Look beyond the usual: innovative strategies key for businesses to embrace an inclusive workforce
Perth, 7 June 2019
Image (clockwise L to R from back row): Emma Dalton, Jacinta Reynolds, Meredith Grose, Daniel Valiente-Riedl, Prue Hawkins, Erica Schurmann and Samantha Jenkinson at the 20th JobAccess Employer Seminar co-hosted by Curtin University in Perth
Employing people with disability has clear benefits. Despite this, the unemployment rate of Australians with disability is twice that of people without disability.
To help employers move the dial on disability inclusion in the workplace, JobAccess organised its 20th Employer Seminar in collaboration with alumni partner Curtin University in Perth. Attended by more than 95 employers from diverse industries, the seminar saw a range of experts share their experiences and discuss supports to help businesses access the unique skills people with disability have to offer.
Tailor your approach
In her keynote address, Empire Barristers and Solicitors Director Prue Hawkins talked about her own experience of looking for work in the field of law. “I did not mention I have a disability in my applications for a conscious and purposeful reason. I wanted employers to assess me on my ability and merit,” Prue said. “Every person is different. Look at who is in front of you and work in a way to support them accordingly. One approach can’t apply to all,” she added.
Prue also emphasised the impact workplace culture has on the comfort an employee feels in sharing information about their disability. In most cases, she said, employees might not share information right at the start. “It may happen over time once they have a positive experience.” There is no legal obligation for an employee to share information about their disability unless it affects their ability to do the tasks that must be carried out to get the job done.
Room for improvement
JobAccess General Manager Daniel Valiente-Riedl said employers had much ground to cover when it comes to bringing people with disability into the workforce.
“While research shows 77 per cent of organisations are open to hiring people with disability, two in five employers say it’s ‘a step into the unknown’. The fact is it doesn’t have to be, and JobAccess is here to help,” Daniel said, citing the 2018 Building Employer Demand research report by the Department of Social Services.
Workplace culture and attitudes matter
The employee panel talked about their individual experiences of challenging misconceptions, willingness to ask for help, and the impact employer and peer attitudes can have in the workplace.
Trudi Fisher, Senior Lecturer in the School of Physiotherapy and Exercise Science at Curtin University, said employers looking to hire people with disability should consider them on a level playing field like any other candidate. “We would like the same expectations placed upon us as others. It’s about wanting to do the best job possible, and if we do a poor job – pull us up,” Trudi said. “We don’t want to be seen as different. We want to contribute and do things just like others,” she added.
Jacinta Reynolds, Technical Writer & Data Scientist at Optika Solutions and Board Member at Autism West, shared her insights on how employers can make it easier to support people with disability in the workplace. “As an employer, you won’t see us struggling. But when we request for help, simply ask ‘what can we do’,” Jacinta said. “For employees with disability, asking for help can be difficult as we think of all the possibilities before doing so.” Her advice to employers is to “look at the can’s, not the don’ts. Ask yourself, ‘can I see myself working with this person?’ Using can will change the way you look at the situation,” she added.
Meredith Grose, Project Officer at Curtin University, explained the challenges of asking for help. “It’s the case of me recognising that I’ll need to ask for help, and they are hard questions to ask,” Meredith said. “My experience is people want help but don’t know how to ask for it.”
“Remember, one size does not fit everyone, and we all have different ways of working. This is true if you live with disability or not,” she said, encouraging employers to look outside the box when hiring.
Look for something different
A new addition to JobAccess Employer seminars, the employer panel shared learnings from their journey to becoming disability-confident organisations.
Samantha Jenkinson, Executive Director at People with disabilities WA, said disability inclusion would happen when employers are ready to embrace people with different skills and talents. “I see the world differently. Everyone does. If everyone in the organisation is the same as you, it won’t be an interesting place,” Samantha said. “Next time you recruit someone, and their application looks similar to your resume and experiences, look for something different.”
Erica Schurmann, Senior Advisor, Diversity & Equity (Disability) at Curtin University, said it’s essential to switch the organisational culture to one of optimism when supporting employees with disability. “It shouldn’t be a difficult conversation – ask them what they need to be more effective in the workplace,” Erica said. “The number one reasonable adjustment I get asked for is workplace flexibility. It doesn’t matter what the reason is, that flexibility helps someone to maintain their health and wellbeing in the workplace,” she added.
Emma Dalton, Recruitment Manager at Water Corporation, emphasised the importance of recruitment diversity strategies. “I encourage my recruiters to ask the question, ‘can we run a recruitment diversity strategy for the position we’re hiring?’” she said. Emma also highlighted the role of disability champions in improving awareness and education within the organisation.
The JobAccess Employer Engagement team (or National Disability Recruitment Coordinator) hosts a number of Employer Seminars each financial year in major business centres around Australia. If you’re interested in attending a free seminar on disability employment, register for updates, email or call JobAccess on 1800 464 800.