TLDR; Fostering safe and inclusive interview processes can lead to increased disclosure, even after the hiring process. These practices are simple (and mostly free) to implement.
Choosing to disclose during the application and interview process could be the single most difficult decision for a disabled person to make when applying to jobs, wrote Nancy Doyle for Forbes. The fear of being turned down from a job due to disability discrimination helps explain why only 3.2% of disabled adults disclose their disability at work. However, the cost of staying silent could be high–both for the employee and the employer.
Not only is disclosure required for employees to benefit from the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Rehabilitation Act, it leads to higher employee engagement, increased well-being, and enhanced performance. There is a strong business case for increasing disability disclosure. So, how do you facilitate it?
Feeling safe and secure is linked to increased disability disclosure. To create a safe and secure environment during the interview process, start by considering any biases you might have. Learning about common disabilities and addressing your preconceptions about them will help avoid unintended microaggressions that could deter a candidate from disclosing their disability.
For example, saying, “I have all my notes color-coded, I’m so OCD!” could send the message to a candidate that you don’t understand what obsessive-compulsive disorder is, diminishing the weight of a disability that 2.5 million American adults have and discouraging them from disclosing theirs.
In addition to addressing your own biases, encourage your hiring team to do the same. After all, they are a candidate’s first glimpse into the company and its culture–make it count.
Create an inclusive environment by providing as much information as you can about the interview ahead of time. Share with the candidate details on the interview location, if there is a dress code, who the hiring team is, what topics are expected to be covered during the interview, and what the entire interview process will look like. Offering this information ahead of time gives candidates the ability to prepare, reducing stress and making them feel at ease. It also allows them to consider what accommodations they might need in order to complete the interview process.
But, don’t wait for them to ask. When you provide these details, ask the candidate if accommodations will be needed for the interview. In doing so, you’re saying, “It is commonplace at our company to ask for and receive necessary accommodations,” setting the tone that your company is inclusive right from the beginning. Even if they don’t require any accommodations at the time, this simple act can encourage inclusion and disclosure beyond the interview process.
It is important to remember that disclosure can happen at any stage of an employee’s tenure, for many reasons. An employee may choose not to disclose until a situation arises where accommodations are needed. Or, an employee may not have had a disability when they were recruited but developed one during their employment, such as long-haul COVID-19. For these reasons, it is important to build an inclusive working culture that still serves team members who haven’t disclosed.
Our advice to you–train managers to be prepared in handling accommodation requests and disclosure. As Adam Grant said on TED’s Work Life podcast, you don’t need to be disabled to need an accomodation. In fact, 95% of work accommodation requests are made by people without a disability, like leaving work early to pick up kids or taking time off to care for a sick parent. How managers respond to such requests can influence their team’s comfortability with disclosure.
When a team member does disclose, make sure that managers are prepared. Cornell discovered that employees are at least 60% more likely to disclose a disability to their direct supervisor than to Human Resources. To ensure that managers can respond appropriately to their team members, they should be provided with regular training on ADA regulations as well as internal policies and procedures.
In addition to managerial training, provide all employees with diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) training and resources. In organizations that have accessible training and resources designed to advance diversity and inclusion, employees are 35% more likely to disclose their disabilities than other organizations. One common resource that roughly 90% of Fortune 500 companies offer is the chance for employees to join employee resources groups (ERGs). ERGs are employee-led groups where those with a shared interest or identity–such as having a disability–can have an open dialogue about their experiences.
Provide various opportunities for employees to disclose their disability. Check in with your employees. Needs can change and what worked yesterday might not work today–both for those who have already disclosed and for those who haven’t. The good part is you have access to the experts–your employees themselves. Employees are the best placed to speak to what accommodations they need to help them thrive in the workplace, so long as they have the space. Foster an ongoing dialogue with employees by checking in regularly and encouraging managers to do the same.
Disclosure that takes place in the interview process can set both you and your future employee up for success in the long run. But this decision isn’t easy for candidates. Due to fear of retaliation, oftentimes, disclosure happens after the person is hired, or not at all. By fostering interview processes that are secure, comfortable, and inclusive, you can help facilitate disclosure.
Despite these efforts, it is likely that you have many employees who are working with an undisclosed disability. Consider the practices listed above. Does your working culture serve team members who haven’t disclosed yet?
By addressing your own biases, training managers on disclosure, and offering employees multiple opportunities to request accommodations, you will help increase your company culture, ultimately creating safe and inclusive spaces for employees to disclose their disability in.
Plus, it’s not rocket science–feeling safe and secure are feelings that everyone can benefit from, not just disabled employees.