30% of the white collar workforce self-identify as having a disability. *
Until this point, very little research has been done to understand how many people with disabilities are in the workforce, what their specific challenges are, and how to better ensure their successful career paths.
Lime Connect is proud to be a lead sponsor of the Center for Talent Innovation (the leading diversity talent think tank) report, Disabilities and Inclusion, along with our partners Bloomberg, PwC, and Unilever.
This groundbreaking report explores the unique opportunities and challenges professionals with disabilities face in the professional workplace and highlights ways employers can signal inclusion to employees with disabilities and showcases best practices from companies. We are pleased to share the findings of this extensive report. View the full report here.
* An individual with a visible or invisible disability is defined as someone who has, or considers themselves to have, a long-term, or recurring, issue that impacts one or more major activities that others may consider to be a daily function; this definition also includes the perception among others that a disability exists.
Part 1: A Large Cohort Worthy of Investment
As a company, if you exclude that much of your population, you cut yourself off from high-quality applicants, and you can’t reach consumers either. So there is not only a big challenge that needs to be overcome, but an enormous opportunity. – Paul Polman, Chief Executive Officer, Unilever
US employees with disabilities span gender, generation, race, sexual orientation, and every other line of difference you can imagine. Disabilities also come in many forms—visible, invisible, developmental, acquired, temporary, and permanent, to name a few. Employees with disabilities hold high ambitions for their lives and careers, and bring rich ideas with them into the workplace. Navigating the world with a disability, some tell us, also endows them with strengths like agility, empathy, and innovation— skills difficult to teach. Yet they fear disclosing at work—and, in many cases, are unable to fully leverage those ambitions or strengths.
- Millennials are more likely to have disabilities
- Employees with disabilities are more likely than employees without disabilities to have ideas that they believe would drive value for their companies.
- Nearly half of these employees say that such ideas would serve the disability market
- Nearly half of these employees say that such ideas would serve the disability market
When they feel included, people with disabilities bring unique strengths to their companies — agility, persistence, drive, strategic planning, and hard skills, to name a few.
Part 2: Challenges for Employees
“Employees with disabilities quite often enter a workplace intimidated by the corporate recruitment process, and have frequently been hiding their disabilities from peers. Engaging employees with appropriate language can be the first step in breaking down barriers to disclosing and feeling fully included.” – Lime Connect Chief Executive Officer Susan Lang
- 34% of respondents with disabilities say they have experienced discrimination or bias while working at their current companies. Those with visible disabilities are most likely to experience discrimination or bias
- Everyone has to repress some elements of themselves at work. Employees with disabilities, however, are 36% more likely than those without disabilities to expend “some” or “a great deal” of energy repressing their personas at work
- Even though employees with disabilities are as likely to report being ambitious as employees without disabilities (80% vs. 79%), they’re more likely to feel stalled in their careers
- Employees with mental health conditions that were surveyed face some of the challenges the survey uncovered at higher rates compared to employees with disabilities in general
Part 3: Solutions
“We’ve learned a lot from the students—what they’re looking for in an inclusive workplace and the resources, support, and aspects of our culture that are most meaningful to them. And we’ve taken that learning to heart as we continue to evolve our strategy and create new initiatives.” – Jennifer Demirdjian, Director, Office of Diversity at PwC
“As I was meeting people and advocates in the community, I realized that we can and should go further to optimize the Bloomberg user experience for them. Increased accessibility benefits everyone... – Richard Ram, Senior UX Designer, Bloomberg
Backed by the survey data, the thought partners’ expertise, and external research, CTI developed recommendations for companies who seek to engage employees with disabilities and tap into their ideas.
None of these recommendations represent a silver bullet; they are interconnected. Employees with disabilities are a diverse group, and strategies to support and include them must be diverse as well.
The study showed that employees with disabilities in the sample are more likely to disclose to their managers than to their team members, to HR, or to clients. Companies can focus on manager interactions to diminish challenges for employees with disabilities.
An inclusive leader is someone who does at least three of the following things:
- Ensure everyone gets heard
- Give actionable feedback
- Take advice and implement feedback
- Empower team members to make decisions
- Make it safe to propose novel ideas
- Share credit for team success
The survey found that employees with disabilities who have inclusive team leaders are less likely than those without to face discrimination, bias, repress their personalities, feel stalled in their careers, or have their ideas ignored.
Additionally, there was a bump in disclosure across the board among employees with disabilities in the sample who have inclusive leaders.
Managers are saddled with myriad responsibilities—and providing all necessary support for employees with disabilities can’t be one of them. Beyond exhibiting inclusive behaviors and knowing how to have an initial dialogue with an employee with a disability, they need to be able to direct that employee to resources and HR contacts. And the company needs robust structures in place to make that happen.
Here’s how organizations can go about it:
- Have a centralized budget for accommodations so managers don’t have to make the call
- Provide training on...
- What accommodations are available
- How to connect employees to HR in a comfortable and low-pressure way Where to go and who to talk to for further support when it's needed
- How to be an inclusive leader
In addition to supporting managers, companies can also make employees feel more comfortable disclosing to HR. Yet many employees tell us their first—and sometimes only—opportunity to disclose their disabilities to HR is during the job application process. However, applying for a job has traditionally been the time when they least want to mention their disabilities.
Ways to help employees feel more comfortable with disclosure:
Give employees additional opportunities to self-identify as having a disability
Use disclosure training and campaigns to raise awareness (include eye-catching videos, email blasts, or postings on the intranet)
Share with employees why the company wants to collect this information and explain precisely who will have access to self-ID or disclosure data
Among survey respondents, employees with disabilities whose companies provide training on the disclosure and accommodation processes are 48% more likely to disclose to HR.
SIGNALS OF SUPPORT
To provide robust systems of support for employees with disabilities, CTI identified specific measures in three areas. “Signals” provide concrete support to employees affected by disabilities, and also send the message that your company is supportive and inclusive to existing employees and prospective hires.
- Support employees. Lime Connect offered guidance and Unilever and Bloomberg provided best practices for providing support to employees with disabilities.
- Provide role models. Role models inspire diverse talent and drive inclusion
- Establish community. Employees with disabilities say they feel a sense of belonging when they can share their experiences with others who also have disabilities. PwC provided best practices for employers to establish communities for employees with disabilities.
We were proud to be a part of this first-of-its-kind study! We look forward to continuing our mission of rebranding disability and highlighting the benefits and contributions of individuals who happen to have disabilities in the workplace and beyond! View the full report here.