From education to employment

Disability inequity at work: 22% of business leaders unlikely to hire candidates with known disabilities


PageGroup, global recruitment specialist, today releases a study which shines a light on the wide range of perceived barriers facing disabled individuals in the world of work. The findings reveal how far UK businesses still have to go to level the playing field for disabled candidates.

According to Parliamentary Briefing Papers on Disability Equality in the Workplace, 8.4 million[i] people in the UK are disabled and of working age, yet only 4.4 million are in employment. During a period of candidate shortages across multiple sectors, PageGroup polled 1,000 business leaders to understand the obstacles their business faces when looking to hire disabled candidates. 

The findings suggest the top five common barriers business leaders face are:

  1. Having the right internal support in place to accommodate the needs of disabled staff members – 23%
  2. The cost of modifying equipment / technology for disabled employees – 23%
  3. Concerns around legal proceedings if disabled hires don’t work out – 20%
  4. Additional resource commitment to onboard disabled workers – 20%
  5. A perception that disabled people may lack the right skills – 20%

Steve Ingham, CEO of PageGroup said:

“During a time of national skills shortages it is extremely disappointing that businesses are not broadening their talent pools to include disabled candidates as they search for applicants to fill the gaps in their organisations. The disabled community has so much potential and untapped talent to offer the workplace. I am confident that many of the disabled individuals I have met are capable of fulfilling the jobs of ‘able-bodied’ workers and in many instances would far exceed the expectations of business leaders and HR managers. As a disabled person in a wheelchair myself, I have seen firsthand the hidden workforce that the disabled community represents and recognise the critical need for businesses to find ways to appeal to this community more and understand the strengths they offer.” 

Despite the range of perceived barriers, many businesses are making steps to enhance hiring processes for all demographics, which suggests that becoming more inclusive is a business priority for leadership. In the last year over a third (35%) of companies have offered inclusivity training to all interviewers of potential candidates, and 34% have altered the language in job adverts to remove gender biased language. However, there is a drop off when considering policies which directly benefit the disabled community searching for employment. Only a quarter (27%) have introduced tailored job adverts for people with sight difficulties or adopted ‘text to speech apps’. Furthermore, only 13% have hired a specialist recruiter that can advertise a role to underrepresented communities, such as disabled people. 

PageGroup is striving to do more to help businesses. Its Diversity & Inclusion services include online content, interactive inclusivity workshops, Diversity & Inclusion Fitness Assessment and Diversity & Inclusion Strategy Development. PageGroup is also committed to promoting learning and development regarding unconscious bias and inclusion.

Ingham continued: “I am proud to announce today that PageGroup has launched a new D&I Solutions team to help bridge the gap between businesses, disability charities and disabled candidates. This team will address many of the perceived obstacles that business leaders identified in our research and will build partnerships to match talented disabled individuals with future employers.”

“I am also delighted to announce the hire of Ollie Thorn, PageGroup’s new Client D&I Manager, who will run the team entirely made up of employees from under-represented communities.”

Ollie Thorn, PageGroup’s new Client D&I Manager said:

“Our research highlights a huge awareness challenge that disabled people must overcome to obtain employment in the UK. The truth is, I recognise how I am one of the luckier members of this underrepresented community in the workforce. However, there are many like me who have not had the same opportunities to find work. The team I am leading are committed to unlocking the hidden talent within the disabled community and providing a meaningful difference to the lives of millions of people. We cannot solve disability inequality in the workplace alone, so I urge businesses to get in touch so we can help educate them as they navigate their D&I strategies.    

Caroline Casey of the Valuable 500 has also commented:

At a time of the “Great Resignation” and employers searching for talent, PageGroup‘s research highlights the huge opportunity that companies getting inclusion right enjoy – and the need for businesses to improve disability inequity in the workplace at all levels. 18 percent of the U.K. population have a disability – they also have huge talent. The Valuable 500 is striving to fundamentally transform the global business system and fight for an equal and inclusive society for all. By engaging with the world’s largest organisations and thought leaders and ensuring that disability is on their agenda we can collectively reach our goal of inclusion. We have developed and created tools to support our business leaders and their boards on their inclusion journey.  At some point in our lives, every single one of us will experience disability and we all have a responsibility to make humanity function better.”

Methodology: All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from Opinium Research. The sample is made up of 1,001 senior business makers in UK companies. The fieldwork was carried out between 18th – 31st August 2021. The survey was carried out online.

[i] House of Commons Library, Briefing Paper Number 7540, Disabled People in Employment, 24 May 2021

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