Attracting candidates with disabilities

Magnet “attracting” various cartoon characters of different genders and ethnicities

Finding qualified candidates with disabilities and giving them an opportunity to thrive and be successful is easier said than done.

Part 1 of a three-part article. Read Part 2 (on employment policies related to people with disabilities and Part 3 (on retaining employees with disabilities)

Historically low unemployment rates and achieving inclusion goals requires recruiting candidates with disabilities. But, it’s an extraordinarily tight labor market at the moment for skilled tech workers. In Silicon Valley, it is crazy tight. Things have gotten so bad here, there are profitable businesses that have been open for decades that have recently announced they are closing. The Prolific Oven’s reasons for closing are in part because so many Silicon Valley companies are hiring bakers and cooks for their high-tech campuses that it is decimating the bakery’s labor pool.

That means that employers are forced to dip their toe into recruiting waters that Talent Acquisition has formerly they shied away from, including:

  • people who “job hop”
  • people who have done jail time
  • people with disabilities

Most Silicon Valley tech candidates wants good pay, decent benefits, stock options and a 401K plan. Those things are not the focus of this three-part article.

  • This part of the article focuses on specific concerns that are disproportionately important to candidates with disabilities during the recruiting process.
  • The second part of the article focuses on policies that can support employees with disabilities
  • The third part focuses on employment-related considerations that subtly demonstrate that an organization actually cares about its employees with disabilities and isn’t just blindly trying to achieve a numeric goal without thinking through what it takes to make employees with disabilities successful.

Unbiased recruiting

The first thing that people with disabilities need to become employees is an unbiased recruiting process. They are less likely to have finished college or grad school and more likely to have gaps in their resumes. If an organization is using AI-based software to select out the “best suited for success” group of resumes to be reviewed by humans, these two conditions alone may leave a person with disabilities’ resume in the digital round file, even if they are otherwise an outstanding candidate for the position. Even humans can make the same mistake.

In order to combat resume selection bias, (AI or otherwise) the organization must first acknowledge there is a resume selection bias. That’s easy enough to do. All the organization needs to know is the percentage of people that have checked the “yes I’m disabled box” out of all resumes submitted. Compare that number to the percentage of people who have gotten interviews that have checked that box. But wait, you say, we don’t ask that question until after we make an offer? Unless an organization is hitting the federally suggested goal of 7.0 % of employees self-identifying with a disability, chances are they are losing perfectly good candidates with disabilities through discriminatory recruiting processes.

Trained interviewers

The second thing that people with disabilities need to become employees is interviewers that have received training on working with candidates with disabilities. Ever done an interview where:

  • Someone spent the entire discussion staring at your leg braces?
  • You were asked “how many surgeries have you had?”
  • You were told you were brave, tough, strong, or any of the other platitudes that most people with long-standing disabilities despise?

I have, multiple times and it isn’t fun. Another one I hear of frequently second-hand but haven’t had specific experience with is “they talked to the interpreter and not me, the candidate !” Interviewers really need to understand:

  • what questions and comments are appropriate (and more importantly, which ones will get an organization sued)
  • what to do when the interviewer feels uncomfortable during an interview
  • what accommodations are available for this potential employee to make them successful
  • what programs does the organization have to help support the potential employee

No one intuitively knows this stuff, and it’s not as simple as it seems. Training with real practice sessions is the only way to make this work well.

Recruiting at disability-specific events or for disability-specific internships

If an organization wants to recruit more employees with disabilities, they should be going where the candidates with disabilities are. That is at disability-specific events. Another way to attract more candidates with disabilities is by establishing internships specifically for interns with disabilities.

There are plenty of sponsorship opportunities available at college disability-specific events or through non-profits. Make sure to keep in mind the “training interviewers” section above. That applies here too. Nothing negates the goodwill of sponsoring or appearing at a recruiting event that is targeting people with disabilities as potential employees faster than having the table staffed by people who can’t answer the most basic questions about reasonable accommodations or life as a disabled person at the work campus. In baseball parlance that’s “a swing and a miss.” The organization tried, but ultimately failed to make a connection.

How do you know if your organization has a problem recruiting employees with disabilities?

If employing people with disabilities were easy, there would be more than one US company that has achieved the 7 % 503(b) goal of self-identified employees with disabilities. Unless you work for Northrup-Grumman, that successful organization is not yours. To achieve the seven percent goal, approximately one out of every 30 employees needs to have a visible disability, and one out of every ten should be comfortable self identifying that they have a hidden disability. Look around. If the organization isn’t reaching those goals, they have a problem whether or not they admit they have a problem.

If an organization is struggling with recruiting/employing/retaining employees with disabilities, look carefully at each of the items above to see what can be done to make the organization more attractive to them. Start with getting more candidates with disabilities in the door, then move onto making existing employees more comfortable self identifying with disabilities and goals to make employees with disabilities more productive and feel like they belong in the organization, which should be the true goal of all D&I programs.

Like this article?

Read part 2 here

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