A Fast-Track Guide to Building an Inclusive Workforce

By Joanna Samuels

Over the past decade, in my capacity as a job developer/job coach, I have been helping employers from different industries in the local labour market with recruiting and retaining qualified candidates with diverse disabilities and barriers to employment. Supporting employers in facilitating meaningful long-term job matches and achieving the goal of an inclusive workforce takes time, focus and training, as well as building trusting and mutually beneficial partnerships.

In my work, I have seen that many businesses want to hire people with disabilities but don’t know how to go about it. Often, I’ve identified a fear factor and a mindset of myths surrounding this type of hiring. For this article, I approached Alicia Xavier, regional autism coordinator for Ready, Willing & Able, for her top-four recommendations on how employers can successfully build or expand an inclusive workplace environment.

1 Knowledge and education

Building an inclusive workforce is a process that can be learned. Many frontline supported-employment professionals, such as job developers and job coaches, have this type of knowledge and are happy to educate employers on recruiting and retaining qualified candidates with disabilities. In addition, they understand accommodations, successful job matches and helping employers build their businesses. Organizations such as Ready, Willing & Able (readywillingandable.ca) have online educational tools and trainers who are experts in this area.

2 Consider inclusive recruitment practices

Sometimes the recruitment process weeds out qualified candidates with disabilities, meaning that employers are missing out on talent. Look at the whole recruitment and selection process. How are you selecting candidates? Are you using online tools such as LinkedIn and Indeed? There are other resources in the community, beyond the virtual world, with which to search for and select talent.

It’s understood that recruitment is about finding a candidate who is a good fit. However, we are asking employers to have an open mind. For example, many of our job seekers can’t complete online job applications and are therefore excluded from the pool of talent selected; yet they have all the skills and qualifications to be a successful candidate. Perhaps employers can offer a face-to-face pre-screening interview or a “working interview” to assess the candidate’s skills?

3 Know the law and your rights

Start with understanding the Ontario Human Rights Code (ohrc.on.ca/en/iv-human-rights-issues-all-stages-employment/5-interviewing-and-making-hiring-decisions) and federal and provincial laws such as the Employment Standards Act (labour.gov.on.ca/english/es/pubs/guide). Questions should be job-related and not used to find out personal information. Structure your interview questions to focus on the candidate’s qualifications and the requirements of the specific position. Employers should not be asking about a candidate’s race, gender, religion, marital status, age, disabilities, ethnic background, country of origin, sexual preferences or anything else personal. The interview questions should focus on the candidate’s knowledge and skills, talents, strengths and weaknesses, prior work experiences, character and competencies.

4 Champions in your workplace

When building an inclusive workplace, it’s essential that the business has supports in place. Recruiters who would like to expand their talent pool by tapping into job seekers with disabilities will benefit from making sure that hiring managers, as well as everyone on the team—at all levels of the organization, from the top down—are on board. Appointing a leader or champion in your workplace who drives the message to all levels of the organization is an important part of this conversation. And having employees with this type of experience who can advocate to make sure there is fair representation in the applicant recruitment selection can make a difference.

It is important to note that building an inclusive workforce is different for every employer and business. In the same way, each job seeker is different. However, having a foundation, tools, resources and champions in place can help to build an inclusive workforce, especially when there are challenges. In addition, frontline job coaches in community agencies can help to educate employers on developing inclusive practices for the recruitment and retention of individuals with disabilities.

Joanna Samuels, MEd, CMF, RRP, is an employment resource supervisor at reena.org.

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