September is Disability Employment Month: A Case Study in Shared Opportunity

The first question people ask in social situations is, “What is your name?” The next question is, “What do you do?” Too many British Columbians with disabilities do not have a good answer to the second question.

Of Disabilities and Doing Good Business
A network of business leaders in B.C. are focused on closing the gap of employment opportunities for people with disabilities. They believe embracing a diverse and inclusive workforce is not only the right thing to do—it’s good business.

With 334,000 working age British Columbians who have a disability, people with disabilities represent a robust and largely untapped labour market.B.C.’s labour shortage has an expected 900,000 job openings by 2028. Despite this, the unemployment rate for people with disabilities is still 11.6 per cent; much higher than the rate for people without disabilities at 7.1 per cent.

Addressing Employment Barriers in B.C.
The Presidents Group—a network of change-driven, B.C. business leaders who are champions for more accessible, inclusive workplaces—is exploring that opportunity/challenge. Member organizations range in size and industry, but all believe that disabilities should not be a barrier to employment, and that they have a role to play to change this belief.

Presidents Group member Lisa Beecroft owns Gabi & Jules Bakery in Port Moody. With a small staff of 20 employees, 35 per cent of the bakery’s employees identify with a disability. Their path to inclusive employment started with the need for a delivery driver.

Of Empowerment and Employment
Gabi & Jules worked with the Pacific Autism Centre to find the right candidate and hired “Conrad” in a part-time position. Beecroft provided slight workplace adjustments that fit Conrad’s needs. For example, Conrad’s schedule was modified to deliver at non-peak times to avoid the anxiety that can be triggered with a bustling lunchtime café. Not only did this make sense for Conrad, it made great business sense for Gabi & Jules—deliveries are more efficient during non-peak times. Conrad continues to be a loyal employee at the bakery and has encouraged Beecroft to continue with her inclusive hiring practices.

Similarly, Presidents Group member HSBC has taken the lead in hiring and retaining a diverse workforce. Three years ago, “Renu” was hired at HSBC as a business analyst in the transformation group. Renu has a bachelor of science and bachelor of business administration from Simon Fraser University, as well as a Certified General Accountant designation. Renu is deaf and uses sign language to communicate with her colleagues. When needed, she makes use of an interpreter.

Reno’s role as a business analyst supports the organization’s ability to achieve strategy by having their high-level requirements met through her convening role. When asked what her favourite part of the role is, Renu points to the dynamic nature of her work.

“Nothing is ever the same. I love challenges and there are always new issues arising. I start with a project and get pulled into something else. I am constantly developing my skills,” Renu says.

Small Changes and Big Impacts
When asked how HSBC supports her to be successful, Renu feels that HSBC’s telework policy is vital. The policy, which allows her to work from home two days a week, lets her conduct meetings virtually using assistive technology. Her managers aim to book meetings in advance, so she can ensure an interpreter is present.

Small modifications to roles at HSBC and Gabi & Jules have employed people with disabilities and allowed them to show their value to the organization. As September is Disability Employment Month, visit accessibleemployers.ca to access more stories and download free resources and tools that can help you become an inclusive employer, too.

Mahin Rashid is a strategic community development leader and dedicates her career to ensuring equal opportunities for everyone in our province. She works currently as an accessibility and inclusion consultant for the Presidents Group, a network of senior business leaders working to improve employment outcomes for people with disabilities in BC.

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