Jane Hatton, MSc, FCIPD and FRSA, is the founder of Evenbreak, an award-winning specialist job board run by and for disabled people.
We recently checked in with Jane to learn more about the challenges facing disabled job seekers and why companies should consider giving these candidates a second look. Read on:
Can you tell us the story behind Evenbreak?
I founded Evenbreak in 2011 as a solution to a number of barriers to employment for disabled people.
In the U.K., disabled people have twice the rate of unemployment as non-disabled people. As a diversity consultant I had encountered various reactions from employers on this issue, from complete resistance to employing disabled people to a desire to employ them but not knowing how to go about it. As an employer I had employed a range of staff including disabled people, so had experienced the business benefits of doing so. Talking to disabled people, there was a wariness to apply for jobs, having been rejected so often at the point they first mentioned their impairment. And, as a disabled person myself, I knew the importance of working - not just for income, but also to have a purpose, a feeling of contributing something of value, and increasing dignity and independence.
Evenbreak addresses many of these issues. As a specialist job board it enables inclusive employers to specifically target disabled candidates with their vacancies, meaning they will attract more disabled candidates than through their usual recruitment channels. It enables disabled candidates to have the confidence to apply for jobs to an employer who has chosen to target them. We also offer online support to candidates in terms of how to sell themselves to employers, and to employers in helping them to become more inclusive and accessible.
Why was it important to you to create a specialist job board for disabled people?
Fairness has been important to me since I was a child, campaigning against children with free school meals having to stand in a separate queue from those of us who didn't. My early career was spent in social work, with children and young people in residential care - a very marginalised group in society.
Following a period of training social workers I became an independent management consultant specializing in diversity (or "equal opportunities" as we called it then). My main interest at the time was race discrimination - this was around the time of the Stephen Lawrence inquiry. I then became involved in wider issues of diversity, including gender, sexual orientation, age and disability, particularly in the area of employment.
Having spent many years promoting to employers the benefits of employing, amongst others, disabled people, a somewhat ironic twist of fate meant that I joined the 83 percent of disabled people who acquire a disability in adulthood.
I developed a degenerative spinal disorder requiring a number of spinal surgeries, leaving me in constant chronic pain, and specifically limiting my ability to sit.
This rather abruptly made disability much more personal, and I decided that rather than just training employers I wanted to contribute something tangible towards improving accessibility and inclusion for disabled people in the workplace.
I run Evenbreak lying flat with a laptop suspended above me. As Evenbreak grew I needed to employ people, and took the decision to only employ disabled people. Evenbreak strives to be a "role model" employer - we are a social enterprise (all surplus income going back into the business), a social business (only employing disabled people) and a Living Wage employer (all staff are paid at or above the living wage).
How do disabled people approach job hunting differently than other job seekers?
Disabled job seekers generally face more barriers than non-disabled jobseekers. One of the biggest barriers we face is the negative perception of many employers. There is an erroneous perception that disabled people are unreliable, less productive and potentially expensive. No matter how talented the candidate, many employers struggle to see past the hearing impairment, wheelchair or Autism.
In addition to this, there may be practical barriers such as inaccessible websites. EU research found 75 percent of FTSE 100 websites to be inaccessible
Other barriers may be found in the recruitment process itself.
Having often faced years of discrimination due to impairments, disabled candidates are often wary of applying for jobs unless they are confident that their application will be taken seriously.
What have been the most gratifying aspects of running Evenbreak?
There have been many gratifying moments whilst running Evenbreak. We have won a number of prestigious awards and accreditations. However, the greatest satisfaction comes from seeing people being able to put their talents to good use and feel valued again.
Jean was the first candidate to find work through Evenbreak. She had almost given up looking for work, as employers seemed unable to see beyond her wheelchair. She successfully applied for a job she found on Evenbreak, working from home, and was quickly promoted. Five years on, she has a different role now which she says she was able to apply for having gained so much confidence in the meantime.
The first person I employed with Evenbreak was Lewis. He joined us at the age of 16, having been told he may never work. Having very severe ME, meaning he was homeschooled for just four hours a week from the age of 10, Lewis has been an exceptional Data Entry Clerk for Evenbreak for over three years now.
What are some of the challenges facing disabled people in job searches?
Disabled candidates, like any candidate, are looking for roles which will require their skills, and also employers who will enable them to thrive. Every candidate's situation is different, and important issues may include transport, parking, accessibility of venue, flexible working hours etc.
The recruitment process may be a challenge for some candidates. For example, some people with Autism may not perform well at interviews whilst being the perfect person for the job.
It may be that a disabled person's CV does not reflect their true qualities. They may have gaps in their work history which are due to discrimination rather than their abilities.
Again, employers may have a bias against disabled applicants which will limit their chances. We can all be susceptible to this. On advertising an Admin Assistant post for Evenbreak a while ago, a person applied who said she was Deaf, her speech was poor and she was unable to lipread, mainly communicating through British Sign Language (BSL). Also, the longest she had stayed in any job was one month. My instinctive response was to question how we would communicate (I had not learned BSL), and how reliable she was considering her CV. We offer guaranteed interviews, so I interviewed her with a BSL interpreter, and she was clearly the best applicant. Previous roles had ended prematurely because of her managers' reluctance to find different ways to communicate. In the event, she is a brilliant Admin Assistant, and as a bonus is teaching me BSL. Her CV did not reflect her enviable qualities as an employee.
What can disabled people do to give themselves an advantage during the job search and interview process?
It is important for disabled people to identify and value the strengths they bring to a role. Communicating why they would be a good match for a particular role is key. They may decide not to mention their impairment initially (or indeed at all), although if they need reasonable adjustments for the application process it may be advisable.
If they do discuss impairments with their prospective employer, they can explain how they carried out specific tasks in previous roles, and what support may have been required. They can remind the employer that any workplace adjustments they need might be funded by Access to Work.
Having to overcome barriers and navigate around an inaccessible world means that many disabled people have developed additional skills to overcome this. Finding new ways to carry out tasks requires creativity and innovation. Problem solving, determination and persistence are often developed, too. These are all good qualities for employees to have, and disabled people can promote these as transferable skills.
Other transferable skills may also be related to specific impairments. People who use assistive technology can often out-perform their colleagues. Dictation software is less likely to make typing errors! People on the Autism spectrum may have a particular ability for detailed work such as coding, or roles that require repetitive tasks.
Disabled candidates need to promote the positive aspects they bring with them to counteract some of the negative perceptions that employers may have.
What can hiring managers do to make their hiring process more inclusive?
Employers need to ensure that their recruitment processes are accessible and inclusive. This will involve looking at every part of the process for potential barriers, from the writing of the job description/person specification, strategies for attracting a diverse range of candidates, which media to advertise in, right through to appointment and induction.
Organizations that have a good reputation for being inclusive will find it easier to attract diverse candidates. There are specific schemes which support employers in becoming more inclusive and accessible to disabled people, including the Disability Confident scheme, the Business Disability Forum's Disability Standard, and The Clear Company's Clear Assured program.
What types of questions should hiring managers be asking disabled job candidates to even the playing field?
In interviews, hiring managers need to give candidates every opportunity to explain what they can bring to the role. The candidates will be able to describe how they have carried out tasks previously and what, if any, support they needed.
Hiring managers also need to bear in mind that disabled candidates may have many transferable skills, and should give them opportunities to describe those.
What seem to be the most common frustrations among disabled people about the job search and hiring process?
Disabled candidates say that one of the biggest barriers they face is the negative perception that employers often hold around disability. Assumptions are made about what a candidate can or can't do, without checking these assumptions out. This means that candidates do not have the chance to show what they are capable of.
This inability to challenge erroneous perceptions can be very frustrating for candidates who know they could do the job well if given the chance.
What advice do you find yourself repeating to disabled job seekers who are discouraged by their job searches?
It is very easy for disabled candidates to become disheartened when rejected time after time for no good reason. The odds are stacked against them, but we suggest persisting with explicitly stating the match between their skills and qualities with each specific job they apply for. Persistence can pay off, but it is hard to remain motivated when faced with constant rejection.
How has the ability for disabled job seekers to find a job evolved since you started your site? How have businesses openness to hiring those with disabilities changed?
When I started Evenbreak in 2011, disability was still seen as an afterthought by many employers. Thankfully, awareness was increasing around race and gender issues, but disability was not monitored or promoted as much. Since then, disability seems to be moving up the corporate agenda, albeit quite slowly.
A number of organizations are available to support disabled people into work, with increasing numbers led by disabled people themselves. The social model of disability is slowly becoming accepted.
Some employers are beginning to understand that employing disabled people is not an act of charity, or a Corporate Social Responsibility box-ticking exercise, but a way of accessing untapped talent.
Government schemes to support disabled people are currently in a state of transition, and austerity has played its part in reducing support such as ending the Independent Living Fund, the replacement of the Disability Living Fund with Personal Independence Payments and cuts to other vital services.
Progress is being made, particularly by large private sector employers, but there is still much work to be done. The employment gap between disabled and non-disabled people has not changed significantly.