25 July 2017

Hidden Disabilities: How HR and L&D Can Help Career Progression

Hidden Disabilities: How HR and L&D Can Help Career Progression

The Equality Act 2010 regards all forms of disability as a protected characteristic including those that cannot be seen; yet research shows that disability is under researched and often falls short in practice, being “sidestepped in Human Resource Development” (Procknow and Rocco, 2016).

Studies conducted by Konrad, Moore, Ng, Doherty and Breward in 2012 showed that disabled job applicants often produce positive responses, yet have a lower employment rate, are more likely to be underemployed, and have lower workplace earnings in comparison with their non-disabled counterparts (Houtenville and Ruiz, 2011).

Additionally, those with hidden disabilities can often suffer more in the workplace due to non-disclosure, or simply because others do not recognise that they have a disability as it cannot be ‘seen’. This can be termed as ‘neuro-diversity’ and includes Dyspraxia, Dyscalculia, Dyslexia, ADHD, Tourette’s Syndrome (although often symptoms can be ‘seen’), and Autistic Spectrum Disorder which includes Asperger’s Syndrome.

Autistic Spectrum Disorders can range from mild to severe, and may include the following characteristics: differences in how people perceive the world and interact with others; average or above average intelligence; obsession over particular topics, items or beings; and difficulty understanding or processing both verbal and body language. For example, the office environment can be problematic when sarcasm, tone of voice and body language is a key component of communication (Cockayne and Warburton, 2016). This can make social interaction in the workplace somewhat of a challenge, particularly in cases where other employees are unaware of the disability.

Research by Cockayne and Warburton in 2016 suggests that people with such conditions tend to have a higher than average IQ, with the ability to see patterns in complex data, and a high attention to detail. Arguably these benefits should be sought after by employers and it is HR and L&D professionals who can make a real difference by taking proactive action to promote the benefits.

Kulkarni and Lengnick-Hall (2013) argue that recruitment processes should be reviewed to accommodate the needs of disabled people and give fair access. They also recommend dispelling myths with hiring managers about recruiting disabled people and drawing their attention to the legal implications of ignoring disabled candidates.

When considering development and career progression for disabled employees already within the organisation, Kulkarni (2012) suggests running socialisation programmes where disabled and non-disabled employees can mentor and be mentored by one another, offering advice and psychosocial support resulting in positive long-term career effects for those with a disability.

Our HR Manager Service for small to medium sized organisations includes on-site support – why not use it to facilitate a disability awareness training session or to set up socialisation programmes? 

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