Moloney Search Interviews Liz Johnson, Paralympian & Ian Iceton on the issues surrounding disability in recruitment

Interview   –   25 October 2021

Moloney Search Interviews Medal Winning Paralympian Liz Johnson and Ian Iceton from The Cambridge Code to discuss some of the issues surrounding recruiting people with visible and invisible disabilities

‘If we get this right, then it doesn't just benefit people with disabilities, it benefits every single person on the planet because authentic inclusion is ultimately what makes for a truly productive world and a happy world and a successful organisation.’ Liz

Moloney Search invited Liz Johnson and Ian Iceton to discuss the challenges and opportunities of recruiting from a more diverse pool of talent as well as looking at recruiting people with both visible and hidden disabilities.

Liz has earned success as a Paralympian, media commentator, public speaker, athlete, mentor and community ambassador. During her swimming career, she won medals at three Paralympics, achieving Gold in Beijing, Silver in Athens and Bronze in London. She has also been a World and European champion on multiple occasions. She discussed her personal experience, and how she now helps organisations recruit people with disabilities. Ian Iceton was an HR Director for twenty years and is now the Managing Director of the Cambridge Code, discussed his experience and research on hiring people who are neurodiverse – specifically those on the autism spectrum.

Diversity in the widest sense has always been at the heart of Moloney Search. Dr Curly Moloney started the conversation drawing the focus to the underexplored area of recruiting people with visible and non visible disabilities - a topic people are nervous to discuss and often fearful of saying or doing the wrong thing.

Liz Johnson gave a powerful and inspired talk on the importance of the topic of disability and how we should not only find the time for it, but ultimately change our approach to inclusion. People tend to focus on someone’s disability, but what one can achieve should not be linked to people’s perception of them.

‘Most importantly, in terms of disability, the dial has barely moved in the past 30 years, so something isn't working. Disabled people are still twice as likely to be unemployed as those who are not disabled. And even then, they're likely to be in a job that's below their potential output.’

There is often a very narrow view of disability and people react to visual stimuli, therefore those with disabilities do not always have the freedom to choose how they present themselves. Liz additionally stressed the need for a collaborative approach through consultation on this matter. For her, inclusion is a mindset and we as a society need to open our hearts and minds to achieve this.

‘We're programmed to judge based on what we can see and react to the visual stimulus. I think that is largely one of the sticking points in this area because essentially we need to start looking at removing all of the unnecessary barriers that exist so that we create an authentically inclusive environment for people to have the freedom to choose how they present us with their best selves. That enables the best talent that is available globally to be sourced.’

Workplaces should reflect reality and provide access to everyone based on their actual abilities not perceived ones. It is often that we subconsciously look for markers to helps us make decisions, however it is important to remember that people who are different are not less able, in fact difference is a strength. 15% of the global population and 20% of the British population have a registered disability. At the same time, 70 % of people who make up this demographic have invisible or hidden disabilities. Yet only 8% of people with a disability are wheelchair users and this still tends to be how most people perceive a disabled person to look.

‘Equity of experience and opportunity is a right that every human is entitled to.’

Equity of experience should be the true focus and disability is not a defining characteristic, it is part of one the same way occupation, gender and nationality might be. Liz stressed that despite having a disability she is not always disabled if she has the support and the right environment. Therefore, a true inclusive environment allows people to be their best selves and removing all unnecessary barriers is the way to achieve that.

‘We need to commit to creating an environment where disability doesn't need to be disabling because quite often people get confused between what it means to have a disability and what it means to be disabled.’

As a society we are drawn to tangible assets. Being a Paralympian has been the key for Liz’s recognition. A lot of the time, disabled people need to prove they are exceptional in order to be accepted. We need to accept that different is normal. People are focused on saying the right thing, but actions speak louder than words. We cannot expect everyone to know everything about disabilities but once one’s attention has been brought to that gap in their knowledge, action needs to be taken. Fear often prevents that – but we have the responsibility to be proactive and ask questions in order to approach inclusion authentically. Diversity is achieved as a by-product of inclusion.

‘In 2021 actions speak louder than words, we try to say the right things, we try to look like we're doing the right things…There was a time where people saw inclusion as being in the same space at the same time. But actually, if you're not having the opportunity to get the same experience, then you're not really being included, you're just making up the numbers.

Everyone deserves equal opportunities to allow people to be their best selves. It is an individual decision whether to disclose one’s disability and by eliminating unnecessary barriers, we are opening up to individuals with outside-of-the-box thinking, stronger soft skills and overall powerful minds.

‘What is reasonable for one person isn't reasonable for another. Why do we still need reasonable adjustments in 2021? When Discrimination Acts and Equality Acts were coming in - of course, it was a very quick implementation to start to solve an issue. But 30, 40, 50 years down the line, we have enough information available to us and enough experience and enough wisdom to know that that's not necessary. Technology can do wonderful things, but so could humans.’

‘If we get this right, then it doesn't just benefit people with disabilities, it benefits every single person on the planet because authentic inclusion is ultimately what makes for a truly productive world and a happy world and a successful organisation.

Ian Iceton is very passionate about untapped talent, particularly people on the autism spectrum and Ian continued the conversation. He noted that autistic people often find recruiting processes extremely challenging and in turn society has a largely outdated understanding of people on the spectrum. It is important to start adapting recruitment processes in order to include such candidates, starting from wording in job adverts to rethinking the overall recruitment strategy. We need to be more thoughtful and include criteria that are only necessary, otherwise we risk losing neurodiverse candidates who approach such ads with incredible attention to detail.

‘How do we keep educating ourselves about this so that we progress towards a situation where the onus isn't on the individual, isn't on the candidate to have to describe their own situation and navigate their way through our processes? We need to adapt our own processes and our own approaches to make it truly inclusive for everyone.’

Often interviews are not the best assessment for those on the spectrum as they process things in different ways, therefore it is important to educate ourselves as recruiters. We need to design processes in such a way as to give people the ability to shine – whether that is through technical or real-life on the job testing. Additionally, some autistic people may struggle with public transport or have a range of other sensitivities so an expectation to be in the office might need to be reviewed in such cases.

‘There is some fantastic talent out there and some of the processes that we've typically used, particularly as recruiters, haven't been as inclusive as they could be. We've now got a chance to make sure that we educate ourselves and educate others and to do things better.

In the video, linked here you can see the full talk including a Q&A session with Ian and Liz. 

As part of our ongoing commitment to diversity in recruitment. We recently interviewed Richard Cartwright, who gives his perspective as a disabled candiate. To read this interview follow this link.

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