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Attracting Top Talent of Persons with Disabilities

By Universum, 2021-10-27

October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM), held in honor of the important contributions of people with disabilities make to America’s workplaces and economy. This year’s theme, set by the U.S. Department of Labor, Office of Disability Employment Policy, is, “The Recovery: Powered by Inclusion,” which, according to the Department, “reflects the importance of ensuring that people with disabilities have full access to employment and community involvement during the national recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Attracting and recruiting the right people is a challenging task. For students with disabilities entering the workforce, finding the right company that understands and speaks to them is of utmost importance, and companies falling short on key attributes that stay top-of-mind with this group can miss out on bringing on top talent.

We polled 2,071 students who identified as having a disability as part of our Universum Talent Research 2021 to identify their most important attributes while looking for a company that hits all the right notes for their needs and aspirations as they ready themselves to enter the workforce.

Expectations and Preference

The large majority of students with disabilities polled between October 2020 and March 2021 – 30% male, 70% female – leaned toward the Universum Career Profile category of Change-Makers. Change-Makers have a strong purpose orientation. They’re altruistic by nature and seek organizations that serve the common good, through public service, or social enterprise. They’re strong believers in diversity, equity and inclusion, and feel most engaged when they’re serving a higher purpose or simply helping people.

They also fell into the categories of Balance-Seekers and Ground-Breakers. Balance-Seekers have a strong work-life balance orientation. They generally seek well-established, small to medium sized organizations with a friendly, family feel, providing a decent salary and the flexibility for people to balance their responsibilities at work with their wider interests and responsibilities outside of work.  Ground-Breakers have a strong entrepreneurial orientation. They’d ideally prefer to work within a dynamic, team-oriented, start-up environment, with a strong focus on innovation. They’re less interested in working for an established player, and more focused on embracing the latest technologies to create new and exciting products, and lead developments in their chosen field. 

As a whole, these students expect an average annual beginning salary of $60,320 and are most interested in the industries of Arts, Entertainment and Recreation; Education; and Hospital and Health Care. Fashion, Accessories, and Luxury Goods and Architecture and Urban Planning garnered the least amount of interest. 

COVID-19 has made lasting changes on the way people work with remote and work-from-home being an attractive and necessary option for many even as restrictions begin to lift. Because of this, students, both disabled and non as we have seen across Insight Surveys, are overwhelmingly in favor of and expect to have the option of remote work once they begin their careers. Polled disabled students said they were 84% interested in remote opportunities, but WFH does not come without its concerns. 51% of students reported fearing they will be isolated and miss out on social connection with coworkers, while 48% are concerned their employer may have a bias for in-person workers. Other top concerns include worrying their earning potential could be less and not being able to maintain a healthy work-life balance.

Top Attractive Attributes

When it comes to choosing the most attractive attributes of employers, polled students more often chose ethics and respect over market success and growth when it came to Employer Reputation. Ethical standards (59%) and inspiring purpose (57%) ranked highest with innovation (34%) and inspiring leadership (32%) in the middle, while the least important were market success (14%) and fast-growing/entrepreneurial (9%). This group is most concerned with the humanity of a company and looking for employers who put the needs of its employees before the needs of the market.

The same is true when asked about People & Culture specifically: respect of its people (48%), encouraging work-life balance (40%) and having a friendly work environment (39%) ranked the highest, with opportunities to make a personal impact (37%) and having a creative and dynamic work environment (35%) following. They are less concerned with finding only the best talent (7%) or interacting with international clients (6%), showing that they are most interested in companies putting time into creating an environment that inspires growth, balance and creativity within their employees.

The need for remuneration and advancement opportunities is also important within this group, who are not interested in taking on stagnant jobs without a chance for evolution or promotion in the future. The top choices were: clear path for advancement (41%), high future earnings (39%) and support for gender equality (38%). And while moving up in the in their chosen company is important to them, they are least interest in rapid promotion (5%), opting instead for gradual growth and experience.

Reaching Top Talent

Assuaging concerns and promoting attractive attributes is all about engaging the right people with the right messages through the right channels. When asked about their most used communication channels to learn about employers, the word-of-mouth sources talent said they rely on the most were through learning directly from trusted people in the industry, online reviews and current employees in the company. Talent in this group is most interested in hearing from people that have been proven trustworthy and are not easily swayed by channels like online influencers (4% positive response) whose recommendations may not be as reliable nor speak to their specific concerns.

For most used online platforms, this talent goes right to the source with the majority saying they visit the employer’s own website and/or the corporate website, while 48% said they rely on LinkedIn for information. Again, this group is less interested in unreliable sources preferring to read the company’s history and values in their own words and putting YouTube and Twitter at the bottom of their lists of online platforms used for research.

That said, the top four types of information they feel are most important for them to read about on employers’ online channels ranked as “Highly Important” are: diversity and inclusion(57%), training and development opportunities (56%), advancement opportunities (49%) and Corporate Social Responsibility (47%). This group is focused on inclusion and advancement and less concerned with the fluff, ranking social events and activities for employees (23%) and the company’s market performance (22%) as the least important topics they look for while researching.

Overall, companies interested in attracting top talent within the disabled community need to put an emphasis on the growth and well-being of their employees, create clear paths to success and advancement, and include meaningful conversations, actions and resources into diversity and inclusion programs.

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