HR Management & Compliance

A Talent Pool That Many Companies Neglect: Employees with Disabilities

A first-of-its-kind study published by the Center for Talent Innovation (CTI) finds that far more people than expected have a disability: 30% of college-educated employees working full-time in white-collar professions in the U.S.disabilities

Using the new, broader U.S. federal definition of disabilities (finalized in 2016, the definition now includes mental health and chronic conditions) and rigorous, nationally-representative data, CTI’s report Disabilities and Inclusion has uncovered that employees with disabilities make up an enormous talent pool that employers overlook far too often—to their own detriment.

The study also uncovered reasons that employees with disabilities have remained under the radar. Sixty-two percent of employees with disabilities have “invisible disabilities”—people can’t tell they have a disability upon meeting them. Additionally, only 21% of employees with disabilities disclose them to their employers’ Human Resources departments.

Invisibility and lack of awareness about this high percentage of their workforce translates into significant costs for employers. Seventy-five percent of employees with disabilities report having an idea that would drive value for their company (versus 66% of employees without disabilities).

Yet employees with disabilities report experiencing negative bias at their companies and a majority feel stalled in their careers. So, despite being more likely than those without disabilities to say they have ideas of market value for their companies, nearly half of those same employees (48%) report that their ideas did not win endorsement from people with the power to act on them.

“From our interviews and focus groups, we learned that people with disabilities are particularly innovative. In order to navigate the world with a disability, they have to problem-solve each day. They can contribute this gift to their employers, but only if they know they will be recognized and rewarded for it,” says Julia Taylor Kennedy, executive vice president and director of publications at CTI—in a press release.

The implications of the research for companies is clear. Employers who want to elicit the best ideas from their people should rely on inclusive leadership—and this carries extra relevance for leaders of people with disabilities.

How? In prior research, CTI determined that inclusive leaders exhibit at least three of the following behaviors: ensuring everyone gets heard, making it safe to propose novel ideas, giving actionable feedback, taking advice and implementing feedback, empowering team members to make decisions, and sharing credit for team success. inclusive team leaders, employees with disabilities are more likely to have their ideas supported or endorsed than those who do not have inclusive team leaders (61% versus 44%). Employees with disabilities who have inclusive leaders are also less likely to face stalled careers.

“Now that we know employees with disabilities make up nearly a third of the white-collar workforce, employers simply can’t afford to ignore this crucial talent cohort,” says Laura Sherbin, copresident of CTI and a managing partner of Hewlett Consulting Partners. “By understanding employees with disabilities—and listening to their ideas—companies can unlock enormous potential.”

CTI’s Disabilities and Inclusion report highlights additional ways employers can signal inclusion to employees with disabilities, and showcases best practices from with expertise on the topic of employing people with disabilities.

In addition to U.S. data, the report spotlights how the experiences of employees with disabilities in Brazil, Germany, India, Japan, and the U.K. differ from the U.S. It also includes spotlights on caregivers, employees with mental health conditions, and employees with autism spectrum disorder.

For more information on Disabilities and Inclusion, please visit

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