At a recent Disability Confident Campaign Event HR Professionals were told to overcome their fear of discussing disability at interviews.  Having initially thought to myself, yes it is not just me saying this, Clare Churchard’s article in People Management sets out some of the fears that HR Professionals have in recruiting People with Disabilities (read more).

I will say something about Disabled People or should it be People with Disabilities towards the end of this Post.

What Are the Fears that HR Professionals Have?

I think for our purposes Alice Weightman, Managing Director at Hanson Search and Work Crowd who was a keynote speaker at the Event gets to the root cause.   “There’s a lot of fear in the [recruitment] industry.  I was always trained never to mention someone’s health issues in the interview room.  The thinking was: ‘Are you asking the right type of questions? Are you going to offend? Are you going to be pulled up in front of an employment tribunal because a candidate has been selected based on their physical ability, or not?’”  She went on to explain that there is  “fear factor that needs to be overcome” particularly among recruiters and HR Professionals because they are “the gatekeepers who allow people into those jobs.  Weightman concludes that “there’s a fear factor in terms of: ‘Can a disabled person do the job? What are the cost implications?’, and, ‘How long will they stay?’ But statistics show that if you engage with disabled people in the right way they are more likely to stay with you in the long term.”

Another keynote speaker was the  Minister for Disabled People, Justin Tomlinson.  He stated that employers needed to find the confidence to talk to disabled candidates and employees about their needs and make adjustments where necessary.  He stated that “many disabled people are highly skilled” and hiring them “makes commercial sense”.  He concludes by expressing the Government’s objective to halve the “disability unemployment gap.” he said.  This would mean at least a Million more jobs for People with Disabilities?

What is the Elephant In the Room?

In my 20 years of building relationships with employers across the South West of England, I am in no doubt that HR Managers and Professionals fear the possible consequences of discussing Disability at Interview.  As Weightman so accurately points out, training strongly advocates that a fair and equitable recruitment process should only concentrate upon assessing the suitability of candidates against the requirements of a specific post.  This in my experience, would include a detailed Job Description and a Person Specification and a well thought through Recruitment Policy with its inherent Procedures.  The point I am hopefully emphasising here is that HR Professionals are so busy concerning themselves with ensuring that they are seen to be fair that the reality is an unfair outcome for many People with Disabilities.  HR Professionals are caught between a rock and a hard place.  However, this pushing workplace decision making cultures to be cautious and subsequently ‘risk averse’.  Weightman sees HR as the gatekeepers and clearly the people who can change this, but they may not be the ones actually making the decisions in the business sectors where they work.  The Minster is right to argue that this comes down to increasing confidence around disability in the workplace, but is it really that easy?

So What Would I do to Increase Confidence for HR Professionals and Eliminate Fear?

I think the issues for recruiters and HR Professionals is a complete route and branch review of their Policies and Procedures which cover the recruitment of staff.  There is no easy fix.  It is also extremely difficult to review something that is too close to home and our unconscious bias’ will lead to us seeing what we want to see.  How often have you tried to ‘proof read’ a document and been convinced that there are no errors, only for a colleague to spot something you did not see?  So why is it often assumed that the people who must undertake a review are also the same people who will be less likely to notice any policy shortcomings.  What is wrong with learning a lesson from the social sciences, ask the people who are actually affected by the Policy to do the job for you?

Fear is an extremely strong emotion that is innate in al human-beings.  It may manifest itself in different cultures differently, but the one universal impact is upon the types of behaviours that it leads us to exhibit.  It is rooted in our personalities and all of this including our real, learned, imagined and negative thoughts affects the unconscious bias that we all have as to what it is like to have a Disability.  We all have prejudices.  Above all else, fear protects us from danger.  We move away from things that can hurt us or have a cost that we do not think is a reasonable price to pay.

You have to become self aware before you change and emotion or behaviour in yourself and others.  Only then can you start to address fear using rationale thinking.

Now, you may recall me expressing an opinion about using the term People with Disabilities.  Anyone of you who knows me well will know that I am no fan of political correctness or the obsessive scaremongering that pervades our daily lives from the populist journalism in the media.  Just to get you thinking of what I mean, I am in my opinion Partially Sighted.  Others call it visual impairment or severely sight impaired.  I was told that my choice of terminology is not acceptable as this is a medical definition of my Disability.  This does not really matter or change anything.  If I was working for you, you could ask me a really simple, but fantastically helpful question.  What should we know in order to help you the most?  People are people first and foremost.  They may also have differences including Disabilities.  Using the term Disabled People suggests that we all have common traits, we don’t.

Now if you enjoyed reading this Blog you can do two things.  First, contact me using my E-mail address, and I will add you to my list to receive my E-Book which is coming out in the next few weeks.  Second, you can pick up where we have left off this month by reading next month’s Blog, which will go into more details about how you can challenge your fears and become more confident about disability in the workplace.

Thank you for reading this month.

Kind regards


Chris Catt

The Enabled Entrepreneur

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