Disabled workers make us feel uncomfortable. Discomfort comes from not understanding the needs of a disabled co-worker. Our unconscious bias points us to situations where we feel safe and are most comfortable and in turn causes us to avoid situations that make us uncomfortable. We do this without even realizing it. During the SHRM 2019 event in Las Vegas, speakers discussed the need for companies to hire more workers with disabilities.
Judy Young, associate director of the Scheinman Institute at Cornell University’s ILR School, shared, “HR departments can start to mitigate the effects of unconscious bias by educating their employees about it. Employers should make sure their unconscious bias trainings incorporate information on people with disabilities.” Another presenter, Susan W. Brecher, director of employee relations and employment law of the Scheinman Institute, added, “Change cannot occur without recognition. That’s your starting point.”
Unconscious bias education and training
Education and training are a good starting point, however, they shouldn’t be considered the means to solving unconscious bias. Think back to a recent training you attended a year ago or even just a few months ago. How much do you remember? How much do you think your co-workers remember? This year, Redthread Research, in partnership with Mercer, published their Diversity & Inclusion Technology report. The report pointed out “training alone is not enough” to mitigate unconscious bias.
Here’s a refresher about training:
- After one hour, people retain less than half of the information presented.
- After one day, people forget more than 70 percent of what was taught in training.
- After six days, people forget 75 percent of the information in their training.
- Information in our memories can decay or fade over time if not accessed enough.
- Corporations spend over 70 billion dollars on training.
Young told attendees, “The best way to address peoples’ unconscious biases against people with disabilities is to hire people with disabilities.” That sounds simple enough, and yet companies still struggle. In order to hire people with disabilities, hiring managers need to see beyond the wheelchair, the white cane, or nervous tic and see a candidate’s skills, knowledge, and abilities. Training will make them aware but it won’t provide guide rails to ensure they make consciously inclusive decisions based on the candidate’s abilities.
Technology, according to the Mercer report, is the way to bridge this divide and keep the horse in front of the cart. The same way we use technology to keep our schedule or maintain our health, we can use technology to keep our focus on what matters most rather than on a candidate’s physical characteristics; gender, race, ethnicity, or disabilities. Those characteristics do not define the person or their ability to do the job. Job adverts can be written more inclusively without singling out specific characteristics. Resumes can be digitally redacted, blinding a candidate’s personally identifiable information so the hiring manager can objectively review a candidate’s qualifications.
We are well into the 21st century. Our ability to do a job should be based on our experience and skill. Using technology, companies will have greater success in hiring people with disabilities versus relying on training alone.