Employing disabled people is about more than a moral imperative

One of the best parts of my job is meeting business leaders and their employees. Each time, the messages are the same: disabled workers are an asset to the firm, and having a diverse workforce brings benefits to the workplace. I couldn’t agree more.

Employers are gradually waking up to the advantages of being inclusive. Getting more disabled people into work isn’t about forcing businesses to do the ‘right thing’; it’s part of a wider, necessary shift in how disabled people are viewed by society – ensuring that their talents are acknowledged and valued.

Almost a fifth of the population who are currently out of work are either disabled or living with a long-term health condition. That’s a lot of talent companies are missing out on.

The findings of a new report from Mencap, released to coincide with Learning Disability Week in June, are proof that employers shouldn’t be apprehensive about hiring disabled people and, in fact, have a lot to gain by being inclusive. The research shows that employees with a learning disability are often dedicated to their roles, while the businesses that employ them benefit from reduced staff turnover. McDonald’s is leading the way; one of its disabled employees recently started his 20th year with the company, and was recognised for his “hard work and dedication” and being “an indispensable member of the team”.

Being an inclusive employer also does wonders for your brand reputation. Research shows that 92 per cent of consumers think more favourably of businesses that hire people with disabilities. And 87 per cent said they would prefer to give their custom to companies that recruit disabled people. Sandor, who manages Sarah, a barista at Thistle Hotel in London, has seen this first hand. “Lots of customers return with nice comments,” he says. “And when they come back, they ask for Sarah.”

If you ask employers about the main attributes they desire in employees, friendliness, reliability and motivation would all be up there. I recently hosted a roundtable with the CIPD (a Disability Confidence Leader), to discuss what support organisations need to take their first step towards being an inclusive employer.

The CIPD has also conducted research further demonstrating that businesses are benefitting from disabled employees’ skills and insight. In its 2016 report, Attitudes to employablity and talent, disabled employees were shown to outperform all others in innovation and professional ambition. Innovation is one of the key attributes of any team and rests on having a diverse pool of ideas to draw from, which helps your company to anticipate customers’ needs.

Often, what holds businesses back when considering whether to hire disabled people is a lack of understanding about what this involves, or a fear of getting it wrong. But that’s where the Disability Confident scheme comes in. It is, as Channel 4’s chief marketing and communications officer, Dan Brooke, says: “A tried-and-tested framework that encourages you to think in much more depth about employing and retaining disabled people.”

Through the various levels, employers can take small yet meaningful steps to become inclusive and diversify their workforce. Almost 5,000 UK businesses across all sectors have already become Disability Confident.

With the vast majority of people developing a disability or long-term health condition during their working life, isn’t it time to get ahead of the curve and ensure your organisation is equipped to support disabled staff? 

Find out how to sign up to the Disability Confident scheme at bit.ly/DisabilityConfidentScheme 

Penny Mordaunt MP is the Minister of state at the Department for Work and Pensions