This week I attended the Westminster Business Forum policy conference where a number of engaging speakers tackled the subject of 'Disability in the Workplace – removing the barriers to recruitment and progression, creating inclusive workplace cultures, and next steps.'
A few issues came up, some of which surprised me while others were reassuring. There are many reasons to be optimistic about the future workplace inclusion of people with disabilities. For me, one of the positives is that more than one of the speakers, when commenting on non-inclusive or discriminatory practices which negatively impact on people with disabilities, all said -
'My children won’t stand for this.'
It's true, younger generations appear to care less about what divides us. They are generally outraged by discriminatory practices and attitudes on all protected characteristics.
The 2016 Cone Communications Millennial Employee Engagement Study, for example, found that just under two-thirds of millennials consider a company's social and environmental commitments when deciding where to work. Millennials are defined as those born between 1980 and 2000. These workers, aged 20 – 40, make up an increasingly large percentage of the modern workforce.
And currently one issue affecting many employers is succession planning, and attracting new talent into their businesses.
Logically, one would think that employers cannot afford to ignore the attitudes of potential recruits no more than they can ignore the important demographic of disabled workers and people with long term health conditions, including those within their organisation? Still, a couple of speakers highlighted the fact that around 20% of employers are comfortable openly stating that they would rather not hire a disabled employee. This cannot be logical considering that 83% of employees develop a disability or long term health condition when at work.
One issue which must be tackled is stigma and attitudes. This takes me back to the attitudes of the 20% who are not comfortable hiring disabled employees.
Gareth Parry, Chief Executive of Remploy pointed out that within his organisation there is absolutely no evidence of higher absenteeism amongst disabled staff, quite the contrary. In addition, Remploy's inclusive workplace practices are one reason why the organisation benefits from strong retention rates.
So where do employers start?
It has to be at the top. CEO's, business leaders, partnerships and managers all alike must show a commitment, not just platitudes, but a real commitment to inclusion. They, and indeed all of us, need to look at our own attitudes and language around disability. Is this language always negative, particularly when an employee develops a mental health or physical condition? Do they build 'inclusion' into their mission statement? Do they cover it in induction and training and build it into all strategic decisions?
If they don't buy into it, their staff won't buy into it either. And of course, longer term their children won't put up with the environment they create.
For further information contact Amanda Okill on 01227 763939.