Recruitment: how do we break down the barriers for disabled people?

By Jane Hatton, Founder/Director, Evenbreak

Picture of Jane Hatton

Jane Hatton, Founder/Director of Evenbreak

I was lucky enough to speak at the recent Business Disability Forum event on the topic of “impairment-specific recruitment” – which, in short, means aiming to hire people with disabilities.

It was fascinating listening to the other speakers and members of the audience. It seemed that there was a general consensus around specifically targeting disabled candidates, as organisations were traditionally missing out on this particular pool of talent. However, opinions on impairment-specific recruitment were divided.

It is a conflict. On the one hand, the idea of stereotyping people with a particular impairment as having a specific set of skills only suited for one specific type of job role seems to go against the whole idea of inclusion. However, the traditional recruitment process – CV or application form followed by interviews or assessment centres – clearly discriminates against some people more than others.

When we speak of impairment-specific recruitment, by and large we think of people on the autism spectrum. There is an assumption that people with autism all make good computer programmers or coders. Whilst there is a disproportionately large amount of people with autism or Asperger’s who are brilliant coders, every autistic person is, of course, different.

The interview barrier

Business Disability Forum. Marketing photosThe main barrier that autistic people face when trying to find work is the interview. At the BDF event, one of the speakers was Will, an Evenbreak candidate who is highly talented in many areas, but who is unable to “sell himself” at interview.

He explained that a common trait for autistic people is a difficulty in playing interpersonal games – making small talk, ingratiating themselves with strangers.

They see the interview as what it should be – an opportunity for the would-be employer to assess if the candidate could do the job in question well enough. Whereas, actually there would be much more accurate ways of establishing this. Thus the interview becomes more of a “beauty parade” – which candidate do we like the most? Which one will “fit in” with the rest of the team? This requires the candidate to focus on being liked rather than how good they would be in carrying out the role required. A concept which is alien to many people on the spectrum, and which they don’t understand.

For me, the question isn’t so much as whether we should change the recruitment process (to, for example, a practical demonstration of competence through a relevant test, or maybe a work trial) for some particular jobs, it’s about whether our traditional recruitment processes are actually effective in trying to predict the future performance of any candidate.

Interviews can be very flawed for a number of reasons. They are wholly dependent on the interviewers’ ability to ask the “right” questions and the interviewee’s ability to answer them in what that interviewer would consider to be the “right” way. Unconscious bias will come into play (no matter how any unconscious bias training sessions the panel have been on!), and much relies on whether the interviews saw something they liked or found comfortingly familiar in the candidate.

The solution

My personal view, having worked with thousands of candidates for whom traditional recruitment processes have successfully prevented them from gaining employment, is that having a more open, relevant recruitment process means that talented candidates with any or no impairments are able to compete at an equal level.

This means ensuring the assessment process is relevant to the role. A customer service role will clearly require the candidate to show they have good interpersonal skills. A coder may not need interpersonal skills, but will need attention to detail and relevant knowledge. These will need to be demonstrated, but I venture to suggest that an interview will never be the best way to ascertain how good a coder is at coding.

Maybe, rather than looking at the assumed “impairment” of the candidate, we should be looking at fixing the impairments of our recruitment processes to make them more accessible, inclusive – and most importantly, relevant – to all candidates.

Find out about Evenbreak and how they break down hiring barriers on their website.

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