The benefits of barrier free recruitment

Written for HR Zone by Pete Holliday, Managing Director, Sopra Steria Recruitment

According to official figures, the employment rate for disabled people continues to be much lower than that enjoyed by their non-disabled counterparts. In fact, the most recent data shows that around 49% of disabled people aged 16–64 are in work, compared with 81% of non-disabled people, representing a disability employment gap of 32%. But why is it so important that we address this? And what can HR do to help shift the tide?

Assisting more disabled people into work isn’t just about ‘doing the right thing’ – it’s business imperative. According to the Business Disability Forum (BDF), globally one in three employers struggle to find employees with the skills and experience necessary to meet their needs, and almost one-third cite a lack of experience as a key barrier to filling their vacancies. If we can help to remove the barriers that disabled people face in finding work, we can open ourselves to larger talent pools and access candidates who would otherwise be off-radar.

Because of this simple fact, Sopra Steria Recruitment is fully committed to barrier free and inclusive recruitment practices. For us it is business as usual and embedded within our whole organisational approach. We recognise the huge opportunities associated with engaging with disabled talent, which is why we work closely with the BDF and are sponsoring their forthcoming annual President’s Group Dinner. We realise the responsibility we have as a staffing company to help make a positive difference - by becoming accessible ourselves we can also help companies which share our ethos and ambition.

It’s not about talking the talk. In order to succeed in this area, businesses must take conscious steps to become more inclusive. For example, we have ensured that our own recruitment website and promotional materials are fully accessible and we’ve made links with disability organisations and job- boards that are targeted at disabled people such as www.evenbreak.co.uk and the Government’s Universal Jobmatch service. We also ensure that all teams can access BDF training so that they are well equipped with the tools to have conversations with clients and candidates; this ensures that the needs of every one of the jobseekers we work with are met.

Don’t get me wrong, we are not yet in a place where we believe we’ve done everything we need to do – we still have a lot to learn – which is why events such as those hosted by BDF are so important. They allow likeminded organisations throughout the recruitment supply chain to share experiences and pool resources.

From our extensive work with HR leaders and hiring managers on the ground, we know that there is board-level ambition in most companies to find a solution to the underrepresentation of disabled people in the workplace. However it can be a challenge to ensure that this flows throughout an organisation from the top down.

We know it’s a mistake to think that this is a challenge for HR to tackle alone. We can only make a difference if the desire for change is owned right across the business, across every function. While HR can translate ambition into practical steps such as those outlined above, the biggest challenge is a cultural one. Yes, HR needs to lead change – but it’s everyone’s responsibility to own it.