Most companies drastically underestimate how many of their employees have disabilities, typically reporting only 4% to 7% on average, according to a May 10 report by Boston Consulting Group.
However, 25% of employees surveyed worldwide self-identify as having a disability or medical condition that limits a major life activity.
This has serious implications for inclusion and employee experience in the workplace, according to the firm. “No organization can afford to ignore or misunderstand around a quarter of their workforce,” Brad Loftus, co-author of the report and a managing director and senior partner at BCG, said in a statement.
“Employers should recognize that their current disclosure data is most likely incomplete, and that the true number of people with disabilities in their workplace is much higher than they realize,” he said.
An inclusion gap
Based on a survey of nearly 28,000 employees in 16 countries, including all regions and various industries, people with disabilities reported lower levels of inclusion in the workplace relative to their colleagues without disabilities, as well as lower levels compared with other employee groups often included in DEI efforts, such as women, LGBTQ+ individuals, and Black, Indigenous and other people of color. These lower feelings of inclusion are often correlated with higher attrition, according to BCG.
Individuals with disabilities were also less likely to say they’re happy at work and more likely to say that work negatively impacts their mental and physical well-being, as well as their relationships with friends and family. They’re also 1.5-times more likely to have experienced discrimination at their organization than those without a disability or health condition.
BCG suggested several ways employers can work to foster inclusion and improve the workplace experience for all employees, including people with disabilities. Organizations have boosted happiness scores and reduced attrition by implementing employee-centric policies, mentorships and accommodations such as equipment, software and flexible working arrangements, the firm said.
“Our data shows that organizations can take practical steps to get high-impact results, making it possible for employees with disabilities to be happier, more productive and motivated at work, and more likely to stay on the job,” Loftus said.
However, inclusion work remains a struggle at many organizations, particularly when the senior leaders don’t take ownership of DEI initiatives, according to a recent report. Rather than taking a reactive approach, more leaders need to take a proactive approach this year, DEI experts told HR Dive.
For workers with disabilities, inclusive efforts could include a central fund for accommodations, according to another report, as well as collaboration with workers and vocational rehabilitation professionals.