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Diversifying the Workforce

Four men with disability stand in a room. A man in the foreground with a hi-vis vest smiles at the camera

Key benefits

  • Measure your workforce demographics to determine benchmarks and goals
  • Share your success stories
  • Talk to people with a disability to make informed decisions 

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Who is this for?

HR Managers, Operations Managers, People and Culture consultants in Victoria.

Diversifying the Workforce 

Australia’s disability workforce is constantly changing to prepare for and respond to our sector’s future needs and goals. Due to the current workforce shortages that the sector is facing, disability service employers are increasingly needing to diversify their workforce and take advantage of untapped markets. People with a lived experience of disability are one of these markets. People with disability bring a range of skills, talents, and abilities to the workplace. So how can you employ more individuals with a lived experience of disability in your workforce?

The importance of data

A recent poll undertaken by NDS at our recent ‘Diversifying the Workforce’ workshop held on 4 May 2023 revealed that 23 per cent of respondents did not measure how many people with a disability they had in their workforce and 27 per cent did not know. In order to improve anything, you need to be able to measure it. Otherwise, how to benchmark for progress? This means that the first step towards employing more people with a disability is to know how many people you are employing now and determine how many people you want to employ moving forward.

To address this, organisations could consider setting up yearly surveys to measure staff diversity. This could cover several demographic traits - from disability to cultural background and gender, which could give you important insights into the composition of your workforce.

While seemingly straightforward, this task entails a number of challenges. People have a right to privacy if they don’t want to disclose their disability. They may have experienced discrimination in the past and thus, would like to keep their disability undisclosed. They may simply not identify themselves as a person with a disability. So, we want to acknowledge that gathering data may not be straightforward and that the numbers you get may not necessarily reflect the reality. Still, an approximation is better than nothing. Consider making the survey anonymous to ensure confidentiality. As you build a culture of inclusion, you’re likely to find your surveying will be something people will be happy to contribute to.

In terms of benchmarks, the NDS ‘Diversifying the Workforce’ poll revealed that 42 out of 82 people (51 per cent of respondents) were aware that their organisation already has a policy on disability employment, which suggests there is already a considerable momentum and initiative within the sector to employing more people with a disability. In line with this, 95 per cent of respondents stated that their organisation already employs people with a disability. However, 73 per cent expressed that they felt they weren’t hiring enough people with a disability, which could indicate (a) a willingness to do more in this area, (b) a need for increased knowledge on good disability recruitment practices or (c) a simple lack of awareness of what ‘enough’ actually means.

There is no clear-cut answer to the latter. ‘Enough’ will look different from organisation to organisation and from area to area. A good common practice is for you to have a look at the broader demographics of the local community in which your organisation operates and try to be representative of that. However, this is not always possible or ideal. First and foremost, you need to look at your organisation’s internal structure and scope of practice and decide on benchmarks that are aligned with your particular capabilities and goals.

The power of storytelling

Once you have some data and goals, the next step is to look inward. If your organisation already has people with a disability working there, you might be able to record some case studies by talking to some of your employees with disabilities. These people can be your champions, so you could talk to them about being involved. Some questions you could explore with them include the following:

  • What do they find meaningful and satisfying about their work?
  • Did they have any accessibility challenges upon onboarding?
  • What worked for them in the recruitment and onboarding process?
  • Why did they stay in your organisation?

This information could be used to draft recruitment materials and inform onboarding processes. If employees are interested in sharing their story in the organisation’s channels, invite them to be part of a campaign and showcase their story in your organisation’s website, social media channels, and annual reports. In the end, there’s nothing more human than stories and if people can see themselves in an organisation, they are more likely to get involved.

Making jobs accessible

A good way to make jobs accessible is to ensure recruitment materials actively encourage people with a disability to apply while not explicitly asking people to disclose if they have a disability. As previously mentioned, some people may have been judged and overlooked in their career due to unconscious bias, so they may be hesitant to disclose their disability. In order to address this, consider including a question in your recruitment process that enquires whether the person needs any supports or adjustments to excel in their job instead of asking for explicit disclosure.

Another good practice you could consider implementing is to discuss the specific tasks and activities a person will need to do as part of their job instead of treating the job description with an all-or-nothing approach. In this sense, outcomes-based job descriptions are an excellent way to write job descriptions that appeal to people’s values and strengths while giving you and your prospective employees enough room to engage in job-carving where necessary.

In this sense, some of the most common barriers to hiring people with a disability include false perceptions that people with a disability are unable to perform frontline roles; with the accompanying fear that by hiring them to do so, we’re setting them up for failure. It is important to note that while this may be true in some instances, it is not always the case.

Given that disability comes in many shapes and forms, there is no clear-cut pathway to make workplaces accessible to all and no fail-safe guide that will respond to everyone’s needs. The good news is that you don’t have to! People know what they need. So, if you’re considering hiring someone with a disability, consider asking them what their daily routine looks like so that you can collaboratively find a way for work to fit into their lives (instead of the other way around).

You could also consider discussing measures such as job-sharing, flexible working hours, and remote and/or hybrid work where appropriate, as well as any accessibility accommodations they may need (e.g. carpeted floors, speech-to-text apps, etc.). There’s nothing as effective as an open conversation for a successful agreement.

After recruitment comes retention

Last but not least, it’s important to note that any accessibility efforts don’t end in onboarding. People change. Situations change. And workplaces need to be responsive to people’s needs as life goes by. In this sense, supervision is key. Setting up regular check-ins with your employees is a good way to get the feedback that you need to ensure your workplace remains accessible to them. People with a disability can enrich your workplace and become valued members of your organisation. If you’d like to learn more, check out other resources on disability employment here:

Related Resources

Contact information

For any enquiries, please contact Lourdes Zamanillo, Senior Policy and Project Officer Workforce, submit enquiry/feedback, show phone number