How can companies create a work culture where employees are comfortable disclosing a disability?

Now more than ever, how people identify, as well as when and why they disclose a disability, determines workplace culture. Research shows it is not an overstatement to say that having more people who openly disclose their disability creates an inclusive culture that has the power to dramatically shape future business culture and success. But here’s the reality: In interviews with leaders participating in the 2019 Disability Equality Index (DEI), we uncovered insights that offer a fresh perspective on how to effectively boost the number of people who self-identify as having a disability. There’s room for growth. While 92% of businesses encourage employees with a disability to self-identify and 95% have a confidential reporting process in place, on average, only 3.7% of DEI participants’ employees disclosed their disability to their employer at any point. So how do you capture at least some of the 19% who qualify as having a disability according to the U.S. Census?

Start With These Five Key Actions

1. Educate: Use Your Experts

Many businesses reported that no matter how well vetted their self-ID materials were, there were unanticipated questions and feedback. The most common theme? Whatever collateral you offer, be sure to run it by your in-house experts—people with disabilities, often in Business or Employee Resource Groups (B/ERGs). As one executive said: When people with disabilities talk, non-disabled people listen.

2. Connect: More People, Less Paper

Not sure you have the bandwidth for more town halls, Ted-style talks or lunch-and-learns? This may change your mind: According to a recent Harvard Business Review study, face-to-face requests are 34 times more effective than emailed ones.

3. Lead: Take It From The Top Down

This year’s data shows that 94% of DEI companies have a senior executive who is internally known as being a person with a disability or ally. But less than 10% of senior-level employees were willing to disclose a disability (EY). Consider giving voice to mid-level leaders with disabilities who are eager to talk. In this way, a narrow self-ID conversation expands and shifts to one about openness at the office and showing disability pride. People will ask about their journey. They can talk about their work and being part of a forward-thinking company. Put another way, instead of asking people to ‘come out’, you are inviting them into the fold.

4. Evolve: Can You Do Less With More Energy & Purpose

You may need to change your strategy and then change it again. As long as you stay true to the company’s core values, you won’t find yourself too far off course. It’s your business to push people to engage in normalizing self-identification and to create a strategy in which disability is not equated with a deficit.

5. Trust: How To Get It & Keep It

Encouraging employees with disabilities to self-ID requires trust and trust is built by actions leaders take. Investing time and resources in accessible tools and technologies and creating an easily accessed, responsive accommodations process can send the message that your workplace embraces people with disabilities— from candidates to existing employees. Your company values the creativity and innovation that result from a truly diverse workforce. Beyond that, executives said, be human. Put people, not their disability, first.

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