Employing people with mental or physical disabilities could have huge benefits for business, writes Teresa Scott OBE, founder of Kennedy Scott.
Irrespective of their personal circumstances, everyone has a niche. Those living with conditions such as autism and multiple sclerosis or who are combating mental health issues are no exception.
Just because an individual happens to be in a wheelchair, suffers from learning difficulties or faces mental health challenges, it doesn’t mean that they should be bypassed in the hiring process. With the right support, they too can find a suitable career and progress, if they are just given a chance.
Making up a large proportion of the population, people with disabilities also have the potential to add considerable value to organisations by contributing additional skills and talents to the workforce, helping to propel businesses ahead of their industry counterparts.
A staggering 19% of the UK population and nearly seven million people of working age in the UK are registered as disabled or as having a health condition, but only 7% of those with learning disabilities are currently in paid employment. Despite the low rate of people with learning disabilities in employment, 65% want to work and pursue a fulfilling career.
As these statistics show, there is still a vast employability gap for people with multiple health barriers, disabilities and mental health challenges.
Many HR departments have implemented programmes to address gender disparities or to ensure ethnic minorities have equal opportunities in the workplace, but disability is a line of diversity that is rarely debated and acted upon.
All too often, employers are wary about future repercussions associated with hiring individuals battling mental health conditions and disabilities. But my own career experience as the founder of Kennedy Scott, which supports people into employment, testifies that these concerns are ill-founded.
I have always been dedicated to employing based on skills, qualities and credentials for the job, irrespective of their personal circumstances. Many years ago, when recruiting for a director-level role, we employed a woman with multiple sclerosis. Her honesty about the condition was incredibly impressive and from the start we could see beyond her health challenge, recognising her talent and potential.
Heather is a brilliant employee and a committed, reliable, professional and a passionate director. She always gave 110%, worked long hours and became an excellent manager. If anything, she also had a considerably better sickness record than most because she took such good care of herself.
The outcome of our own recruitment strategy reinforced our belief that if an employer turns their attention to the unique skills people have, rather than defining them by what they cannot do, they can recruit from the widest pool of talented individuals possible and successfully meet their organisations’ projected growth paths.
Circle of support
One idea we have pioneered at Kennedy Scott to help this process is the “Circle of Support”, a system that supports individuals with mental health challenges and physical disabilities into sustainable employment.
If an employer turns their attention to the unique skills people have, rather than defining them by what they cannot do, they can recruit from the widest pool of talented individuals possible.”
The aim behind the concept is to bring together key figures in an individual’s life to provide sustained support for that person’s employment journey. By encouraging a long-term support network that has real meaning and solid foundations, the employers we work with can recruit employees who will thrive and develop alongside the business, irrespective of their individual challenges.
It has been wonderful to see the positive impact that our work has had on the attitudes of organisations towards people with disabilities. Nonetheless, society in general has a considerable way to go to establish a workforce culture that is completely inclusive.
The HR community in particular needs to accommodate broader recruitment strategies to help organisations to recruit an effective and stronger workforce. Not only will this assist business success and economic growth, but it will allow individuals with disabilities to overcome the barriers they have and to pursue a fulfilling and successful career.