More than one billion people in this world are living with some form of disability. That’s one in seven of us. Eighty percent of these people acquire their disability between the ages of 18 and 64 - the average working age for most - and they are 50% more likely to be unemployed.
At Davos 2019, a panel of business leaders including Accenture’s North America CEO Julie Sweet discussed the power of disability inclusion, led by Binc founder Dr Caroline Casey. At a time when there are more job vacancies than workers in several countries, businesses are realizing the advantages of recruiting from a diverse and inclusive talent pool. Companies in the US that are advancing disability inclusion are also achieving significant gains in profitability, value creation and shareholder returns. However, some companies are still not recognizing the importance - and potential business benefits - of hiring persons with disabilities.
In the US alone, there are 15.1 million people of working age living with visible and nonvisible disabilities, many of whom are un- or underemployed. If companies were to embrace disability inclusion, they would gain access to a new talent pool of more than 10.7 million people, suggests Getting to Equal: The Disability Inclusion Advantage, a recent report from Accenture in partnership with Disability:IN and the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD). This represents a significant opportunity to strengthen their business and the economy.
Why are companies not capitalizing on this untapped resource? Some buy into the misconception that it might be costly for businesses to accommodate specific needs of persons with disabilities. However, our research indicates the opposite - that those companies embracing best practices for employing and supporting persons with disabilities in their workforce are also outperforming their peers and achieving tangible financial benefits.
In fact, the research shows that more inclusive companies are twice as likely to have higher total shareholder returns than their peers, on average. Additionally, companies that have become more inclusive over time are four times more likely to have total shareholder returns that outperform those of their peer group. When it comes to profitability and value creation, these companies achieved 28% higher revenue, double the net income and 30% higher economic profit margins over the four-year period we analyzed, on average.
These gains more than offset the cost of accommodating persons with disabilities. A separate study by the Job Accommodation Network revealed 60% of workplace accommodations can be made for free, while the remaining cost is $500 per employee, on average.
Of course, the benefits of disability-inclusive hiring practices extend far beyond the bottom line. Persons with disabilities must be creative to adapt to the world around them. Strengths such as problem-solving skills, agility, persistence, forethought and a willingness to experiment - all of which are essential for innovation - are an inherent part of reality.
More inclusive workplaces also perform well when it comes to staff retention. Studies show that working alongside employees with disabilities makes non-disabled individuals more aware of how to make the workplace more inclusive and better for everyone. Staff turnover is also lower - by up to 30% - when a well-run disability community outreach programme is in place.
Then, of course, there are the reputational benefits. A survey undertaken by the National Business and Disability Council in 2017 found that 66% of consumers will purchase goods and services from a business that features persons with disabilities in their advertising, while 78% will purchase goods and services from a business that takes steps to ensure easy access for individuals with disabilities at their physical locations. Diversity-inclusive supply chains are also correlated with stronger financial returns, brand enhancement and innovation.
Several companies are raising the bar for disability employment and inclusion. T-Mobile has started sponsoring National Wheelchair Basketball Association youth events, where staff speak with children about what it means to work at T-Mobile, opening children’s eyes to new opportunities. Bank of America has created a support services team comprised of 300 people with intellectual disabilities to manage fulfilment services and external client engagement.
At Boston Scientific, the onboarding process includes a virtual tour and videos from leaders speaking about their diversity and inclusion (D&I) commitments, sharing valuable information for individuals to understand resources available to all employees. CVS Health has refocused its training programmes, from philanthropy to skill search, to capitalize on the unique qualities brought by persons with disabilities, such as creativity, problem-solving and loyalty.
Many companies have seen tangible benefits from disability inclusion, and they are finding that employing persons with disabilities isn’t as challenging as often assumed. For example, Microsoft has built a successful disability hiring programme specific to people on the autism spectrum. The goal of this programme is to attract talent and build an inclusive approach to support individuals on the autism spectrum that will contribute to the way they work as a company in building and servicing its products. The Hiring Program is a multiple-day, hands-on academy that focuses on workability, team projects and skills assessment. The event gives candidates an opportunity to showcase their unique talents and meet hiring managers and teams, while learning about Microsoft as an employer of choice.
At Accenture, we found that being honest about where you stand can be a hard yet crucial first step toward becoming a more inclusive company. As one of the first companies to publicly disclose the demographics of our US workforce by gender, ethnicity, veterans and persons with disabilities, we learned that transparency creates trust.
In 2018, 4.5% of our people in the US have voluntarily self-identified as having a disability, up from 3% the previous year. Accountability and creating an environment of trust where employees feel comfortable self-identifying as having a disability are important measures of inclusion.
Understanding the experiences of our people at Accenture was a critical first step to learning more about how to make disability inclusion an advantage. In partnership with Disability:IN and the AAPD, we analyzed the disability practices and financial performance of the 140 companies participating in the Disability Equality Index. The study Getting to Equal: The Disability Inclusion Advantage revealed four key actions that companies should take to bring about change.
Organizations must ensure that persons with disabilities are represented in their workplace and in their talent pipeline. Beyond hiring, employers should implement practices that encourage and progress persons with disabilities.
Leaders must provide employees with disabilities with accessible tools and technology and/or a formal accommodations programme. To improve awareness and integration across teams, companies should consider introducing formal training programmes for employees without disabilities to learn about the tools and accommodations available to their colleagues.
To foster an inclusive culture throughout the organization, companies must invest in awareness-building through recruitment efforts, disability education programmes and grassroots-led efforts (for example, employee resource groups) and events.
Companies must offer mentoring and coaching initiatives, as well as skilling/reskilling programmes, to ensure that persons with disabilities continue to grow and succeed. Persons with disabilities should occupy roles at all levels, including top leadership positions.
To unleash the trapped value within the persons-with-disabilities community, organizations must assess where they are by leveraging benchmarking tools such as the Disability Equality Index, self-identification of their current employee base, and employee engagement and awareness surveys.
At the same time, CEOs and investors need to understand the strong qualitative and quantitative business case for robust disability inclusion programmes. By making companies aware of the potential gains, sharing success stories and demonstrating how to build a more inclusive talent pipeline, we can quickly get more persons with disabilities into the workforce.