establish the Perkins-Business Partnership, an alliance that involves leaders of some of the region’s best known companies. The collaboration works to expand employment opportunities for people who are blind or visually impaired.

To influence change at an organization, HR professionals, hiring managers, and consultants can help senior leaders become more attuned to the needs and talents of certain populations. 

2. Recognizing Potential Barriers

Power says that often, organizations are unintentionally excluding workers with disabilities from finding opportunities in their ranks.

Companies are legally required to make their online information accessible to all. But not everyone knows how.

Inaccessible online information is one obstacle. “Especially for blind applicants, website architecture is key,” he says. “There are fantastic technologies that allow vision-impaired people to access online job postings, but some are not compatible with certain kinds of formats or graphic symbols. Companies are legally required to make their online information accessible to all. But not everyone knows how.” Accessibility tools or consultants can help identify problems and provide solutions. 

Another barrier might come in the form of an unnecessary requirement in a job posting. “If you’re a manager filling out a job description to send to HR, you might automatically check off a box that says ‘driver’s license required’ even if the job doesn’t actually require someone to drive,” Power says. “Once that box is checked, you’ve needlessly excluded a large number of potential employees whose talents could be very valuable to your company.”

3. Facing Challenging Conversations

Employment interviews can be anxiety producing for any job seeker. But a particular challenge for those with disabilities is what Power terms “the moment of disclosure.”

There are principles that guide job interviews. But doing it well—for either party—is more art than science. It takes practice. — Rachel Kerrigan

Not all disabilities are obvious. And interviewers may not realize an applicant has a disability before the conversation starts. “It can be awkward for both parties,” Power says. “The interviewer is legally barred from asking about disabilities but needs to be able to evaluate the prospective employee’s capacity to perform the job. Ideally, applicants will raise the topic and talk about it on their own terms, conveying confidence as they describe how they will carry out the requirements of the job.”

Rachel Kerrigan, community resource manager at the Perkins School, offers some advice for interviewers. “There are principles that guide job interviews. But doing it well—for either party—is more art than science. It takes practice.”

Kerrigan offers the example of an applicant who uses a wheelchair. “If the job requires frequent travel, the interviewer might ask, ‘Can you perform all the job responsibilities with or without accommodation?’ That gives the applicant a chance to talk about how they approach airline travel,” she says. “The goal for the interviewer is to gather information about the applicant’s potential for success in the job and about any accommodations that would help them to succeed.”

4. Navigating the Physical and Relational

Navigation is a final area where Power believes companies can become better at increasing opportunities for those with different abilities. “There are considerations that those with disabilities face every day that employers need to address,” he says.

Transportation to and from work is a major concern. Companies that offer easy access to public transportation have an edge when it comes to inclusive hiring. But getting to the office is just the start.

“When you get to the building, is there a wheelchair ramp?” Power asks. “Are corridors or spaces between desks wide enough for a wheelchair to pass through? Are there obvious tripping hazards?”

Companies can also help their employees navigate relational issues that might arise when an employee with a disability is hired to join an existing team.

“Colleagues with the best intentions may need help with social cues,” Power says. “If your office mate seems to need help with a physical task, do you jump in immediately or first ask if they need assistance? Is it OK to pat a colleague’s guide dog? When someone with vision impairment attends a meeting, does everyone know enough to start by introducing themselves so their colleague knows who is attending? Employers can conduct sensitivity training to establish protocols in advance that will put everyone more at ease.”

Of course, protocols can’t cover every situation. And when uncertainty arises, Power advocates a common sense approach: “If you’re not sure about something, the best thing to do is ask. People with disabilities already know how they want to be supported in the workplace.”

— by Deborah Blagg

Want to learn more about inclusive hiring?

Power is co-developer of the online course Introduction to Inclusive Talent Acquisition (Kerrigan is also an instructor). Offered in partnership with Harvard Extension School, the course is free and takes one week to complete.  

Enroll in the Free Course

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