Piling Canada

Equal Opportunity

Although often left out of the conversation, hiring differently- abled workers leads to all-around business success
Written by Rebecca Henderson
January 2022

Image: rudzhan/123RF

When a labour shortage occurs in any industry, recruiters will look across all demographics to fill those gaps. However, people with disabilities still find themselves overlooked during the hiring process.

“What typically happens when we discuss diversity is most people tend to think of gender, race and cultural ethnicity with disability often left out of the conversation,” said Ingrid Muschta, director of special projects and innovation at the Ontario Disability Employment Network (ODEN), a professional body of more than 130 employment service providers united to increase employment opportunities for people who have a disability.

“Six million Canadians live with a disability,” she said. “That’s a lot of people left out of the conversation.”

In the 2020 “The Global Economics of Disability” report, the Toronto-based research and advisory firm, the Return on Disability Group, found that 90 per cent of companies say they prioritize diversity, but only four per cent include disability in their diversity, equity and inclusion mandate.

While about 15 per cent of Canadians live with a disability, this number excludes people who don’t self-identify with a disability. “Because of the stigma attached to identifying as someone with a disability, we feel that number could actually be much higher,” said Muschta. “So, that’s a huge pool of respondents who don’t see themselves in your organization.”

Muschta says an additional 53 per cent of Canadians are impacted by someone with a disability, whether it’s through family, work or a community member.

“The concept that disability impacts half of the Canadian population should give pause to the construction industry,” she said.

Muschta says it’s essential that companies understand what a disability means to bring awareness to disability-inclusive hiring practices. ODEN uses the World Health Organization’s definition, which focuses on how a person who has a disability interacts with their environment.

“Only six per cent who identify as having a disability will use a mobility device or need that type of mobile accommodation,” she said. “A large percentage of people have invisible disabilities, which are disabilities that go unnoticed by the human eye.”

The Government of Canada’s Employment and Social Development Canada department notes that the top five invisible disabilities relate to pain, flexibility, mobility, mental health and dexterity. This finding means that businesses most likely already have employees who live with a disability.

“When we begin to create an inclusive workforce, we begin to respect people as they are,” said Muschta. “Providing them with the proper framework will allow for open conversations around what someone needs to find success. “The conversation should not be about, what is your disability, but what do you need to be successful?”

Muschta says, for some disabilities, it could be a task list to remind the person what they need to do for the day or give them the pertinent materials in preparation before going into a meeting.

“The accommodation that you provided for that person who is deaf or visually impaired could also be good for someone who is new to Canada and whose English is not very strong,” she said. “So that one accommodation you did for that person who is deaf or visually impaired has now benefited two or three other people.”

Muschta says people should not think of accommodations as only physical changes in the environment. While removing physical barriers is essential – in many organizations, the barriers are attitudinal, like perpetuating harmful myths and stigmas about those with disabilities.

Leonard Cheshire Disability, an organization that provides support to people with disabilities in the U.K., released the 2021 report “Still Locked Out,” that discovered how one-in-five (19 per cent) of businesses are less likely to recruit or hire job seekers who have a disability.

Muschta says this mindset stems from a lack of awareness that has affected how leadership and staff view people who live with disabilities. Some of the report’s findings included 69 per cent of businesses interviewed were concerned with workplace accommodation costs, 44 per cent took issue with an accessible application process and 29 per cent remain hesitant about whether a person with a disability could meet the job’s expectations.

“There are a lot of myths and stigmas that keep people from looking at this talent pool as a solution to their labour shortage,” said Muschta. “The data simply does not agree with those views. Businesses that hire people with disabilities experience a 72 per cent increase in productivity.”

Moreover, Muschta says, according to the not-for-profit organization Job Accommodation Network’s 2020 survey on the benefits and costs of accommodation, 56 per cent of American businesses reported that accommodations cost absolutely nothing to implement, while the typical expense was only $500.

While about 15 per cent of Canadians live with a disability, this number excludes people who don’t self-identify with a disability.

The construction industry will have 257,000 construction workers retire over the next decade, estimates BuildForce Canada, an information hub that studies and forecasts long-term trends in the labour market. They also anticipate the industry will only hire 221,300 recruits, creating a gap of 35,700 job vacancies in Canada.

“For all of us, we want to see ourselves reflected in the places that we want to go and work,” said Muschta. “Some sectors still haven’t committed to establishing a diverse talent pool. Now, the labour shortages have created a need for these sectors to think about how they can engage non-traditional talent pools.”

Typically, the construction workforce hasn’t always embodied the diversity of the general population in Canada. Inclusivity and diversity advocates have long said that the construction industry must create a new story to reach outside the still existent hegemonic masculine talent pool.

“The first thing the construction industry can do is create awareness,” said Muschta, “Construction leaders should look at how they can connect with organizations that promote employment for people who have a disability.”

Muschta says an organization like ODEN can provide the necessary training on disability awareness, enhance inclusion and diversity efforts, increase hiring and retention, and connect the industry to talent who live with a disability.
“Including people who have a disability in any sector is a business proposition that would benefit any employer,” said Muschta.

Developing a more inclusive workforce is just good for business. Global organization Deloitte noted in their 2018 report that 78 per cent of Canadians prefer to work with disability-inclusive companies. The same report also found that companies practicing inclusive hiring are eight times more likely than other businesses to have successful business outcomes.

That report also aligns with a 2018 Accenture study, which discovered a business that practiced inclusive hiring increased employee productivity by 72 per cent, workplace safety by 45 per cent, revenue by 28 per cent and profit margins by 30 per cent.

“This has happened in the mining industry, the agriculture sector and now the construction industry where they must be more mindful of the fact that they need to be reflective of a diverse and inclusive workforce,” said Muschta.
The Canadian Construction Association (CCA)’s business case study, “The value of diversity and inclusion in the Canadian construction industry,” says to fill the labour shortage, the industry must focus its recruitment efforts on traditionally underrepresented groups.

“If you start building a workforce that is inclusive of people who have a disability,” said Muschta. “You will inherently be inclusive of gender, race and cultural ethnicity.”

Overall, inclusive hiring practices build for more effective and reputable businesses finds the CCA. “It allows people to speak up in terms of unsafe behaviour. It facilitates a caring culture, and it helps us to challenge traditional or ‘macho’ ways of behaviour that can harm safety,” the report stated.

Muschta agreed, “When you start intentionally including people with disabilities in your workplace, you begin to drive that positive safety culture.”

In short, hiring a diverse and inclusive staff can offer different approaches and solutions, leading to better processes and innovations. “If I don’t see myself represented in how you’re trying to attract talent, then I won’t feel like I belong in your organization,” said Muschta. “I think we really forget that we have to make a conscious effort reflecting the community that we do business in – people tend to navigate to workplaces where they feel represented.” Piling Canada

Category: Business

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Piling Canada is the premier national voice for the Canadian deep foundation construction industry. Each issue is dedicated to providing readers with current and informative editorial, including project updates, company profiles, technological advancements, safety news, environmental information, HR advice, pertinent legal issues and more.

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