Develop, support, promote disability leaders

Diversity – more than hoping

Diversity – more than hoping

article by DLI CEO Christina Ryan

Achieving diversity needs more than hoping for outcomes.

A dartboard with red and yellow darts. The board has words like foul and strike on it in black and white.

A growing number of organisations agree that disability leadership is important and that they would like to build more of it in their executive or board; however, achieving diversity outcomes remains a major challenge.

Achieving diversity is about making concrete steps towards outcomes. It seems that many many organisations are hoping for the best and wondering why they are not getting there. The Valuable 500 discovered that over 90% of organisations think disability diversity is important, yet less than 4% take concrete steps to achieve it.

As 2023 draws near, there are some concrete steps that will shift the ground to make disability diversity a reality in your organisation:

  1. Decide that it is a priority. The first and biggest step is to make the decision to commit to disability diversity. Set it as a priority and allocate resources, both human and financial, to achieving it. Diversity and culture come from the top down, so your CEO will need to be engaged and involved to ensure meaningful progress.
  2. Set a target. Consider a target that is achievable. If you currently have no disability leadership then a target of 20% by the end of 2023 might be unrealistic. Failure to meet targets is one of the key reasons that good intentions slip. Identify what will work for your organisation and commit to it. Whatever the target, consider the amount of time needed to get there. Be realistic, but also be bold!
  3. Identify high potential future leaders. You have people already. Identify those who should be supported, nurtured, mentored into leadership positions from within your current staff team. Set up an internal disability leadership program and send a loud message to your workforce that disability leadership is wanted and welcomed in your organisation. Less than half of disabled people are open about their disability at work. By offering incentives you can change that and make disability a desirable attribute, rather than something to hide.

Studies have shown that disabled people are far less likely to be offered professional development opportunities than their non-disabled colleagues, so make sure your disability workforce is given opportunities and takes them. Foster your high potential talent so that they become part of your succession planning.

  1. Address your merit bias. By appointing on “merit” you are ensuring you will appoint more people who look like the ones you already have. Consider how your organisation is recruiting and what is specifically required to be considered competent for a position. Stop listing restrictive selection criteria that will rule good candidates out, like certain types of qualifications, or certain work experience. Stretch your recruitment processes to new networks outside those you usually tap into.

Diverse leadership means a more diverse workforce. One of the most effective ways to address your merit bias is to build a more diverse leadership first. Watch how this impacts your overall recruitment and diversity outcomes. Entry level recruitment has far less impact than leadership recruitment. So, if you want more disability diversity in your organisations, start with more disability leadership.

Achieving your disability diversity goals will take commitment, targets and resources. However, the outcomes will far outweigh the effort put in as your innovation and productivity levels increase, and your workforce satisfaction and stability grow.