Albert Einstien. Whoopi Goldberg. Stephen Hawking. Franklin Roosevelt. Heather Whitestone (Miss America). Thomas Edison. Christopher Reeves. David Neeleman (founder of the airline e-ticket and JetBlue Airlines).
If these people applied for a job in your organization, what would happen to them? Would those making hiring decisions in your organization be able to spot their abilities and their talents? Or would they just see their disabilities? Would they quickly dismiss them? Would they automatically assume that someone who couldn’t access printed material, had unusual ways of thinking, didn’t walk, didn’t hear or didn’t see couldn’t possibly do the job?
Selecting talent is one of the most important decisions any organization can make. When done well, hiring practices are a foundation for business success. When done poorly, it costs the organization dearly: high turnover, low productivity, lost customers and low morale.
But perhaps the most costly part of ineffective hiring is lost opportunity. Sometimes, at the base of real-life hiring decisions are narrow, preconceived ideas about what talent "looks like" and about who has it - about who can do the job and who can’t.
When our ideas about talent are narrow and preconceived, so is the scope of our search for talent.
Given upcoming changes in the labor market, being able to tap into all available talent will become increasingly key to your competitive advantage. In the workplace of the near future, you cannot afford to turn away from 20% of the talent available to you—you cannot afford to turn away from the 20% of your applicants who are willing, committed and talented people who have disabilities.
A recent study by DePaul University (2007) showed that employees with disabilities:
Any effective hiring practice rests upon an ability to spot talent—to make accurate and timely judgments about the skills, knowledge, behaviors, and attitudes that truly lead to high performance in the job. Given the importance of the selection function, it is surprising how often hiring is left up to chance. Few would consider selecting a new IT system on a whim or leaving product development up to chance. Yet, when it comes to selecting talent, we all-too-often allow hiring to be done “by the gut” or “on the fly.”
Unfortunately, hiring "by the gut" or by using "intuition" often means hiring someone who is "just like me" –hiring someone who meets our preconceived ideas about who has talent and what talent "looks like." This is not because hiring managers are ill-intended or ignorant. It's just part of human nature. Called the halo/horn effect by social psychologists, we have a tendency to make quick "automatic" assumptions about an applicant's ability based on some feature that first happens to catch our attention. All subsequent judgments are then colored by these initial assumptions (Cable & Judge, 1997).
For job applicants with disabilities, it is doubly important that hiring managers not let their decisions be driven by automatic assumptions about who has talent and who can do the job. Too often, applicants with disabilities may be quickly "pegged" by hiring managers’ unquestioned assumptions and lowered expectations (Chan, et.al., 2005).
Yet, studies show that real experience in employing people with disabilities is a powerful way to dispel these negative expectations.
Disability inclusive hiring is not just the right thing to do. When hiring decisions are based on unfounded assumptions about “who can do the job,” businesses may be cutting themselves off from a significant source of talented employees. In the near future, employees will become harder to find and more costly to lose. Can you afford to turn away from 20% of the talent available to you as a business?
Cable, D., & Judge, T., (1997). Interviewers' Perceptions of Person-Organization Fit and Organizational Selection Decisions. Journal of Applied Psychology, 82: 546 - 561.
Chan, F., McMahon, B., Cheing, G., Rosenthal, D., Bezyak. J. (2005). Drivers of workplace discrimination against people with disabilities: The utility of Attribution Theory. Work: A Journal of Prevention, Assessment and Rehabilitation, Vol 25, Number 2.
DePaul University, Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (2007). Exploring the Bottom Line: A Study of the Costs and Benefits of Workers with Disabilities. Retrieved March 31, 2008, at http://www.disabilityworks.org/SiteCollectionDocuments/ResourceSearch/Economic%20impact%20study%20on%20employing%20people%20with%20disabilities%20Comprehensive%20Results%20PDF.pdf#search=A%20study%20of%20the%20costs%20and%20benefits%20of%20workers%20with%
Gilbride, D., Stensrud, R.,Ehlers, C., Evans, E.,Peterson, C. (2000). Employers' Attitudes toward Hiring Persons with Disabilities and Vocational Rehabilitation Services, Journal of Rehabilitation. Vol. 66, Iss. 4, 17-25.
McFarlin, D., Song,J., & Sonntag, M. (1991). Integrating the disabled into the work force: A survey of fortune 500 company attitudes and practices. Employee Responsibilities and Rights Journal, 4(2), 107 – 123.