When Brad Loftus founded his company’s disability employee research group, it was a group of one. Now it’s 1,300.
“We didn't really talk about disability in the workforce very much in 1999 when I started," Loftus said about his time at Boston Consulting Group. "I mean, candidly, we didn't talk about much of diversity, but disability wasn’t at the forefront."
This spring, Loftus co-authored a report, published by BCG, that found while most companies say just 4% to 7% of their workforce have a disability, the reality is likely much higher.
“Roughly 25% said that they had a disability or a condition that had a major impact," said Loftus.
The survey found that employees with disabilities "significantly under-disclose to their employers.”
In addition to – or maybe because of - that, “People with disabilities report lower levels of inclusion in the workplace.”
It matches a previous survey from Accenture where just 20% of employees with disabilities believed their workplace was fully committed to helping them succeed.
“People were sort of struggling alone trying to show that they didn't have weakness," Loftus said, "that they wouldn't be perceived as not being able to do the job. And whether that was their own perception or the reality, they weren't getting the help that they needed to do the job better."
Robert Gould teaches in the Department of Disability at the University of Illinois-Chicago. His research has found similar struggles. But it’s also found a rising number of larger companies wanting to help.
“More and more big businesses in particular recognize disability as something that needs to be included instead of, you know, cured, fixed, or not talked about," Gould said. "But we're also seeing that many businesses don't necessarily know the best way to do it."
Loftus found employees were more likely to disclose their disabilities when their companies had policies in place specific to disabilities, when they had mentorship programs to pair individuals with disabilities, and when they gave those individuals reasonable accommodations.
“We would all sit in the team room together, and that was the most efficient process. Maybe it is for many of us, but if you have ADHD, that may be a horrible way for you to work,” Loftus said, “I broke my neck when I was 17. I was in-between walking and a wheelchair. And, you know, my focus when I came to BCG was, ‘I’m going to ignore my disability.’”
Instead, he started a group of one that’s now 1,300. And he’s learned the way you get there and go further is to first make sure you get counted.
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