Opinions expressed by londonbusinessblog.com contributors are their own.
If you gave a leader the chance to increase their talent pool of potential employees by 15% – with all these new hires belonging to an underrepresented minority – they would seize the opportunity, especially given the tight labor markets and CEO desires to increase workforce. But too few leaders realize that, according to to the US government, people with disabilities are the largest minority group in this country, with 50 million – 15% of the population – living with disabilities.
Certainly, many executives are concerned about the additional investment involved in housing people with disabilities. Still, these accommodations may be nothing more than full-time remote work, according to a new study by the think tank Economic Innovation Group. The study found that by mid-2022, the employment rate of people with disabilities had not simply reached pre-pandemic levels, but had risen well above that, to its highest rate in more than a decade. Distance working, combined with a tight labor market, explains this high percentage, according to the researcher’s analysis.
Related: 5 Ways Employees with Disabilities Help Maximize a Company’s Growth
A bit of history: the employment rate of people with disabilities decreased, along with the rest of the labor market, at the beginning of the pandemic. However, they recovered quickly. People with disabilities aged 25 to 54, the main working age, are 3.5 percentage points more likely to be in work in the second quarter of 2022 than before the pandemic. What about non-disabled persons? They are still 1.1 percentage points less likely to get a job!
This means that the recovery of the labor market for people with disabilities was significantly faster than for people without disabilities. We know that both people with disabilities and those without a similar situation have a tight labor market. Given that remote working seems to be the main differentiator that enabled people with disabilities to get started.
These statistics are consistent with expert statements. For example, according to to Thomas Foley, executive director of the National Disability Institute (NDI), workers with disabilities had asked to work remotely for decades before the pandemic and had consistently heard companies say “no.” During the pandemic, he said that when “we all realized that … many of us could work remotely … that was disproportionately positive for people with disabilities.”
Related: How Entrepreneurs Can Find Great Talent Despite a Labor Shortage
The benefits of remote working for people with disabilities are particularly relevant due to the impact of prolonged Covid. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that: about 19% of those who had Covid-19 long developed Covid. Recent data from the Census Bureau indicates that: 16 million Americans of working age suffer from it, with economic costs reaching $3.7 trillion according to a recent estimate.
Certainly, many of these so-called long-haul carriers experience relatively mild symptoms — such as loss of sense of smell — which, while troublesome, are not disabling. But others experience symptoms severe enough that they have become disabled.
According to an recent research from the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, about a quarter of those with long-term Covid changed their employment status or working hours. That means Covid was severe enough for a long time to disrupt the work of 4 million people. For many, this interference was severe enough to qualify them as disabled.
Indeed, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York found in a just-released study that the number of people with disabilities in the US grew by 1.7 million. That growth was mainly due to prolonged Covid conditions such as fatigue and brain fogmeaning problems with concentration or memory, with 1.3 million people reporting an increase in brain fog as of mid-2020.
Many had to leave the workforce due to the intensity of their prolonged Covid. Nevertheless, about 900,000 new disabled people have been able to continue to work. They might not have done it without remote work.
In fact, the author of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York study notes that long Covid may be considered a disability under the Americans with Disability Act, depending on the specifics of the condition. This means that the law can oblige private employers with fifteen or more employees as well as government agencies to: reasonable accommodation for people with a long Covid. The author notes that “teleworking and flexible scheduling are two adaptations that can be particularly beneficial for workers dealing with fatigue and brain fog.”
Related: The labor shortage is only getting worse. What is the cause and how can I avoid losing staff?
But companies don’t have to worry about legal regulations. It simply makes money and makes sense to expand their talent pool by 15% of an underrepresented minority. After all, extensive research shows that improving diversity stimulates both decision and financial performance.
Companies that offer more flexible work options have already achieved significant gains in diverse hiring. In its efforts to adapt to the post-pandemic environment, Meta Platforms, the owner of Facebook and Instagram, has decided to offer permanent, fully remote work options to its current employees and new applicants. And according to According to Meta Diversity and Inclusion Chief, Maxine Williams, the candidates who accepted job offers for outside positions were “significantly more likely” to come from a variety of communities: people with disabilities, black, Hispanic, Alaskan Native, Native American, veterans, and women. The numbers confirm these claims: the number of people with disabilities increased from 4.7% to 6.2% of Meta’s employees.
to have consulted for 21 companies to help them transition to hybrid working arrangements, I can confirm that Meta’s numbers are no fluke. The more willing my clients were to offer remote work, the more disabled staff they recruited — and retained. That includes more obvious workers, such as those with long Covid symptoms and mobility issues. But it also includes workers with invisible disabilities, such as immunocompromised people who are reluctant to put themselves at risk of contracting Covid-19 by coming to the office.
Unfortunately, many leaders fail to see the benefits of remote working for underrepresented groups, such as people with disabilities. Some even argue the opposite: So, JP Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon claimed that returning to the office benefits diversity. What explains this poor decision-making by the executive?
Part of the answer comes from a mental blind spot called the group bias. Our minds tend to prefer and pay attention to the concerns of those we consider to be part of our in-group. Dimon and other non-disabled executives do not see people with disabilities as part of their own group. So they are blind to the concerns of people with disabilities, leading to the kind of overwhelming statements by Dimon that returning to the office benefits diversity.
In-group bias is one of many dangerous errors of judgment known as: cognitive biases. These mental blind spots affect decision-making in all areas of life, from the future of work to… mental fitness.
Another relevant cognitive bias is the empathy gap. This term refers to our effort to empathize with those who are not part of our in-group. The lack of empathy is combined with the blindness of group bias, leading executives to ignore the feelings of disabled employees and prospective employees.
omission bias also plays a role. This dangerous error of judgment makes us view failure to act as less problematic than acting. As a result, executives view failure to support the needs and interests of people with disabilities as an afterthought.
Failure to empower people with disabilities will be costly to the bottom line of companies that do not offer remote working options to those who would benefit from such adaptations. They limit their talent pool by 15%. In addition, they harm their ability to recruit and retain diverse candidates. And as their attorneys and HR departments will tell them, they put themselves in legal jeopardy for violating the ADA.
In contrast, companies like Meta that offer remote work opportunities are seizing a competitive advantage by recruiting these underrepresented candidates and expanding their talent pool by 15%. They reduce labor costs and increase diversity. The future belongs to the smart companies that provide the flexibility that people with disabilities need.