In the first of a two-part series focusing on disability and legal services on behalf of CILEx Regulation, Jane Hatton from Evenbreak explains why it’s so important to employ disabled people within the profession.
There is much readily available research about the tremendous value that having a diverse workforce brings to the legal profession. This includes, amongst others, drawing from a wider pool of talent, avoiding the well-known dangers of ‘groupthink’, and tapping into a variety of ideas and perspectives.
When talking about diversity to law firms, it’s heartening to hear of some innovative initiatives around race and gender, although there is still much work to be done in both of these areas.
However, disability often remains the poor relation when it comes to diversity priorities in the legal profession.
This is unfortunate for two reasons. Firstly, excluding (albeit unwittingly) disabled people from your attraction strategy and recruitment processes means you miss out on a large and valuable pool of talent.
Secondly, and perhaps even more importantly, 2% of people of working age acquire a disability or long-term health condition every year, so being inclusive to disabled employees will also have a significant impact on retaining existing talent within your organisation.
Disabled employees, on average, are just as productive as non-disabled colleagues, have significantly less time off sick, have fewer workplace accidents and stay in their jobs longer.
In addition, 19% of the adult population is disabled, and reflecting the people you serve gives them increased confidence in your service, whilst increasing internal intelligence on inclusion and accessibility.
By the nature of impairment, disabled people have to navigate around a world not designed with inclusion and accessibility in mind – needing to find ways around barriers that others don’t have to consider.
This entails, in order to survive, developing a range of skills including innovation, creative problem solving, tenacity, resourcefulness and resilience. All ideal qualities in an employee.
When considering the advantages for the legal profession of a diverse workforce, remember that disabled people are an equally important component of that diversity.
But often disabled graduates and other candidates will assume that they will be discriminated against.
Research suggests that disabled law students perceive their disability will have a strong negative impact on their likelihood of success in gaining a position within the legal profession (often a perception borne out in practice).
This requires law firms to work hard to overcome this perception, and to encourage talented disabled people to apply for relevant roles.
There are a number of ways of establishing credibility and giving confidence to potential disabled applicants.
You can use positive action by advertising career opportunities (work experience, internships and permanent roles) in disability journals and specialist disability job boards. Gaining externally validated accreditations, such as becoming a Disability Confident Leader, gaining the Disability Standard or becoming Clear Assured can also help.
Entering awards, such as the Recruitment Industry Disability Initiative Awards can also help to publicise the inclusion and accessibility you offer and position you as an inclusive employer of choice.
You might want to consider having a page on your website which talks about the workplace adjustments and flexible working options you offer, maybe including some case studies about talented disabled people you have employed.
This is an instance where success breeds success. The more disabled people you employ, the greater your learning and the more disabled people you will be able to attract. Employing the first disabled employee is often the hardest – and most rewarding – step.
Jane Hatton founded Evenbreak, a specialist job board run by and for disabled people, helping inclusive employers attract more talented disabled candidates.