Focusing on the ‘ability’ in ‘disability’: 5 benefits of inclusive employment for your small business

If you didn’t catch the ABC’s recent and extremely popular “Employable Me Australia” series, I would encourage you to watch it: if you’re quick you can track it down on ABC iview.

A hit with audiences and reviewers alike, the show follows the experiences of several jobseekers, whose neurodiverse conditions include Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), Tourette’s and Fragile X syndrome. Each of the three episodes present a great cast of characters who are likeable, engaging, vulnerable and sometimes unflinchingly honest. Their stories get under your skin from the get-go; you’ll find yourself cheering and laughing out loud… and you may even shed a tear or two (I’m not crying, you’re crying!). No wonder everyone has been talking about it!

Employing people with a disability may not have previously been something on your radar. Often business owners (particularly owners of small to medium size businesses) are concerned that there may be extra costs and lost productivity, but you may be surprised how unfounded these fears are. The financial and practical supports available for businesses employing jobseekers with a disability can help you to understand, make and fund any adjustments needed to ensure that you and your newest recruit build a mutually beneficial working relationship.

I mentor my Tenfold coaching clients to consider the benefits that a diverse workplace can bring to their small business, including:

1. Accessing an untapped talent pool

Small business owners who refocus their recruitment efforts to be more inclusive are more likely to attract the best talent available. Having a disability shouldn’t necessarily rule out a candidate for a position where they meet or even exceed all the key criteria. It may be that small physical adjustments or a swapping out of responsibilities can end up benefiting the business.

For example, you may have a candidate with a hearing impairment interview for an admin role. They are experienced, qualified and are clearly a great cultural fit, but they would struggle to take minutes at meetings. You think about other members in your team and identify an existing team member who is good at (and willing to) take on that task in exchange for offloading something that they are less skilled at. By taking a flexible and whole-of-business approach to designing your team, your business could be more productive and efficient.

2. Innovation

People with disabilities come up against challenges every day in a world that isn’t designed to accommodate them. This often results in people with disabilities developing increased flexibility, adaptability and superior problem-solving skills. These are the very foundations of innovative thinking – an attractive attribute in any candidate.

Tech businesses have been amongst the first to realise that neurodiversity can make some jobseekers stand out from the crowd. Some are actively recruiting candidates with ASD, for example, because their condition often imbues them with “super powers” in pattern recognition, systems thinking and the ability to pick up errors that most neurotypical (NT) candidates don’t see. As a result, people with ASD are often “boss” at computer programming! (Check out this perspective-changing TED Talk by Temple Grandin: The world needs all kinds of minds.)

3. Building reputation in your community

Social impact is increasingly important to staff, customers and clients. By employing people with alternate abilities in your small business, you are showing that you are committed to supporting the community you live in and making a positive difference.

Businesses whose team includes staff with a disability often have more loyal customers who develop a close relationship with those team members. One example is GG’s Flowers in Canberra, a family business that was established to create meaningful work for Gayana Wijewickrema (their teenaged family member with Down Syndrome) and other people with disabilities in the ACT. Gayana is the face of their brand and it is her job to deliver the flowers ‘with a hug’. She is a bit of a rock star, with lots of customers requesting to have a photo taken with their favourite flower delivery person.

Another benefit may come during the process of submitting for a tender; client businesses are increasingly interested in the diversity of the workplaces they engage for contracts. It may not be entirely altruistic, but bigger companies know the power of ‘social impact by association’; they are hoping that your good reputation will rub off on them a little, so it may just give you an edge over the competition.

4. Increasing staff retention

Studies show that workers with disabilities take less time off, have less incidence of workplace injury and stay in jobs for longer. This is because they typically value routine and are not accepting a role in your business just until something better comes along.

Many people with a disability are driven to succeed in a role by the sense of purpose, place and meaning that their job affords them; their pay-packet may be less of a motivating factor. If you create a positive and inclusive working environment with adequate support and training, you may have a life-long employee on your pay-roll.

There are also positive outcomes and effects for all staff who work in inclusive workplaces. They are shown to be more productive and motivated; when you feel good about working in a business, it can help boost morale and improve teamwork.

5. Playing a part in promoting the rights of people with a disability

With one-in-five people experiencing disability in Australia, it is likely an issue that affects you or your someone you know and love. The bottom line is: making your business a diverse and inclusive workplace is the right thing to do. It also feels good to be part of the solution.

Be the change you want to see 

People with disabilities who gain employment can achieve greater independence and an increase in confidence and self-esteem. Removing the barriers for employing workers with a disability in your small business needn’t be an act of charity; there are lots of reasons that make good business sense as well. As more businesses employ people with a disability it helps to reduce stigma and moves us all a step closer to a world where we focus on the ‘abilities’ of people with a disability – and that’s good for every body.