Companies That Discard Old Thinking About Ability Are Ahead of the Curve

Those embracing disability and inclusion best practices are financially outperforming companies that don't.

learn more about Nancy Geenen

By Nancy Geenen

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Every company wants to perform better than its competition. Since the late 1990s, leaders in corporate social responsibility have been asked for a business case that demonstrates the return on investment in diversity and social responsibility programs. "Getting to Equal: The Disability Inclusion Advantage," recently released by Accenture in partnership with Disability:IN and the American Association of People with Disabilities, demonstrates companies that have embraced disability and inclusion best practices are financially outperforming companies without a disability and inclusion strategy.

Related: Is an Inclusive Workforce Still a Distant Dream?

This is significant because it's one of the first major research pieces to tie disability inclusion to profitability and value creation. In this time of extraordinary low unemployment, every company is looking to source new talent for its workforce.

As the CEO of the Galt Foundation, a staffing and employment organization for job seekers with disabilities, I know firsthand the impact of the rise in the disability employment rate. Every day I have the privilege to watch jobs change lives. Because of the work at the Galt Foundation, we are seeing employees gain access, build new skills and develop financial empowerment as they add value to the workplace. More and more, I find myself in conversations with employees who just rented their first apartment, are choosing to go back to school or are planning differently for their future as a direct result of increased employment opportunities.

Those are remarkable changes, and it is happening because companies are building an understanding and awareness of the value of employees with disabilities, overcoming longstanding stereotypes of the cost of accommodations, and realizing that this under-tapped community is both a talent solution and a consumer base.

It is why Accenture's survey is so significant -- it is a needed stake in the ground for companies who are getting ahead by embracing the benefit of disability. There are currently more than 10.7 million people with disabilities of working age (16 – 64) living in the U.S.

According to Accenture's report, "the GDP could get a boost up to $25 billion if just 1 percent more of persons with disabilities joined the U.S. labor force." That is an important boost for the U.S. economy, but too many employers are still questioning if hiring people with disabilities will improve the bottom line.

Related: Employing Individuals with Disabilities May Solve Your Talent Crisis

Of the 140 U.S. companies studied, Accenture identified an elite group of 45 companies that excelled in programs and leadership commitments specific to the hiring and retention of individuals with disabilities. Outcomes highlighted that these "Disability Inclusion Champions" are financially performing above-average when compared to other companies in the survey and well-above the top 10 company peers as recommended and reviewed by Vanguard.

Here are the statistics:

  • 28 percent higher revenue
  • 30 percent better economic profit margins
  • 2x higher net income
  • 4x more likely to outperform shareholder returns of industry peers

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, employers who have embraced disability as a component of their talent strategy report a:

  • 90 percent increase in retention of valued employees
  • 72 percent increase in employee productivity
  • 45 percent increase in workplace safety

In addition, 38 percent report savings in workers' compensation or other insurance costs.

Less than 40 percent of individuals with disabilities require accommodations in the workplace, and those that are required cost less than $500 per employee, on average. Finally, 90 percent of consumers surveyed "specifically agreed that they would prefer to give their business to companies that hire individuals with disabilities."

These statistics are phenomenal and can be just the beginning if companies commit to reexamining hiring, training and culture to ensure that individuals with disabilities are a growing part of the workforce.

As part of its work, Accenture conducted in-depth interviews with leaders of the Disability Inclusion Champions to identify the key factors for hiring and retaining employees with disabilities. The results prove that recruiting requires a new process and mindset to find candidates who are a good match for job requirements. More and more companies are moving to software with hiring algorithms that could unintentionally weed out candidates with diverse resumes, including those with disabilities.

At the employment stage, companies need to focus on tools and technology that increase productivity and level the playing field for individuals with disabilities. The Disability Inclusion Champions focus on training programs for the entire organization to better integrate and include individuals with disabilities. Their companies have disability program sponsors in senior leadership, often in the executive circle, and employee resource groups that work with senior leadership on self-identification and disability education programs. Finally, the Disability Inclusion Champions focus on the long-term career goals and success of the employees with disabilities for increased visibility in the senior ranks of the company.

Related: Top 5 Hiring Trends in 2019 for Students

The Disability Inclusion Champions understand (i) the talent pool available in and among people with disabilities; (ii) the benefits of a diverse workforce that includes individuals with disabilities; and (iii) the minimal costs of providing an accessible workplace. The Getting to Equal study proves the quantitative business case to support the long-standing qualitative business case for employing and retaining individuals with disabilities in the workplace.

Nancy Geenen

CEO of Flexability

Nancy Geenan is CEO of Flexability, a social impact firm that builds more diverse, dynamic and productive working environments by partnering with like-minded companies, communities and job-seekers. She was previously CEO of Galt Foundation. She holds degrees from Santa Clara University and Stanford.

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