As companies work toward their DEI goals, it’s important that every underrepresented group is considered so recruiters can understand the barriers potential employees face. Oftentimes, when organizations discuss D&I concerns, they do not include people with disabilities in these conversations—especially when it comes to people who have disabilities you cannot see, like mental health challenges. Julie Sowash, Executive Director at Disability Solutions, who is neurodiverse, works to change this oversight by advising companies on hiring and retention strategies. In order to do this, she is, in part, charged with educating organizations on the barriers people with disabilities often face during the hiring process.
In this week’s episode of the “Untapped” podcast, Julie shares some of these barriers with host Tariq Meyers.
1. System Technology Barriers
Julie notes that while job hunting, talent has to interact with about ten different technologies. But if these technologies are not inclusive, they can present a huge barrier for applicants with disabilities.
“The first and obvious barrier, and I think the one that we focus on sometimes too much, is are those systems accessible? Section 508 accessibility doesn't count. It's not good enough. It's barely functional. It's not an integrated experience,” Julie explained. “The first thing is, is our technology WCAG 2.1, 2.2 accessible? Are we building universally and inclusively instead of calling a hotline later on in the process because our system is not accessible? That’s not the kind of experience that we're looking for.”
2. Data Management Barriers
Although the use of data can help recruiters meet their D&I goals, Julie says they can also be so restrictive that they have unintended consequences for job seekers with disabilities.
“The second piece really is that the data management techniques and the data parameters that are used exclude not just people with disabilities, but people who don't fit into the mold of what an employee looks like today. Systems, by their nature, are designed to get us to the best candidate the fastest and the cheapest and that best candidate looks exactly like what our data tells us it looks like. We're starting with a data set that is flawed in its nature. It doesn't have inclusion in it, so it's never going to produce a person with a disability,” said Julie. “Those systems and data management techniques, which are, honestly, in a lot of ways put in because of federal regulations designed to support diverse hiring and affirmative action programs, have created this nuance where companies can get so tight on how they manage their talent pools that showing system discrimination becomes much harder even when it exists.”
3. Supervisory Barriers
Julie credits her success to a boss she had that recognized her humanity and talent, and wanted to help her blossom in her career. However, she sees that many people with disabilities are not that lucky. Although some people in the community may be able to overcome barriers in order to get hired, if they don't have a supportive manager who can relate to them, they will still face challenges.
“Even getting through all of this, not having a manager with some level of comfort around engaging and leading people with disabilities creates another barrier. That barrier really has been created by our HR and legal teams, who treat people with disabilities as a risk, a burden, or a pity case,” she said. “If we can create systems that allow people with disabilities to move through and have equitable opportunity in each part of the talent acquisition funnel, we can get to a place where we're getting in front of hiring managers regularly. Then we can start to have education for those hiring managers so they understand how to integrate people with disabilities, how to train us, how to learn, and work with us and maximize our ability to be productive on the job.”
To learn more about incorporating people with disabilities into the D&I recruitment process, as well as the landscape for this talent in the future, listen to the entire discussion on this week’s episode of “Untapped.”
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