By Guest Author Charlie Fletcher
Diversity in the workplace is no longer just a lofty goal or a laudable talking point. Rather, workplace diversity is a necessity if your organization is going to remain competitive in today’s increasingly crowded global business environment.
And such diversity initiatives come not a moment too soon. Historically, women, minorities, and members of the LGBTQ+ community have been woefully underrepresented in the labor force, particularly at the management and C-suite levels.
Yet, for all this essential focus on the urgent need to cultivate a more inclusive and equitable labor force, one significant minority group appears to be left largely out of the discussion. And that’s a shame, because this particular group isn’t just massive, but it’s also growing year-by-year, due both to the aging of the population and to the proliferation of more inclusive training and education programs.
We’re referring to the community of persons with disabilities, both visible and invisible, and including the physical, developmental, behavioral, and psychiatric. There are an estimated 1 billion people worldwide living with some form of disability, approximately 15% of the global population. That’s a tremendous pool of potentially untapped talent.
But many workplace diversity and inclusion strategies largely overlook the disability community — to the detriment of the organization, the communities it serves, and the global marketplace.
Why It Matters
Disability in the workplace is about more than giving people a hand up. It’s about enriching your environment, about recognizing the scope of perspective, experience, and talent this particular labor pool has to offer.
The disability community is a powerful, dynamic, and itself highly diverse collective, one that has for too long been underrepresented not only in the workplace but across myriad domains, from the political and social to advertising and the arts.
The inclusion of persons with disabilities in the workplace helps to achieve the primary goal that all diversity initiatives, fundamentally, are intended to serve: to build a workplace that looks like the communities and consumers it serves. Employees with disabilities bring unique experiences and perspectives to the table, which can be leveraged to better serve not only the immense disability community itself but all consumers.
And, best of all, as with traditional diversity strategies, finding the right job candidate is not as difficult as one might think, particularly given the size of the labor pool. Turning to college campuses, particularly offices of diversity and disability, can be a great resource.
The same is true of community organizations serving persons with disabilities, such as vocational rehabilitation offices. Employee referrals can also be an outstanding asset, because, odds are, many of your employees already have someone — or many someones — in their lives who has a disability and would be a tremendous contributor to your company.
Thus, when you make the concerted effort to recruit, retain, and develop employees with disabilities, not only are you accessing a massive labor pool but you are also building a workforce that better reflects your target market. At the same time, you’re leveraging a capacity for innovation and creativity that only the unique perspectives afforded by a truly inclusive workforce can provide.
You may already be committed to including more persons with disabilities in your recruiting and talent development strategies. At the same time, though, you might have some trepidation about the potential financial and operational risks.
According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), employers are required to provide qualified employees with reasonable accommodations to enable them to perform their work effectively. This stipulation, however, can be daunting for some employers, who may fear the financial costs or the potential operational disruptions that might result from making these “reasonable accommodations.”
In truth, however, employers tend to significantly overestimate the costs of accommodating employees with disabilities, which are, generally, less than $500 — with many workplace accommodations costing nothing at all. In exchange for this often nominal investment of money, time, and effort, employees with disabilities contribute significantly to profitability and productivity. Studies show, for example, that revenues for companies hiring employees with disabilities are, on average, 28% higher and profit margins 30% higher.
As you work to increase the diversity of your organization, though, it’s important not to forget candidates with invisible disabilities. Persons who have a mental illness, for example, are often particularly underserved and underrepresented in the workforce. Nevertheless, mental illnesses, such as bipolar disorder and clinical depression, can be well managed with consistent, high-quality mental healthcare. Understanding these disorders and taking measures to accommodate the needs of employees who have them will enhance your workplace, add valuable new talent to your workforce, and serve your organization’s mission of diversity and inclusivity.
Diversity in the workplace is no longer a choice or a luxury, but a necessity. Unfortunately, while businesses are making great strides in this arena, one important minority group still often remains left behind. However, directing your company’s diversity and inclusion efforts toward the recruiting and development of employees with disabilities will not only allow you to tap into an immense talent pool, but it will also enable you to build a more creative, innovative, and profitable organization--one that looks like the consumers it is meant to serve.
Charlie Fletcher is a freelance writer living in the pacific northwest who has a variety of interests including sociology, politics, business, education, health, and more. You can find more of her work by visiting her Portfolio or connect with her on Linked In.