By Roseline Victoria Vijayakumar
ORHMA and Partners in Workforce Innovation (CAN WIN), an organization that aims to increase workforce inclusive for people with disabilities by connecting employers with a unique talent pool, recently hosted a webinar to discuss four pillars of accessible and inclusive employment. Fatima Finnegan, vice-president, Workforce Initiatives and Industry Relations at ORHMA, introduced the webinar. Speakers included Jackie Trithardt and Donald Salah, who are both inclusive workforce specialists at CAN WIN.
The four pillars discussed were commitment, readiness, recruitment and retention. First, commitment without proper planning is a setup for challenges or even failure. “Commitment needs to start at the top and it needs to be communicated by senior leadership and there needs to be some organizational cultural value,” said Trithardt, adding that company culture directly impacts employee retention, productivity and brand awareness.
The second pillar, readiness, refers to an organization’s preparation for inclusivity. “The first step in readiness is to designate a DEI lead to facilitate the strategic plan with the leadership team,” said Trithardt. “The second step is to make a change in management processes to prepare hiring managers to shift practices. This can be [through] reviewing applications and onboarding practices, modifying interviews and adopting inclusive language. The third step is training and education to support skills development and identify and address barriers. Lastly, develop recruitment practices to hire people with disabilities, whether visible, apparent or not visible.”
The third pillar, recruitment, involves adapting the recruitment process to actively hire diverse talent. This step involves the conscious engagement of diverse interview styles, proactive disclosure of abilities and building candidate pools.
“Often, behavioural-based and star-approached interviews can be problematic,” said Trithardt. “For some neuro-diverse job seekers and people with disabilities, they can struggle with certain interview styles. Create a safe space. Ask the questions: What do you need? Are there any adjustments that you might need in the interview or in the workplace to be successful? How can we set you up for success? Be proactive and don’t wait for there to be a problem. Don’t wait for your employees or job seekers to come to you with a disclosure but create the space for them to be able to have that conversation.”
“Don’t program an applicant tracking system to screen candidates out,” said Salah. “Eliminate superfluous qualifications, look at your bonafide requirements and consider the minimum requirements that people need to be successful. Then, organizations can make more effective decisions in the interviews as to whether or not the candidates are a good fit for their workplace.”
Additionally, the importance of eliminating keyword-based resume screening is discussed, specifically with the advent of Chat-GPT. “With job postings, if there’s a cacophony of unnecessary qualifications listed, you may end up screening people out without even realizing it. You don’t want people being screened out just because there’s a laundry list of requirements that may or may not actually be legitimate.”
The last pillar, retention, was described as looking at the full lifecycle of employment, from beginning to end. “Retention can also improve revenue,” said Trithardt. “The cost to replace an employee can range from one-half to two times the employee’s annual staff salary. Benefits to improved retention include the buildup of institutional knowledge, increased productivity, improved customer relations and improved culture.”
In closing, Tridhardt advocated for flexibility and curiosity in supporting employees, providing resources, implementing peer mentorship and building internal capacity. “It’s ongoing work. Make sure that new leaders coming in are trained on an ongoing basis,” she said. “Celebrate DEI results and share lessons learned.”