disability confidence in workplaces

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Most employers in Hong Kong remain wary that their organisational culture is not ready to hire PWDs. Hong Tran – Partner and Co-Firm Practice Leader of the Global Employment and Benefits Group, and Chair of Diversity and Inclusion Committee in Asia, Mayer Brown highlights steps to overcome that mindset and build a disability confident workplace.

There are, according to the last census taken in 2013, approximately 580,000 persons with disabilities (PWD) in Hong Kong. However, very few employers employ PWD which fails to reflect the social context in which most of those employer's businesses operate.

Without such diversity in their workforce, how can employers know their customers to fully serve them with their services or products? The good news is that more employers in Hong Kong are beginning to view building a disability confident business as a business imperative. For example, one Hong Kong non-profit that serves higher-educated PWDs recently launched a disability inclusion index, and found that participating organisations scored relatively higher in accommodating and adjusting for PWDs compared to other surveyed domains.

Unfortunately, most employers in Hong Kong remain wary that their organisational culture is not ready to hire PWDs, or they are not sure what steps they need to take before they hire someone with a disability. With that in mind, below are some steps employers can take towards building a disability confident workplace.

Understanding the business case

With the Great Resignation phenomenon looming over employers worldwide, including Asia, realising the potential of employees living with a disability could tap into a wider pool of talents and potentially mitigate the effect of the phenomenon. Bringing in such candidates and employees could further improve recruitment practice by focusing on ability and potential, while enabling all to contribute by creating an accessible working environment as well.

Bringing disabled employees on board could also allow the organisation to harness diversity of thought as they bring different perspectives and problem-solving techniques to the table.

This drives innovation and creative solutions and leads to products that could potentially reach new customer bases. One prominent example is Microsoft, where its CEO Satya Nadella leveraged his own experience of caring for his eldest child with special needs to drive unique product designs that enable PWDs to use Microsoft's products without barriers.

Creating an inclusive and supportive culture

Creating a culture of inclusion often starts with the individual. Most large organisations have many well-intentioned individuals, and yet when talking about anything that doesn't feel completely comfortable, they don't always know what to say and as a result, often say or do less than is needed. This is usually the case when people are talking about diversity more generally, and very much so when disability is the main topic.

For some reason when it comes to disability, individuals tend to put an unreasonable amount of pressure on themselves to have to know all the answers before they even begin to have the conversation.

The reality, however, is that most don't know the answers; and that's okay. If everyone had all the answers, it would likely lead to assumptions about an individual, or categorising individuals because they identify in a particular way.

What is far more important is that steps are taken to create a safe space where colleagues can talk about their experiences of living with disabilities or long-term health conditions, educate the organisation, and work with relevant individuals to formalise a plan that supports them and allows them to develop and perform within a supportive culture.

In sum, building a disability confident workplace in Hong Kong is not only the right thing to do, but also a business imperative. By building the business case and creating the necessary environment for disabled employees to thrive within the organisation, companies would be able to reap the benefits and create better value for society at large.


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