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How to diversify your IT talent pool with disability inclusion in the remote workplace

Hiring people with disabilities brings untapped value into your workforce

Dec. 7, 2020 | By: Mike Powers

woman in wheelchair seated at desk wearing headphones working in the IT field.

For many organizations, navigating the implications of the COVID-19 pandemic was—and still is—unprecedented. Companies quickly looked to shift from face-to-face interactions to remote work while forming best practices, creating new processes and managing teams from afar. While this new reality has impacted a majority of people’s ways of working, it has actually opened a door for career opportunities for some individuals with disabilities.

Employers are often unaware or intimidated by disability hiring, citing accommodation issues, costs and productivity concerns as some of the barriers. But remote working dissolves some of these fears: working from home allows individuals with disabilities to avoid a work commute, keep a conducive work setup at home and seamlessly perform meaningful work. And by removing the stigma around disability hiring, coupled with limitless geographic boundaries through remote work, the opportunity to hire high quality and diverse IT talent presents itself. If companies were to participate in hiring people with disabilities, they would be tapping into a talent pool of more than 10 million people with diverse strengths, leadership styles and ways of thinking.

Tips for increasing diversity with people with disabilities

As a top-scoring company on the 2020 Disability Equality Index, we've always been committed to creating an inclusive work environment where employees with different abilities contribute to business success. We believe that creating a diverse IT workforce beyond gender, cultural background or thought inspires performance, creativity and innovation. Yet lack of knowledge and misperceptions are a few obstacles that inhibit those with disabilities from entering the workforce—and companies from reaching their full potential. Recruiting diverse IT talent isn't an easy problem to solve, but addressing employment practices and culture makes it possible to make progress—the pipeline exists if you know how to tap it.

1. Reinvent your existing network and your job descriptions

Your current employees and hiring places are only going to bring you people like them, and you'll overlook lots of extraordinary—and diverse—talent. Ask your managers to rethink what kind of person can succeed in their role and widen the job description to reflect that. Post your positions more broadly, too. Consider disability boards, community directories, disability networks, disability workforce programs and other diverse professional groups.

2. Widen the geographical scope of your search

If you're focusing on hiring programmers in a market with a small pipeline, you're going to have a hard time. Trying to hire female network engineers in a city where there are very few is just going to lead to disappointment. But in a remote working world, you don't have to settle for your local market—increasing the scope of your search to regional or even national parameters will grant you better access to a vast IT talent pool of people with diverse strengths, including employees with disabilities.

3. Understand things don't happen overnight

One thing we've learned while helping many companies address their diversity goals: It takes a bit of extra time. A recruiter drawing from the usual well of candidates is going to get you a faster hire but is unlikely to find you diverse candidates. It takes time for a recruiter to reach out to professional associations and ask around for referrals. Companies looking to address diversity goals should seek guidance about the availability of diverse candidates, focus on the right role and then give exclusive requisitions that allow recruiters the time to cast a wider net.

4. Manage realistic expectations

We've seen that high-performing organizations—the ones that have diversity hiring figured out—are able to improve their numbers about 2% every year. Those low numbers can discourage leaders, making them think their investments aren't paying off. Building a diverse organization will take time and serious investment. The first years will be slow going, but expect to pick up steam if you build an inclusive environment that diverse talent wants to be a part of.

5. Foster an inclusive culture

Creating an inclusive, authentic culture rooted in empathy and connection provides an environment for understanding, ultimately providing a space where people feel like their differences are welcomed and celebrated. Making sure the company culture is disability-friendly and creating representation in your workforce helps to better hire and retain diverse talent.

Hiring people with disabilities is a win for everyone involved

People with disabilities often bring diversity of thought and innovative solutions to businesses, increasing productivity and helping organizations be more competitive. For organizations to be successful from a pragmatic perspective, they need to embrace the advantages of inclusion and diversity and utilize talented individuals regardless of what may be perceived as accessibility or accommodation needs. The global COVID-19 pandemic has shown that work can be done anywhere—and outdated processes, thinking and biases should be reconsidered.

Mike Powers is TEKsystems' veterans and disabilities program manager. He helps organizations hire veterans and people with disabilities and strengthen the diversity of their talent pipeline with their unique skills.