Despite growing awareness around the benefits of a diverse workforce, the representation of people with disability in the workforce remains disproportionately low.
So, how can your business remove or avoid inherent biases to ensure more people with disabilities are supported through the application process, and welcomed to the workplace?
Assess the challenges
Susan Scott-Parker, CEO of Business Disability Forum says some hiring practices create obstacles for people with disability. She cites examples of job advertisements only providing a phone number for enquiries, which excludes deaf people or people with a speech impediment; providing application forms in non-accessible PDF form instead of Word, which impacts people with visual impairments; and application forms that time out, which may restrict people using voice-activated software.
Scott-Parker says the growing use of tech tools in recruitment could lead to challenges in ensuring diversity, and advises caution in using these tools in isolation. These include video interviews that, for example, allow only 30 seconds to prepare for a question and three minutes to answer.
“I completely understand the craving for these tools,” Scott-Parker says. “But millions and millions of people around the world won’t make it through a video interview.”
To address issues like this, she suggests employers should try to be flexible and make adjustments at each stage of the hiring process, as required under the Disability Discrimination Act 1992.
“It's about fair treatment, not special treatment. A standardised approach is a rigid process, which is, by definition, discriminatory against huge numbers of people,” says Scott-Parker.
Review and refine
It’s not hard to create a fairer process, says Scott-Parker. She recommends that organisations regularly review their hiring practices and take advantage of audit tools that can assist them.
“Australia is hugely fortunate to have probably the world’s most rigorous recruitment audit tool called the Disability Confident Recruiter. It looks at every step of your process and identifies any obstacles for you to remove,” Scott-Parker says.
Samantha McKenzie, Head of Operations at insurer EML says developing and then regularly evaluating an Accessibility and Inclusion (A&I) plan is also a way to maintain good hiring practices.
“We revisit our A&I plan regularly and we also get a lot of feedback through surveys - that drives a lot of our change and keeps us up to date with how inclusive we may or may not be. We do this with both successful candidates and those who weren’t successful,” McKenzie says.
Jo Edwards, Head of International Financial Services, Risk Management at Commonwealth Bank of Australia (CBA) says there are some simple ways to make sure the hiring process works for all candidates.
“We’ve introduced a recruitability process that guarantees at least one interview for someone who identifies as having a disability, and meets the inherent requirements of the role,” she says.
“We want to give people the opportunity to share more information about themselves and their suitability for the role at the first interview stage, rather than excluding them at the start because another applicant appears to have more closely aligned experience,” Edwards says.
McKenzie’s advice to employers is to be open to hearing from people about their needs.
“I suggest making it very clear that, as an employer, you are open to having a conversation about any adjustments that need to be made in the hiring process. If you have a really rigid process you may be cutting yourself off. Letting people know they can contact you by phone or email can make a big difference for someone,” McKenzie says.
Edwards also advises being flexible.
“We are driven by what each applicant needs. For example, our psychometric testing tools can be adapted for people with certain disabilities to make things easier. Another change is that we may do one-on-one interviews instead of a group-based assessment centre,” Edwards says.
Empower your team
Katrina Jackson, Senior Executive, Healthcare and Strategy at Medibank says putting policies into practice is important.
“You can have all the processes and documentation in place, but unless you really empower the frontline leaders and recruiters to be agile and flexible, they won’t have licence to make the changes for applicants who need adjustments,” Jackson says.
“It is an ongoing process,” she adds. “You need to keep educating recruiters, HR and leaders on the different ways to support people, as it’s not always an obvious disability. It may be Aspergers, dyslexia, or colour blindness. People’s needs are very different,” Jackson says.
Training staff and emphasising internal education should also be a priority, Edwards says.
“In a large organisation, getting consistency right across the hiring process can be difficult sometimes, so we need to make sure there is appropriate training in place for all relevant people. That includes your recruitment team because they will be the ones communicating with people who need any adjustments,” Edwards says.
Promote accessibility and inclusion
Jackson says the key to attracting a diverse team starts with the job ad and all advertising should let people with a disability see they’re already reflected in the workplace.
“My advice is to make sure your company’s A&I statement is a part of the job ad,” she says. “We’ve found this is a better approach than asking people to disclose a disability. In our experience that can often put people off applying. So we changed tack and made it clear we are an A&I friendly employer,” Jackson says.
“The reality is everyone brings something unique to the workplace, and this is why diversity matters,” Jackson says. “If you are acknowledging that, and you have flexibility in that approach, then you can ask the questions that will help people be their best in the interview process.”