The statistics paint a bleak picture: The talent crisis continues, even though a sizeable part of the workforce is not being tapped.
A little more than 1 in 4 of today’s 20-year-olds will acquire a disability before they retire, according to the Social Security Administration. But research has borne out that American hiring managers tend to discriminate against applicants with disabilities, hiring candidates who are identical in talent but mentioned a disability 26% less frequently than those who did not.
How can a company get this right — especially since conversations about people with disabilities are fewer and farther between than other diversity discussions?
Humana has been regarded as a strong example of workplace inclusivity, earning an 100 on the Human Rights Campaign Corporate Equality Index and a spot as a Top 25 Noteworthy Company by DiversityInc in 2015. HR Dive spoke with A.J. Hubbard, director of inclusion and diversity at Humana, to discuss the impact of their hiring initiative for people with disabilities. The conversation below was edited for length.
Diversity is obviously a huge deal right now in the recruiting space, but I feel like ensuring good experiences for employees with disabilities is one that isn’t talked about as much despite clear improvements and gains. Can you talk to me a bit about how Humana has worked to accommodate those with disabilities?
I would tell you that when we first started our veteran’s hiring initiative five or six years ago now, I don’t know that we envisioned it growing at that point to the place we are today.
Each person in and of themselves is different. We’ve always had a philosophy of trying to meet our members where they are, whoever they are. One of the strategies for doing that is kind of being in a position to reflect the communities we serve in a literal sense.
We said, we don’t want this to be another initiative, but this audience and labor force, this underserved population in our society, we wanted to make sure we are doing the things that help us to be successful in that space.
One part was around accommodation, and another part was about education and awareness. We expanded our recruiting capabilities to tap into different bases that are out there but also a lot of the local agencies.
On the education and awareness piece, we’ve leveraged some online modules for our leaders to take, a series of 11 of them that covers different parts of the space. We’ve also done a lot of communication about it through our internal newsletters and annual reports. We also focused quite a bit last year during October, which is disability employment awareness month, where we had some panel discussions with associates. We’re really trying to wrap our arms around that entire space and really look at it as an additional type of labor force for us.
How do you get managers to get away from that mindset of “Oh, this person may not be able to complete the tasks of this job”?
I think making it really personal helps to start open people’s eyes and start to push away some of the stereotypes that they have. It’s certainly not a one and done. You have to continue to do it and continue telling great stories.
It’s absolutely never been about a charity case. It’s much more about being a great part of our community and society. One in 5 people have a disability in the United States. Unemployment rates there are double compared to everyone else. We looked at it as an opportunity...but we said, okay, if we’re going to do that, let’s do it right. Let’s start melting away those biases that we know exist.
The same is true for people of color or a lot of men who work together and all of a sudden have a woman on the team...if you don’t have a lot of diversity in your neighborhood but all of a sudden you have it on your team, there could be bias that creeps in. We know that. Part of that is continuing to educate people and telling positive stories about the outcomes.
In the news on Silicon Valley, you hear about diversity all the time, but not really this type of diversity. Why is that?
You know, in terms of Silicon Valley, I’m not quite sure. From more of a general perspective...I think it’s just fear of the unknown. We like who we like...we are comfortable around our kind of people, if you will. When you start introducing different elements to that and really expanding a person’s diversity lens, it can be a little nerve-wracking. And I think it is because we want to be respectful. We don’t want to offend anyone. There’s an uncomfortableness about how you interact.
We were taught as kids, if something is different, don’t stare. All those subtle, subliminal messages we have had to deal with from our childhood up to adulthood...I suspect it’s fear of ‘I don’t know what I don’t know, I don’t know how to interact, I don’t want to do something goofy and expose that fear that I have.’
What can employers do to make their work environments and cultures more accepting of individuals with disabilities?
We’re all aware of the demographic shifts that are happening. That’s not a secret. Employers are having to get more creative in some of their recruiting efforts in bringing in diverse talent and that continues to be a focus.
As an employer, I think it’s important we have to continue to educate our associates, and not be afraid to stand up and support these communities. You can’t just do that in an office or behind a desk. You have to be out there in a community and participating and educating them and talking to them and being supportive of what their journey is. It feels like our society right now is at odds.
Companies, in many cases, are the ones who are trying to step up and be more vocal and be a little more present in their communities. From our lens and the business we are in, it’s not just about the physical health, but about the mental health, about having a sense of purpose, a sense of community, the sense of belonging.
For us, we lead with inclusion. When you look at my title, we are the office of inclusion and diversity. We’ve led with inclusion first on purpose. Everyone could relate to wanting to be included. Everyone wants to matter. Everyone wants to be invited to lunch. Let’s lead with that.