The Business Case for Diversity
Many of us will have heard about the advantages of employing different and diverse teams of people at some stage in our careers. We will have heard that it can have a positive impact on our workplaces, on profits, on productivity levels and staff morale in general.
But what does that really mean? And how do we go about doing it? How does diversity and disability impact on my business? Does it have anything to do with me and my employees?
The world of work is changing and how we work is also changing. New technologies enable us to work from anywhere, at any time and interact with each other in different ways. The next generation of employees demand many things from their potential employers and attracting the best talent is proving more difficult than ever.
Today’s workplaces are becoming more diverse and many of us don’t feel prepared for these challenges. Are we missing out on opportunities by not embracing the difficult issues of accommodating disability in the workplace? More than likely we are missing out on potential new markets for our products and services. And probably also missing out on a potential new talent pool that is innovative, creative and thinks differently. This may be impacting negatively on our reputation and brand, possibly without our knowledge. So how do we change our mind sets? What is the business opportunity here?
There are many advantages for companies who include people with disabilities in their workplace. We are always looking for creative thinkers, problem solvers and resilient staff members for our organisations. When we think about what our ‘ideal’ new hire or team member looks like, they probably don’t have a disability.
However, people with disabilities are creative thinkers, problem solvers and exceptionally resilient people. They have had to navigate their lives and educational experiences in a different, and often more difficult, way than their non-disabled peers.
According to the Association for Higher Education Access & Disability (AHEAD), recent research identified a total of 11,244 students with disabilities studying in third level institutions in Ireland in 2015/2016 – 4% increase on the previous year. They’re graduating with the same skills and qualifications as their peers but find it much more difficult to get work. They present differently at interview and don’t fit the ‘ideal candidate’ mould.
We need to challenge the fundamental concept of the ‘ideal’ candidate or co-worker that we carry around in our minds at shortlisting and interview stages and try to include disability within the idea of an ‘ideal’ candidate for our company.
In addition, the next generation of potential employees value the ethical approach of a company. With the ability to know everything about our organisation with a few online clicks, we are being scrutinised and examined before the applicant even considers applying to work with us. So it is very important these days to think about how we are being perceived externally and internally. Including people with disabilities in your workplace and embracing those employees who acquire a disability during their working life helps to make your workplace a nicer place to work and improves your company’s reputation and image.
According to the World Health Organisation, 1 in 7 of us worldwide experience some kind of disability. Census 2011 showed about 600,000 people living with a disability in Ireland or 13% of the population. The majority of those people will have acquired their disability at some stage during their working lives.
In other words, we will be managing a disability-related issue at some stage regardless of whether we feel ready for the challenge. So how do we go about it? What makes retention and disability management work? What’s the magic formula? And what do we do if it all goes wrong? In our own companies, we feel like we are taking a great risk if something happens that we are unsure how to manage successfully.
However, as our staff are aging they are acquiring disabilities all of the time. When a key member of the team gets unwell or has an accident, we can’t imagine how we will cope without their skills. We are also unsure how to manage their return to work and are possibly afraid of getting it wrong or hurting someone’s feelings.
But there are many supports and schemes out there to help you to manage that situation. Early intervention, patience and flexibility are key but communication is the most important factor. Ensure that the communication lines remain open and engage a professional return to work expert to help you. The Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection have a variety of supports to assist and the Employer Disability Information service is available to help you in any way you need.
Diverse teams work better
If we manage to change our mind set and challenge our internal idea of the ‘ideal’ candidate, great things start to happen. If we successful include people with disabilities at all levels of an organisation, difficult problems can be solved by an innovative and creative team, your company’s image improves and you can hold on to key people as they age. In addition, you will have access to new markets for your products and services that are estimated to be worth US$8 trillion worldwide.
By embracing difference and new ways of working, we can reap the rewards of diversity and disability in the workplace.