Navigating Diversity and Disability at Work

Navigating the intersection of diversity and disability in the workplace can be a daunting journey. As someone who understands firsthand the challenges of disclosing disabilities at work, too often I’ve encountered remarks such as: “You don’t look ill.” 

Initially unsure how to respond to such comments, almost feeling the need to validate my illness in some way, I’ve adopted a simple yet empowering response: “Thank you!”. This came with a growing awareness of ignorance that surrounds invisible illnesses and long-term disabilities. 

A recent report found that 16 million people in the UK had a disability in 2021/22 which equates to 1 in 4 (23%) and of that figure, 70-80% were considered non-visible disabilities.

Initially hesitant to disclose my disability during job interviews, fearing judgment and missed opportunities, I now, as a recruitment professional, recognise the importance of open discussions on diversity and inclusion. Accepting my condition has empowered me to advocate for broader disability awareness and representation, fostering a more inclusive workplace.

Embracing Diversity and Inclusion

Incorporating diversity and fostering inclusion in the workplace isn’t just a moral imperative—it’s a strategic advantage. Diverse teams bring a wealth of perspectives, ideas, and experiences to the table, driving innovation, problem-solving, and organisational success. Moreover, an inclusive workplace culture enhances employee morale, engagement, and retention, ultimately contributing to a more vibrant and resilient workforce.

With individuals spending an average of 85,000 hours at work over their lifetime, fostering an environment of acceptance and support becomes essential.

The Importance of Disclosure

Despite the undeniable benefits of diversity and inclusion, many individuals grapple with the decision of when, or even whether, to disclose their disabilities at work. Concerns about potential discrimination, judgment, or lack of support often loom large, leading some to conceal their conditions altogether. So, the question of when is best to disclose still remains…

A report done by TUC found that 1 in 8 people choose not to disclose their disabilities to their employers, citing fears ranging from concerns about job performance to uncertainty about how to initiate the conversation.

A breakdown of the results found that…

  • 36% of respondents were concerned their employer would think they couldn’t do their job effectively. 
  • 24% were worried that they would be treated unfairly. 
  • 33% were never asked. 
  • 27% of people didn’t think they would be supported and so chose not to disclose. 
  • 16% said they were unsure of how to start the conversation. 

Navigating the disclosure process can be anxiety-inducing. Some individuals opt for early disclosure, while others choose to reveal their disabilities gradually, if at all. The Equality Act 2010 has introduced changes to recruitment processes, mandating inquiries about reasonable adjustments to accommodate candidates’ needs. However, challenges persist.

From January to March last year, the employment gap between people with disabilities at work and people without was 29%. The disability pay gap unfortunately has widened since 2014 and as of last year, it stands at 14.6%

Understanding Reasonable Adjustments

Determining what constitutes a “reasonable adjustment” can be complex, especially for individuals with invisible disabilities. While legislation provides a framework for accommodations, the concept of what is considered ‘reasonableness’ remains subjective. Flexible working, assistive technologies, training, and environmental modifications are all considered reasonable adjustments. However, despite legal protections, instances of inadequate accommodations or disregard for requests remain prevalent. This highlights the need for increased awareness and enforcement of disability rights in the workplace.

The Business Disability Forum conducted a survey that looked into the experience, and impact adjustments have on disabled employees and their job satisfaction. 

  • 78% of disabled employees reported that they had to initiate the process of getting adjustments.
  • 58% of employees attributed obtaining necessary adjustments to their assertiveness and confidence in seeking support.
  • 56% of disabled employees said there are still disability related barriers in the workplace after adjustments have been made.
  • 18% of disabled employees said their adjustments have removed all barriers in the workplace.
  • 10% of disabled employees said it was easy to get the adjustments they needed.

If, like me, you’re unsure of how to broach the topic of disability at work, there are many resources available that can assist you. Whether you’re an employee or an employer, ACAS, Scope, ciphr, and AbilityNet, Diversifying Group (formerly BAME) provide great resources and consultancy. Initiatives like the Disability Confident Employer Scheme (DCES) also strive for greater inclusivity and provide frameworks for organisations to adhere to in their hiring practices. As a recruiter, we too have a duty to promote and enhance D,E&I practices and as such have resources available on our website here

As we strive to create more inclusive and equitable workplaces, it’s imperative to recognise the inherent value diversity brings. By fostering a culture of acceptance, understanding, and proactive support, we can break down barriers, unleash untapped talent, and cultivate environments where all employees can thrive. 

For expert market insights and guidance on developing a D,E&I strategy, check out Harvey John’s latest report here.

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