I feel extremely fortunate that I had the opportunity to speak at DisruptHR Toronto 3.0 last week at the Masonic Temple. Yes I am one of the co-organizers, but like everything else I do, I like challenges so why not organize and do a session. It was actually my 2nd DisruptHR talk, the first one in Kingston a couple of months ago. The topic was the same, “Yes, I Can’t Hear. So What?”, but the delivery was different.
The purpose of my talk was to convey my own personal struggles growing up with a severe hearing loss, but more importantly achieving success in spite of my disability. I then shifted gears and talked about our well-documented global talent problem, specifically in jobs relating to technology (e.g. Software Developer, DevOps Engineer), and that we have an engagement problem. The lethal combination of not being able to find the right talent in a timely fashion and our existing workforce being severely disengaged is definitely not a good one. Finally, I explained bluntly to the 250+ person audience that while we have this talent problem we also have a massive group of intelligent, dedicated, high-functioning and results-oriented professionals who possess a disability, and are either under-employed or unemployed. I’m not talking about a couple thousand, I am talking millions. There are 1 billion people on planet Earth who have a disability, and this group (including their family and friends) represent $8 trillion in spending power. Yet only 16.5% of this group who are able to work are in fact working, compared to 65% of those without a disability. People with disabilities are more productive, absent from work less, more dedicated and loyal to their employers and work harder. So you take everything I said in this paragraph and you’ll realize that there is a massively untapped labour pool just waiting to be scooped up that WILL help any organization achieve greater success.
So What’s the Problem?
I argued that we as human beings really suck at evaluating talent. We are judgmental beings that inadvertently lean on “first impression” as the core determining factor of “fit”, however that is defined. You and I both know this is utter bullshit to the power of utter bullshit. However, I countered by saying people who do not themselves have a disability are clueless how to deal with someone who does. And this is to no fault of their own. I kind of saved the audience from feeling really bad about this situation, but I laid the foundation to my next point which was that we need to educate ourselves on how to communicate with those with disabilities, whatever they may be. I’m not saying be an expert on all things relating to people with a hearing disability. I am saying, we need to be comfortable asking the right questions so that we can provide people with the right supports to enable them to succeed. We as HR and Recruitment practitioners are accountable for providing a safe and inclusive workplace that is free of barriers to enable success.
So, before you naively let your mind tell you what a person with a disability can’t do, or how they do not fit into your organization, read this blog post and then focus on what they can do. Tapping into this untapped pool of talent will help your organization solve any talent attraction, engagement and retention challenges. Give it a shot!