Every great HR professional is aware of their responsibility, as set out in the Equality Act 2010, not to discriminate against those with disabilities, whether physical or mental. However, the fact remains that there is still a proportion of disabled professionals who feel that businesses are yet to recognise, and respond to, their needs.
There is no doubt that we have come on leaps and bounds since the days when disabled workers were confined to opportunities offered by social enterprises such as Remploy, or felt pressured into concealing a non-visible condition from their employer. According to new research from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), more than two fifths of employers have seen an increase in employees reporting mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety over the past two years. This, I suspect, is not due to the rapid deterioration of our collective mental health. Rather, it is indicative of an emerging culture of awareness, acceptance and understanding, where employees increasingly feel empowered to disclose their medical conditions without fear of discrimination.
Meanwhile, according to the latest official figures, there has been a year-on-year increase of 238,000 disabled people in work – the equivalent of almost 650 for every day of the year. This would not be possible without confident HR functions which ensure that reasonable adjustments are made to create a level playing field for all employees – both during the recruitment process and throughout resulting employment.
However, although the tide is changing, it is a sad fact that pockets of discrimination remain. According to recent research by the Recruitment Industry Disability Initiative (RIDI), which was undertaken in conjunction with Diversityjobs.co.uk and Evenbreak, up to 85 per cent of disabled jobseekers can still find the recruitment process challenging.
Some of the most disconcerting comments from respondents include; “Interview with a major employer and the first comment was, ‘You only got an interview because you ticked the disability box’”; “In the application stage on my CV I stated I was in a wheelchair and got no interviews. When I changed to using a prosthetic I got lots of invitations”. And, “After becoming ill and informing my employer, I was refused alternative suitable work, despite the fact I had been with the company for seven years”.
Aside from these clear examples of bad practice, the findings confirm Guidant Group’s belief that small changes in process can have a huge impact on the inclusion of disabled talent. Amongst other things, respondents revealed that offers of flexible working, the omission of the ‘full UK driving licence’ criteria in job applications, and even the availability of different chairs would assist them in finding – and keeping – a job.
I am honoured to have been selected to sit on the judging panel for this year’s RIDI Awards, which celebrate organisations that are making changes such as those mentioned above. It is these companies which have contributed to the brighter outlook that disabled jobseekers can now enjoy, and we must look to them for inspiration in increasing inclusion. After all, it is only through sharing best practice that we jump the final hurdle towards true understanding of the needs of disabled talent.
The RIDI Awards finalists will be announced on 5th October 2015 – I look forward to sharing the results with you next month.