Why it's time to build a disability-inclusive workforce (if you haven't done so)

It goes beyond corporate social responsibility, and can go a long way in fostering an innovative and learning culture, creating purpose-driven employees, and more.

Many leaders look at hiring persons with disabilities as a way of corporate social responsibility(CSR) – in the form of "giving back" to the community.

There's no denying too, the benefits it brings to both the individuals and the organisation: for instance, it gives persons with disabilities the opportunity to contribute more directly to society and become more self-sufficient; and it also helps them build a sense of identity, purpose, and social connectedness.

However, while CSR has its place in enabling persons with disabilities – particularly those with higher support needs – it may undervalue the potential contribution of persons with disabilities to the greater business outcomes, a joint report by Singapore's SG Enable and Heidrick & Struggles points out.

In putting together the report, a study was conducted in Singapore, involving employers and employees from 30 companies across sectors and sizes, to explore the benefits of adopting disability-inclusive employment practices.

Overall, the study revealed the following:

#1 It creates purpose-driven employees

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The study found a "significant positive relationship" between (i) adopting more effective disability-inclusive employment practices and (ii) employees taking greater pride in working for their company and perceiving its leadership as being more purpose-driven.

They also felt the organisation had a clearer and more relatable strategic focus and outcome, and rated that they were more likely to stay with the organisation or recommend it as a place to work.

Additionally, among employees involved in the study, when those who believe in the benefits of inclusion see it in practice in their organisation, it "reinforces the feeling that their personal purpose is aligned with that of the organisation," the report highlighted, as well as "enhances their sense of the organisation taking social responsibility and caring about the welfare of all people." 

#2 It fosters an innovative and learning culture

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Per the study, organisations that engage in more effective disability-inclusive employment practices had employees who were significantly more likely to rate their company as being open to change and learning, demonstrate trust in its employees, value their work-life balance, and value and reward their strengths and performance.

There was also a more significant perception of a coaching and teamwork-driven culture; and individuals who worked closely with persons with disabilities were also significantly more positive about the flexibility, responsiveness, and adaptability of the organisation. In particular, they saw greater collaboration and a significantly more innovative culture that created a safe space for ideas to be shared, tested, and rapidly translated into action.

Another positive finding, according to leaders involved in the study, was that after integrating persons with disabilities in the organisation, employees have shown a higher level of empathy not just towards the new hires, but also towards their entire team.

This, in turn, fostered a more understanding work environment across the organisation, while managers also adopted more of a coaching and mentoring approach that they extended to the rest of their teams.

#3 It encourages simpler, digitally-enabled processes

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Apart from the above, the report noted that employees in organisations that adapt to become more inclusive are significantly more likely to view their work processes as efficient. Meanwhile, those who work directly with persons with disabilities believe that the business’ structure and decision-making process were more simplified.

In that vein, the study found that integrating persons with disabilities into the workforce provides an impetus for an organisation to simplify its systems and digitalise them where appropriate. To ensure that all persons with disabilities can work productively from the outset, companies look for ways to refine messaging and internal processes, ensuring they are easy to understand and follow.

As an example, one organisation involved in the study shared that it has "made significant efforts" to create clearer instructions by illustrating process steps with persons with disabilities in mind, which "ultimately benefitted all employees."

#4 It promotes customer-centric thinking

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Last, the study revealed a significant positive relationship between these inclusive practices and levels of customer focus in the organisation, especially so for employees who worked more closely with persons with disabilities.

Citing previous research, the report noted that having a workforce that is more diverse and representative of an organisation’s customer base has significant outcomes on the end-customer experience. This, it added, comes from directly representing the views of minority groups within the organisation, but also indirectly from creating a more empathetic workforce with greater awareness and appreciation of individual cultural differences.

Notably, organisations that adopt disability-inclusive employment practices can gain greater insights into the products and services that will resonate with customer segments that they may previously have overlooked.

Further, in relation to benefit #3 above, simplified processes and clearer communications internally have also had a positive effect on customers – when organisations recalibrate for efficiency and clarity, employees are able to break down their services in a way that is easier for customers to understand and helps identify market opportunities.

It can also help an organisation become more inclusive in terms of its customer base by developing products and services for a more diverse group of people, the study highlighted.

How to build a disability-inclusive workforce

Keeping the above in view, the report showcased ways through which employers can foster a more disability-inclusive environment at work. Among the five practices highlighted, were the following:

  • Equip your organisation with knowledge and skills to be ready to embark on disability-inclusive employment.
  • Engage persons with disabilities as your interns, mentees, or trainees to appreciate their abilities and help them grow.
  • Employ persons with disabilities and receive support through relevant grants and consultancy services.

Lead image / Shutterstock

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