Access employees key to business resilience

A global study found that the most inclusive working environments for disabled employees achieved higher revenues, greater economic profit margins, and twice the net income of their industry peers over a three year period. By Minnie Baragwanath.

Those businesses fortunate enough to be in a position to retain and recruit staff post-COVID will be highly skills-focused: valuable employees will be adaptable, agile, and persistent problem-solvers.

According to research, the often-overlooked access community fits the bill. These are the one in four New Zealanders who live with an access need such as a physical impairment, vision or hearing loss, a learning impairment, a short-term injury, or an age-related access impairment.

Many access citizens have spent a lifetime navigating uncertainty and complexity, having to constantly problem-solve to achieve simple tasks that many ‘non-disabled’ citizens take for granted.

As a result, they are incredibly creative, resilient, goal-oriented individuals – and they represent an untapped goldmine of talent for businesses that have to solve extraordinary problems in order to survive and excel.

Yet research also shows that access citizens, despite their valuable skill sets, are three times less likely to be employed than their non-disabled peers. The disability employment gap (the difference between employment rates of disabled and non-disabled people) in New Zealand currently sits at a staggering 47.7 percent – and there is a significant risk that this will widen with greater overall unemployment in the wake of COVID-19.

Be. Institute Chair John Allen recently reflected on this trend in an interview with Management magazine, saying, “The truth is – [access citizens] represent potential that we have available to us as a country and we’re just not using it. The talent and waste of capability that’s associated with that is astonishing.”

However, this crisis is also helping to shine a light on what is most important to us as a nation.

We have an opportunity to rebuild a better New Zealand, and ensuring that our workplaces welcome and enable access citizens to thrive is essential to us building a future-proofed and world-leading economy and business community.

Yes, a sense of social responsibility will drive this change, but there is a bottom-line incentive too. An Accenture study in 2018 found that the most inclusive working environments for disabled employees achieved an average of 28 percent higher revenues, 30 percent greater economic profit margins, and twice the net income of their industry peers between 2015 and 2018.”

This increased profitability is down to several factors. Organisations which employ access citizens are much better positioned to understand and meet the needs of a diverse customer base, increasing their market potential. And this adaptability of services also leads to greater innovation across the business, unlocking new opportunities for growth.

This has been demonstrated through the success of Be. Lab’s 21st century employment programme, which is designed to connect talented access citizens with outstanding employment opportunities throughout New Zealand.

Minnie Baragwanath is the chief possibility officer at the Global Centre of Possibility and also Director at Be. Lab. [email protected]

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