Diversity and inclusion, center for talent innovation, CTI, diversity, disabilities, disabilities and inclusion

A talent pool many companies neglect: Employees with disabilities

Oct 12 2017

Far more people than expected may have a disability. A ground-breaking study by the Center for Talent Innovation (CTI) found 30 percent of college-educated employees working full-time in white-collar jobs in the U.S. have a disability and that many experience negative bias in their careers.

The cover of the Center for Talent Innovation's "Disabilities and Inclusion" report.

Click to read the “Disabilities and Inclusion” report

The report, “Disabilities and Inclusion,” was authored by Laura Sherbin and Julia Taylor Kennedy of CTI and was sponsored by Aetna, as well as Accenture, Bloomberg LP, Johnson & Johnson, Lime Connect, Prudential, PwC, Wells Fargo, KPMG, McKesson, Unilever and the US Business Leadership Network.

“I’m proud of Aetna’s leading work in the employment disability space,” said Michael Neaton, chair of AetnAbilities, Aetna’s employee resource group for those with disabilities and their allies. “I am certain that CTI’s research will lead to better engagement of employees with disabilities everywhere – not just at Aetna.”

21 percent of employees with disabilities disclose to their employers’ human resources department

Using the new, broader U.S. federal definition of disabilities, which was finalized in 2016 and now includes mental health and chronic conditions, the findings uncovered that employees with disabilities make up an enormous talent pool that employers overlook far too often. Sixty-two percent of employees with disabilities have “invisible disabilities”— people can’t tell they have a disability unless they choose to disclose it.

Invisibility, in addition to a lack of awareness regarding the high percentage of their workforce, translates into significant costs for employers. Individuals with disabilities face the unique position of having to creatively problem-solve each day to successfully navigate the world. Seventy-five percent of employees with disabilities report having an idea that would drive value for their company (versus 66 percent of employees without disabilities).

Yet employees with disabilities report experiencing negative bias at their companies and a majority feel stalled in their careers. Despite being more likely than those without disabilities to say they have valuable ideas for their companies, nearly half of those same employees report their ideas do not win endorsement from people with the power to act on them.

75 percent of employees with disabilities report having an idea that would drive value for their company

Employers looking to elicit the best ideas from their people should rely on inclusive leadership by exhibiting at least three of the following behaviors: ensuring everyone is heard, making it safe to propose new ideas, giving actionable feedback, taking advice and implementing feedback, empowering team members to make decisions and sharing credit for team success. As many employees carry invisible disabilities; using inclusive leadership practices with all employees carries even more relevance.

Inclusive team leaders are more likely to support or endorse the ideas of employees with disabilities than those who do not have inclusive team leaders, according to the study. Employees with disabilities who have inclusive leaders are also less likely to face stalled careers.

“Now that we know employees with disabilities make up nearly a third of the white-collar workforce, employers simply can’t afford to ignore this crucial talent cohort,” said Laura Sherbin, co-president of CTI and a managing partner of Hewlett Consulting Partners. “By understanding employees with disabilities—and listening to their ideas—companies can unlock enormous potential.”

CTI’s “Disabilities and Inclusion” report highlights additional ways employers can signal inclusion to employees with disabilities.

For more information on “Disabilities and Inclusion,” please visit www.talentinnovation.org.