Embracing diversity: Could staff with disabilities be a key to greater productivity?

Image: Anna Stove
Rethinking concepts around ‘disability’ when it comes to hiring people — and reviewing recruitment processes and work spaces to accommodate people who have disabilities — could make New Zealand businesses more competitive says the NZ head of one of the world’s largest healthcare companies.

Anna Stove, GM of the New Zealand division of global pharmaceutical company GSK, says that Kiwi businesses may be missing out on an excellent untapped resource by failing to embrace diversity of ability when selecting employees.

“I think most managers embrace the concept of diversity, but often have an unconscious bias to not go into the disability arena,” says Stove.

“Successive studies have shown that having a diverse organisation, at all levels, is good for business as this brings better quality decisions through diversity of thought, experience and style, and a more balanced approach to risk.”

Idealog asked Anna just what the challenges, costs and benefits of taking a pro-active approach to hiring people with disabilities is for New Zealand managers.   

Q. Can you elaborate a bit on how staff with disabilities can be turned into assets for Kiwi businesses?

A. The benefits for companies of hiring and providing a flexible workplace for a more diverse group of people, including those with disabilities have been proven globally.  Successive studies have shown that having a diverse organisation, at all levels, is good for business as this brings better quality decisions through diversity of thought, experience and style, and a more balanced approach to risk. 

For example:

  • An international retail chain which ran a pilot programme where its distribution centres were staffed with a diverse mix of employees, including those with autism and developmental disabilities, their results showed that this group performed better than others without the same mix of employees.
     
  • Along with improved performance, diversity can have a direct and positive impact on a company’s bottom line. A recent international study looked at the top executive teams of 180 public firms in France, Germany, the UK and the US, and found those with more diverse teams outperformed their peers in EBIT margins by an average of 14%.

Q. What are some of the challenges of managing a workforce, where there are people with disabilities?

A. It’s important to create an inclusive environment where all employees, including those with a disability, are empowered and enabled to deliver against their business goals — to equip employees so that they are confident interacting with and managing disabled people.

This includes:

  • Access to buildings – ramps, lifts, disabled toilet
  • OSH assessed – sit to stand desk, gel pads for typing, correct lighting
  • SOP’s (Standard Operating Procedures) & Policies are updated to include the needs of staff with disabilities
  • IT – voice recognition, interactive websites, larger devices
  • To continuously work to make recruitment, ongoing employment and personal development accessible to people with disabilities.

Q. What advice do you have for managers when dealing with staff with disabilities?
 

Think about the needs of people with a disability when designing products and services, and when creating employment opportunities.

  • Put policies into practice to ensure people with a disability are included.
  • Managers in a disability confident organisation know it is important to their business to employ people with a disability. They have plans to ensure a diverse workplace.
  • Managers and staff in a disability confident organisation understand disability. They know what people with disability can do, and have identified ways to address barriers to employment or promotion for people with a disability.
  • Because nearly everyone has or knows someone with a disability, remember: “Don’t talk about them. Talk about us.”

Q.  Based on what you know, what is the added cost to business, to cater for staff with disabilities?

A. There will be added costs, but you will more than make up for this...by having better quality decisions through diversity of thought, experience and style, and a more balanced approach to risk. Also, successive studies have shown that a more diverse culture will also drive growth on your bottom line.