The world of work is changing. And I’m seeing that like my own priorities, candidates’ priorities have changed too. My last job search was vastly different from previous searches. I wasn’t looking for a specific role or a specific salary. The hours I worked weren’t as important. Or the location. I was looking for an inclusive employer with values aligned to my own. And a role that would enable me to have social impact. No easy feat!
Many of today’s candidates want flexibility, a positive culture, and work environment. And like me, they look for organisations with strong values. If you have a disability, a long-term health condition or carer responsibilities, these matter even more. So how do you hunt out a forward-thinking, inclusive employer? Here are a few of the things to consider…
1) Their values are visible throughout the organisation
A website is a great place to start. Can you find their values? Is their website accessible? Do they show customers and candidates evidence of their ethics, values, and priorities? In contacts with the organisation, how are you treated? If you call up and ask about accessibility, what response do you receive?
2) They don’t just listen to their employees; they act too
Most employees want flexibility in their work. Has this been put into place or is it still being talked about? Do they advertise their vacancies as flexible? Do they have remote vacancies? Do they have employee networks? Are sickness and annual leave policies the legal minimum. Or is staff wellbeing prioritised?
3) It’s not just lip service; they commit to inclusion
Look for signs of positive action towards inclusion. How do they choose to attract candidates? Via mainstream, traditional strategies only? Do they put money and resources behind inclusion? Or is inclusion limited to a paragraph on their website? Do they purposefully target underrepresented groups to increase diversity? Look at their job adverts. Are they open to all or do they only appeal to a few? Are their values clear? Here’s a great example from Guidant Global of what to look for in a job advert.
In a nutshell, you’ll need to become something of a detective to find an organisation that walks the walk. But the result is worth it and for many, it can be life changing.
L&Q has partnered with two leading not-for-profit organisations to ensure it is offering the best service to its disabled staff and residents. As part of their disability inclusion initiative, L&Q will work with Evenbreak, to reach and retain more talented disabled people.
L&Q is also working with disability charity Scope to develop housing advice content for its website and advice line. The two organisations have worked together for the last 18 months to upskill L&Q’s employability service so that they can better engage and support their disabled residents in securing sustainable employment.
Disabled people are more than twice as likely to be unemployed as non-disabled people. To reduce the barriers facing disabled people, L&Q will advertise all its jobs on Evenbreak’s website, a specialist job board run by and for disabled people.
L&Q’s other disability inclusion initiatives for 2019 include:
Improving physical access for disabled staff, residents, and visitors over and above legal compliance“It’s important that there are no barriers to disabled people working at L&Q, and that includes at the very start of their journey as a prospective L&Q employee.”
Organising disability awareness training by Enhance UK
Upskilling staff so they can give great customer service to disabled residents
Reporting on the disability pay gap from 2019 as part of L&Q’s annual Fair Pay report
Offering flexible working for all its roles, including in its contact centre, which will break down barriers for disabled staff or carers
Becoming a Disability Confident committed employer, which means that candidates are guaranteed an interview if they meet the job criteria
Working with Genius Within to help staff understand ‘neurodiverse’ conditions such as autism
Jan Gale, Head of Diversity and Inclusion at L&Q, said: “By partnering with Evenbreak, we are investing in our people. We want our workforce to reflect the diverse make-up of our residents, and we also want to attract people with a wide range of different skills and expertise.
“If we can harness the creativity and innovation that comes from diverse teams, it will help us play our part in solving the housing crisis. There is a huge array of talent out there that organisations can’t afford to ignore as we seek to deliver quality services to our residents whilst building new homes to tackle the supply gap.
Jane Hatton, Founder and Director at Evenbreak, said: “We are delighted that L & Q are leading the way on disability inclusion for housing associations. The benefits of employing disabled people can have an enormous positive impact on all aspects of social housing, including having a more diverse workforce that residents can relate to. Advertising all of their vacancies on Evenbreak will support L&Q in being the type of organisation that excels.”
Stephanie Coulshed, Programme Lead at Scope said: “Based on our in-depth research into the information that disabled people need about housing, Scope’s content designers will collaborate with subject experts at L&Q to develop accessible advice that helps people solve problems. We believe that L&Q’s knowledge of housing issues and commitment to tackling them, combined with Scope’s expertise in content design, will result in an outstanding partnership that has real impact. “
If your organisation has an employment opportunity and you’d like to reach more diverse candidates, or if you have a disability and would like to find an opportunity with an inclusive employer, follow this link to Evenbreak or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
I hear so many recruiters say they are looking for ‘culture fit’ when assessing candidates. Is this wise? In my experience, very rarely.
Culture is defined as “the way of life, especially the general customs and beliefs of a particular group of people at a particular time” in the Cambridge English Dictionary. Or, put more simply, ‘the way we do things around here’. Seeking out culture fit in candidates assumes that ‘the way we do things around here’ is the best, or even the only way things should be done.
The risk (and I think it’s a big risk) is that the practice of appointing people who share your customs and beliefs feeds into ‘group think’. This is where decision-makers sit around violently agreeing with each other, seeing every situation from the same viewpoint. It has been described as “A phenomenon that occurs when the desire for group consensus overrides people’s common sense desire to present alternatives, critique a position, or express an unpopular opinion. Here, the desire for group cohesion effectively drives out good decision-making and problem solving.” (source)
An organisational culture which has become complacent in thinking it already has all of the answers and can’t be improved prevents growth, innovation, disruption and is potentially dangerous to its future success. Including people who will look at issues through fresh eyes, with different ways of thinking and perspectives, and who will question and challenge the status quo is surely more healthy for the business?
Often, those organisations looking for culture fit are afraid of being questioned or challenged. They want people similar to them, with similar ways of thinking, who will just seamlessly slip in to the organisation without causing any ripples. Whilst this may be easier and more comfortable in the short-term, the long-term risks to the business can be huge.
The world is changing. Rapidly. Those who rely on ‘but we’ve always done it this way’ are denying the reality of the need to change, innovate and develop. Those who look for new, exciting and different ways to do things are able to not just adapt to the changing business environment, but to influence that change.
The next time you are recruiting, instead of looking for someone who will disappear into the background of your existing culture, actively seek someone who might challenge and question the status quo. Someone who is different from you. Someone who brings different experiences and ways of thinking with them. Are you brave enough?
A few years ago, if I had asked employers about their approach to diversity, most would have said it wasn’t relevant to them. Business is about making profit, delivering products or services and getting the best people for the job. They weren’t interested in inclusion or having a diverse workforce – they just wanted to get the job done.
Thankfully, things have changed. A bit. Now, when I talk to employers about diversity I don’t always receive blank looks. Some will even show genuine enthusiasm, telling me about their programmes to attract BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) candidates, and their plans to get more women into board room positions. If I’m really lucky, they will tell me about stuff they are doing around LGBTQ+. This is great – diversity is finally on the agenda!
When I respond with equal enthusiasm, and ask what they are doing around disability, the tone changes. Quite often, the answer is – nothing. The reasons vary, but can include:
“We’re focusing on gender this year”
“Most of our roles are very physical”
“We’d love to, but we just don’t have the budget right now”
“We need to get everything in place first”
“It’s not a priority right now”
and even, on one memorable occasion would you believe, “We employed a disabled person once. Didn’t work out”
There seems to be a belief that you can pick and mix which bits of inclusion you like. Except that’s not really inclusion, is it? You can’t be ‘a little bit inclusive’, any more than you can be ‘a little bit’ pregnant. You either are inclusive, or you aren’t. If you are saying “we’ll be inclusive to this group, but not that group” – that’s not inclusion.
This tongue-in-cheek video would be funny, if it weren’t so true to life!
I’ve been to a number of events which were marketed as being about “diversity” or “inclusion” or even “diversity and inclusion”. And the content has purely been about race and gender. No other characteristics got so much as a mention. I’m not saying that race and gender aren’t important. They are – they are crucial. But let’s not pretend that this is about diversity or inclusion unless we, well, include everyone. And let’s not forget that people from ethnic minorities, women, gay people can be disabled too. Or can become disabled. Most (83%) disabled people acquire their condition while of working age. It’s the one protected characteristic that can happen to anyone, at any time.
So is your organisation avoiding disability inclusion using one of the excuses above? Do you sound like the people in the video?
Because if so, however good your race and gender programmes might be, you aren’t being inclusive unless you include disabled people too.
I had a really interesting conversation with some disabled friends recently about inclusive language. The timing was interesting, as it was shortly after hearing of the sad death of Mike Oliver, who was instrumental in promoting a new way of thinking about disability in the 1980s, called the social model of disability. Up to this point, the narrative was a much more medical model – the thinking was that disabled people were somehow ‘broken’, the solution being to try and ‘fix’ us, and make us more ‘normal’. The social model turned this on its head, by acknowledging that what disables people isn’t our differences, but the fact that barriers in society exclude us. As a crude example, the problem isn’t the wheelchair, it’s the steps. If everywhere had flat access, wheelchair users wouldn’t be disabled from getting around in the same way as everyone else. Their impairment doesn’t disable them, the stairs do. Many people on the autism spectrum have much to offer the workplace, but they are often disabled from gaining jobs because the interview process doesn’t work for them. There’s nothing ‘wrong’ with the autistic person, and with more appropriate assessment methods, they wouldn’t be disabled when finding work. For many disabled people, this definition can be life-changing. To realise that there is nothing wrong with you, it’s the barriers you face.
“The Social Model of Disability literally saved my life; after I understood what it was about, it was my lifeline – it freed me up to be who I am”
“It puts the onus back on society to remove the barriers”
“It’s empowering; I can direct my energies into improving my quality of life.” (source)
I think we were all agreed that the social model is the best model we currently have to understand disability. My personal view is that the medical model has its place – I’d love the scientists to find ways of managing pain without side effects, for example – but for those of us who aren’t scientists, the focus should be on removing the barriers (physical and attitudinal) which disable, erm, disabled people.
So what does all this have to do with language? Well, the medical model uses the term “people with disabilities” – in other words, the disability belongs to the person. The social model uses “disabled people”, as in people disabled by the barriers society put in their way. So far, so good. In disability activism, social model language is always used. At Evenbreak, social model language is always used (we exist to reduce or remove the barriers disabled people face when finding work, and thriving in the workplace). Far from believing that disabled people are a problem for organisations, we know that disabled people can be a positive asset.
The challenge is that some disabled people still use medical model language (popular in USA, but also by some in the UK). They say they are a person first, and are not defined by their disability. Few could argue with that. But it still suggests that the disability, the problem, is owned by the individual – that society has no role to play.
In terms of inclusion, I absolutely believe that everyone has the right to define themselves how they choose. If someone chooses to use the medical model, who am I to criticise? And by only using “disabled people”, do we exclude people who choose to describe themselves as “a person with a disability”?
The real issue, my friends and I concluded, when it comes down to it, isn’t about models. It’s more about the words ‘disability’ and ‘disabled’. The prefix of ‘dis’ strongly implies ‘less than’, ‘problem’ or ‘broken’. Whilst the medical model uses those terms to describe the individual, and the social model uses those words to describe barriers in society, both are negative. We all agreed we certainly don’t feel that we are less than others, and struggle to use a negative term to describe us. We all also agreed that we dislike the (mostly American) ‘differently-abled’ (which still describes the individual, not the barriers).
So until someone much more clever than us comes up with a word to replace disabled and disability, the issue is to share awareness of the social model, so we focus on reducing barriers, not blaming disabled people. And, of course, it’s all about context. In other contexts, I’m not a disabled woman, I’m Jane, or Alex and Philippa’s Mum, or Talia’s grandmother. I’m a white woman, not a woman who is white. A gay man is a gay man, not a man who is gay. And in some contexts I’m a disabled woman – disabled by the barriers I face.
Whatever language we use, the focus should be removing barriers and creating accessibility and inclusion for all.
What words do you think would be preferable to either ‘disabled person’ or ‘person with a disability’?
Naidex is Europe’s largest disability event for trade, healthcare professionals and end-users. Taking place at Birmingham’s NEC on the 26th & 27th March, Naidex gathers innovation, information, cutting edge suppliers, and the most inspirational speakers from around the world to one venue, over two unforgettable days
It’s an important event in Evenbreak’s calendar, and we’re involved on both days. On the first day, 26th March, our founder, Jane Hatton is delivering this seminar in Theatre 6 at 11.45am:
What makes disabled people such fantastic employees?
Why should employers be excited about employing disabled people? And how should disabled candidates ‘sell’ themselves to employers? We look at employment from the point of view of the employer and the disabled candidate to see how each can help the other. An inclusive workplace benefits everyone.
And on the second day, 27th March, she’s part of a panel discussing employability
Panel – Employability
Is the workplace becoming more inclusive? Are companies doing everything they can to decrease the employment gap between disabled and non-disabled people?
Our panelists will explore the advantages, opportunities and challenge the stereotypes of employing disabled people.
‘Job carving’, which refers to customising duties or creating specialist jobs for disabled people, is a method that’s being used more and more nowadays. As jobs become more flexible due to technology, companies look to job carving to create opportunities for disabled people. And it turns out that it benefits employees and organisations in many different ways.
Job carving differs from the standard way of a top-down approach to management. With top-down management, employees are indirectly involved in redesigning their jobs by providing information to the management. Job carving, on the other hand, allows the employee and the management to design the job together. According to Jennifer Ho of the University of Ottawa, “It is a strategy in which the individual and the employer negotiate the work environment, job duties and responsibilities, and other conditions of the job.” By (re)designing a position from the employee’s perspective, we can begin to think of how the person’s skills can contribute to the company, rather than impose a standard and “fit a circle into a square” approach. This applies to disabled employees as much as to regular employees, because even employees without impairments have personal limitations. Thus, job carving is not simply about inclusivity but rather, a managerial strategy that aims to maximise human resources from the ground up.
Job carving enables highly-skilled workers to focus on tasks that demand specific skills and delegate other tasks to a new role. Using this approach, disabled people can fulfill both high-skilled and low-skilled roles. The idea is to customise a job in such a way that maximises their time and skills.
There is, of course, the general perception that hiring disabled employees can affect efficiency and productivity. The numbers, however, tell that this is far from the truth. A study by Joseph Rowntree has established that employees with learning disabilities generally stay in their organisations longer than professionals that don’t have a disability. Moreover, an article from The Guardian, cited the Charity Awareness Monitor, specified that “77% of the public think more highly of companies that employ disabled people.” Both numbers indicate that organisations can benefit greatly in terms of workforce stability and their public image. This doesn’t even mention the dedication that many disabled employees have, particularly because our current society hinders them from having the same job opportunities as non-disabled people.
By using job carving strategies, you not only recognise the skills of disabled employees. You also accept disabilities as circumstances for potential excellence. In a previous post here on Evenbreak, we mentioned that disabilities can translate to competencies. A deaf employee, for instance, can be well-versed in reading body language. A blind person can have excellent verbal skills and thus excel in customer relations. Many people who live with some of impairment, compensate for this by focusing on another skill. Organisations may find this very valuable in positions that require expertise and focus, because they are assured that a disabled employee will flourish in a task they have confidence in doing. Job carving helps the transition and ensures that the employee fits perfectly into the position.
When in the process of redesigning a role, you need to do more than simply isolate tasks according to immediate organisational needs. Instead, you should look for neglected areas that can be covered by employees who can take on specific roles. This can be done by interacting with employees as well as clients, and one of the best ways to do this today is to leverage social media. Last year, digital marketing firm Ayima used the meta tag #AskAyima as a platform to start conversations online. Via the meta tag, the company was able to answer queries from digital marketers or potential clients on pressing issues that are making headlines in the digital world. Since the majority of the working population use social media, this setup provides a fast and efficient way to exchange information. Similarly, cosmetics brand L’Oreal Paris launched the hashtag #WorthSaying in a campaign that aims to engage with women and encourage them to bring up thoughts that they do not usually express. Strategies such as the aforementioned will enable an organisation to see angles that are not usually imagined from an insider’s perspective. This is particularly crucial for companies wishing to integrate people with disabilities, as most of the management and employees may not have experience with disabilities. Therefore, when ‘carving out’ a job and designing a role for a disabled employee, organisations could ask its clients for feedback or re-imagine its processes from a disabled person’s perspective.
Of course, another effective way to create inclusive opportunities is to seek the help of an employment consultant or a related social enterprise that is focused on this exact task. After all, the most precise way to customise a job is to determine the exact skills of a potential employee and look for specific tasks that fit these skills.
Regardless of the method, it is clear that job carving has lots of benefits for disabled employees and the organisation as a whole. Disabled employees will benefit from customised roles, enabling them to maximise their most valuable skills without their disabilities getting in the way of productivity. On the other hand, organisations can take advantage of a wider source of talent by opening themselves up to a disabled workforce. Aside from more hiring options, companies can also enrich their corporate culture with an inclusive environment. Disability ceases to be an issue when an organisation fosters a culture that pushes its members towards excellence according to their respective potential and limitations.
If you read this question and your honest gut response is yes, then you’re not alone. 67% of the British public feel the same way. 21% of 18-34-year-olds admit that they have purposefully avoided talking to a disabled person. They weren’t sure how to communicate with them.
The media representation of disabled people doesn’t help. Perform an image search for diversity and you’ll see images of colourful, happy people. Search for disabled people and you’ll see Paralympians or people in wheelchairs. Sometimes just a wheelchair itself.
If you are lucky enough you might spot a disabled person on the television. They are often depicted as an inspirational superstar or weak, defective, a ‘character’. Disabled people are massively underrepresented everywhere. White, non-disabled, heterosexual males still dominate our screens and advertisements. We don’t see our society reflected on screen. And we rarely see it in our workplaces either.
Does your workplace reflect society accurately?
Despite this, 1 in 6 people of working age is disabled. And only 8% of disabled people are wheelchair users. The majority of impairments are simply not visible. So, you will be talking to disabled people without realising it. The trouble is, for those with invisible disabilities, experience has taught us it is far safer to remain invisible. Keep quiet. Find ways around the barriers faced and cross your fingers that you’ll be able to keep it up. And people often do.
Living with a disability breeds strength. It builds resilience, problem-solving, innovative thinking, different perspectives, determination. All of which are massively valuable in the workplace. All are qualities employers tell us they want to see more of.
So how do you get your employees to be open with you? It starts with you and the culture you’ve built in your organisation. Do senior leaders in the organisation talk about their health conditions or challenges openly? Have you found ways to encourage flexibility? Do you have employee networks? Are your sickness policies fair or do they penalise those with long term health conditions or people who care for others? Does your workforce represent the customers and community you serve? Building an inclusive culture takes time, commitment, courage. But the dividends are far reaching…
I speak to employers about recruiting disabled staff on a daily basis. And I always ask this question. The response is always interesting and tells me a lot about an organisation.
Forward-thinking organisations can usually tell me this figure straight away. They also tell me they’re aware that the figure is very likely to be inaccurate. And if I’m having a great day they tell me what they’re doing to change this. They’re aware they don’t know the number of people with invisible disabilities. They’re aware they don’t know the number of employees with long term health conditions. They’re aware that often disabled people don’t disclose their condition. And for good reason.
Evenbreak candidates tell us that if they disclose their disability, they don’t get as many interviews. When they are employed, they often experience stigma and bullying. And fewer opportunities for career progression. So, if they don’t trust the employer, they don’t disclose it. And many disabled people don’t trust most employers. With good reason. Take the word ‘disclose’ for a start. Why not simply ‘tell’? Where else do you have to disclose something? Customs comes to my mind first! A quick internet search brought up this:
make (secret or new information) known. “they disclosed her name to the press” synonyms: reveal, make known, divulge, tell, impart, communicate, pass on, vouchsafe, unfold
allow (something hidden) to be seen. “he cleared away the grass and disclosed a narrow opening descending into the darkness” synonyms: uncover, expose to view, allow to be seen, reveal, show, exhibit, lay bare, bring to light; rare unclose “exploratory surgery disclosed an aneurysm”
It’s not brimming over with positivity, is it? What we all seem to forget is that different abilities, disability, long-term health conditions are normal. It’s part of life. Part of society. They shouldn’t need to be hidden or apologised for. And the battle for equal rights and opportunities shouldn’t be so utterly exhausting.
One day, I hope, it won’t be. Increasingly, organisations are being asked to ‘disclose’ the number of disabled people they employ. Organisations will have to explain the inconsistencies between officially disclosed disability and the actual disability figures given in staff surveys. And they’re being asked to consider the lack of representation of disabled people at senior levels.
So, there are a few questions for employers to ask themselves:
Do you know how many disabled people you employ?
Do you ask? If not, why not?
Do you know what difficulties disabled staff or those with long term health conditions experience while working for you?
Essentially, can you be trusted?
And if not… What actions are you taking to change this?
Today I learned that my five-year-old is a talented actress. I’d had no idea. It’s easy to focus on the things she needs help with instead. I know she struggles to ride a bike. I know she doesn’t like being told what to do. I had been simply enjoying her strengths rather than nurturing them. But now this strength has been spotted, she’s playing Lady Capulet. And in doing so, she lights up. Her confidence has soared. She’s a much happier child. Thank you, William Shakespeare!
As adults, I think we forget to pay attention to the things we’re good at. It’s much easier to focus on the negatives. And our confidence responds accordingly. Many of us can rattle off our positive attributes for CVs and interviews. But I’m not sure we pay much attention to them or sculpt our work days accordingly. Do we ever address the organizational or environmental aspects of our work? Two of the factors that affect our wellbeing and productivity…
What impacts on your work day?
Last week (as a nice change) I was given a computer game to play. Job Fit is a work simulation game. It shows you how you would perform in a job and flags up areas for improvement. In a nutshell, it teases out strengths and lagging skills. But in a fun way! With my nursing background, it was no surprise that I’m good at relating to people. But it also revealed that interruptions stress me. The constant ringing of a telephone in the game set me on edge. So much so that I almost stopped playing… Looking back, I remembered roles where noise massively affected my wellbeing. But at the time I had no understanding of this and no strategies to manage it.
So we need to pay attention. What makes you happier? Which aspects of your work do you focus on and enjoy? What part of your job description would you do for free? And can you build more of this into your role?
What do you find hard? Do you need to develop this area? Or can you focus on your strengths instead? How does your environment affect you? If like me, noise is a stressor, can you work with one earphone in? Turn off your phone when you need to focus? Would you be better working remotely? Or do you thrive on the buzz of a busy office?
Take the time to notice. Look for the people that pay attention. Find out your strengths and latent skills. And ask for what you need. Be Lady Capulet!