Diversity & Inclusion, Recruiting

Disability as the Invisible Element of Diversity

When people talk about diversity and inclusion, they often think mainly about race and gender. These two aspects are perhaps the most prominent dimensions of diversity, but they’re far from the only ones. Disability, whether physical or mental, is also an important spectrum of diversity. Unfortunately for both employees and employers, people with disabilities often feel the need to conceal their conditions from employers and colleagues.

The (Mostly) Hidden Form of Diversity

“In her research [on the barriers disabled employees and jobseekers face], [University of Derby, U.K., lecturer Cat] Mitchell found that a quarter of those surveyed had hidden their disability from their HR department, and that only 36% were open with colleagues about their condition,” writes Katie Bishop in an article for BBC Worklife. “She says that despite equality legislation, it remains difficult for employees to prove that they have missed out on a role or been passed over for promotion as a result of a disability—causing many to turn to secrecy instead.”

While some people may be embarrassed by their disabilities, there’s also a more practical element to their discretion. “The fear that many disabled individuals feel about revealing their condition is not unfounded,” adds Bishop. “Research suggests that one in three people see disabled people as being less productive than their non-disabled counterparts, a belief that often plays out in workplace situations.”

Does Disability Negatively Impact Job Offers?

In the United Kingdom, 17% of disabled adults report that a job offer had been withdrawn because of their disability, and 30% said they felt they were not taken seriously as a candidate as a result of their disability. Data from a French study suggests that less than 2% of people who mentioned they had a disability in their CV were called for an interview. And in the United States, the unemployment rate for disabled individuals recently rose from 7% to 12.6%.

Importance of Embracing Candidates With Disabilities

Companies that overlook the potential contributions of employees or applicants with disabilities are only increasing their chances of HR challenges. For one, companies that discriminate against individuals with disabilities—whether intentionally or as a byproduct of policies that fail to provide reasonable accommodations—expose themselves to liability for violating laws like the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

But beyond potential legal and regulatory issues, employers that don’t recognize a disabled employee’s value and potential could be missing out on a very large talent pool—a particularly costly oversight in a tight labor market. Moreover, individuals with disabilities who feel the need to hide their disabilities may be less engaged, more stressed, and less productive than those who feel accepted and included.

Lin Grensing-Pophal is a Contributing Editor at HR Daily Advisor.

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