By Molly Thiel
Executive Vice President & Chief Human Resources Officer

Organizations have come a long way in stepping up their diversity and inclusion efforts in recent years as workforces more accurately reflect society. Research proves that a D&I culture results in more profitable, productive companies. While much of these efforts have focused on gender, race, age and sexuality, significant opportunity remains for a large, vital group: individuals living with disabilities.

Just how big is this group? The Centers for Disease Control reports that 61 million adults (that’s about 1 in 4 adults) in the United States live with a disability. This includes physical disabilities as well as mental and emotional conditions. While these employees may need certain workplace accommodations, they are just as capable as anyone of being productive, dynamic members of your team.

October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month, so we wanted to highlight how you can make individuals living with disabilities feel welcome in your organization.

“Invisible” disabilities

Accommodating people with physical disabilities, such as those who use a wheelchair, is standard and expected in today’s workplace. Other disabilities can be more challenging to support. These “invisible” disabilities include ADHD, anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or other ailments that might not be apparent, yet still severely impact an employee’s comfort and productivity.

In addition to the symptoms they’re experiencing, it can be stressful for employees to even bring up these conditions, much less ask the company to help them. People don’t want to feel singled out or be seen as high maintenance, so they often will just keep to themselves.

Organizations should encourage employees to come forward and provide channels for them to discuss any problems they’re having. Employees will get an emotional lift from knowing the place they work cares about them and wants to help.

Employer brand benefits

We may call them “disabilities,” but a healthier, more positive way to look at it is that some individuals just have different needs than others. Each employee should feel comfortable and that they are part of the same team as the person sitting next to them. Employees who feel their organization cares about them and values their skills and abilities are more likely to stick around longer.

This gives you happier, more-engaged employees, and it will go a long way toward making for a more diverse and inclusive workplace. Your organization will have a great story to tell, which will boost your employer brand and make you a destination for an often-overlooked group of people. This is great anytime, but in our current climate of talent shortages and historically low unemployment, it becomes a true advantage.

Ways to improve recruiting efforts

In addition to looking at how well your organization creates a supportive environment for all employees, talent acquisition leaders should evaluate their recruitment strategies to ensure they are as inclusive and welcoming as possible to all candidates. Here are three steps to take to improve how you recruit people with disabilities:

  1. Assess Unconscious Bias: While evaluating and addressing unconscious bias can be difficult and even uncomfortable, it’s a critical step in creating a thriving inclusive culture. Pull it to the front. You need to be aware of unconscious bias hiding throughout the candidate and employee journey that create barriers to welcoming anyone who can contribute to your organization – from job descriptions to sourcing playbook to interviews to offer and onboarding.
  2. Review Job Design: Working with hiring managers, be creative about different ways a job can be completed. Think through the typical processes for completing tasks and consider other unique ways employees can complete those tasks. Do you have the right processes and technology in place to accommodate alternative approaches to do the work?
  3. Update Job Descriptions: The words in a job description communicate two really important messages. Explicitly, they explain what the work is for a role. Implicitly, they paint a picture of what it’s like to work at your organization. Be really careful about using terms that could exclude anyone who is capable and interested from applying. For example, unless there are physical requirements for the job, try to avoid terms or phrases like “work hard, play hard,” “carry,” “lift,” and “climb.” Focus on writing about what the person will do and what the job environment is like for them to do the work.

Connect with Molly Thiel on LinkedIn.