Far too many global organizations remain in the dark when it comes to understanding what proportion of their workforce is comprised of people with disabilities.
That’s the key takeaway from a report published earlier this month by Boston Consulting Group which emphasizes the view that “In a post-pandemic world, companies are drastically underestimating how many of their employees have disabilities.”
Based on a survey of some 28,000 employees across 16 countries, the authors of “Your Workforce Includes People with Disabilities. Does Your People Strategy?” noted that 25% of respondents stated that they have a disability or health condition that limits activities of daily life. This figure stands in sharp contrast to that reported by most large-scale enterprises that place the proportion of employees with disabilities at around 4%-7%.
Additionally, the eye-opening analysis, which was informed through contributions from the likes of Microsoft’s Chief Accessibility Officer Jenny Lay-Flurrie, the much-celebrated late disability rights activist Judy Heumann and both U.S.-based Disabilility:IN as well as U.K.-based Business Disability Forum, revealed that negative experiences and outcomes permeate the working lives of disabled employees across the board.
People with disabilities were 6 percentage points less likely than their non-disabled peers to indicate that they are happy at work, nearly 15 percentage points more likely to say that work negatively impacts their mental and physical well-being as well as their relationships with friends and family and are 1.5 times more likely to have experienced discrimination at their organization than non-disabled staff members.
Across all 16 countries surveyed, individuals with disabilities reported lower feelings of inclusion at work, not just when compared to co-workers without disabilities, but also other groups that routinely form the focus of corporate diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives such as women, the LGBTQ community as well as Black, Indigenous, and other people of color.
A vacuum of information
The implications of these findings for both organizations and employees alike are somewhat unedifying.
For the former, if employers don’t have a sufficient handle on the proportion of employees with disabilities in their workforce because the information they have is inaccurate, then this will undoubtedly have a deleterious knock-on effect on strategy and investment planning around tailored support systems.
Equally, it is difficult to resist the inescapable conclusion that if only low numbers of employees or those with more visible disabilities are disclosing their condition – many are choosing not to follow suit because they don’t feel psychologically safe to do so. Underlying this is very likely to be a fear of stigma and a negative impact on job security and future promotion prospects.
However, perhaps there is also an altogether simpler explanation at play. Could it be the case that organizations are unsure about how many employees with disabilities they have because they just aren’t bothering to check in and ask?
Culture Amp is a global data-driven employee experience platform with over 6,500 clients including the likes of Salesforce and Etsy. The company specializes in the creation of employee engagement and inclusion surveys as well as templates for one-on-one and performance review appraisals with managers.
In a candid interview Culture Amp’s Aubrey Blanche, Senior Director of People Operations & Strategic Programs revealed some arresting perspectives when analyzing what many organizations choose to do or, more precisely, not to do in relation to measuring disability metrics within the workforce:
“It’s astonishing and honestly, indefensible, how few companies are even collecting data on the disabled experience,” says Blanche.
“From what we’re seeing, around 90% of companies are actively choosing not to capture data. Technically speaking, the amount of disability data collected through our platform has actually doubled since 2019 but it’s still only being done by about 6% of our customers,” Blanche explains.
Supporting the findings of the Boston Consulting Group Survey, Culture Amp also unearthed internal data earlier this month which shows that disabled employees rate themselves about 10 percentage points lower in productivity than their non-disabled peers. Disabled men were approximately 17% less likely to be told about potential career opportunities in their organization than their male non-disabled peers.
Part of the answer to overcoming fears around disability disclosure is to anonymize survey data, which sophisticated employee experience software such as that of Culture Amp, is able to do. This should help business leaders to develop more of an overall perspective on the core numbers at play when it comes to disability.
Though, a useful technical workaround – it could be suggested that this is a mere sticking plaster in the absence of a long-term corporate disability inclusion strategy.
Amongst its recommendations for bringing such a strategy to life, Boston Consulting Group’s report urges business leaders to invest in specific policies and practices around disability inclusion such as the appointment of a Chief Diversity Officer and a company-wide commitment to flexible working.
Other initiatives of long-term value cited within the report were the use of mentors for employees with disabilities and a high level of openness and awareness towards the granting of reasonable workplace accommodations like the use of assistive technology and software or small adaptations to the office environment.
“At organizations that have put the above recommendations in place,” wrote the report’s authors, “thereby fostering a more inclusive environment — employees with disabilities can feel safe and supported in disclosing their disability, creating more opportunities to ask for what they need and to perform at their best. And doing so creates more-accurate people data, which allows employers to assess and invest appropriately and thereby maximize workplace productivity.”
The significant potential for a win-win across the board exists but for this to crystallize and not be wasted – tcorporate leaders have to become more acutely aware of the missing employee data across their organization and how this readily translates into absent voices.