Saying there is a disability strategy and proving the strategy is working are two different things. Measuring progress is the only assurance that people are counted in rather than excluded.
— By Jeremiah Prince
The expression "level the playing field" is frequently used to cover many situations, but when applied to people with disabilities in the workplace, it takes on enormous importance. A level playing field means people with disabilities have a fair opportunity, based on their abilities and desire to succeed, to express their potential.
Organizations develop disability initiatives and institute policies and procedures addressing things like the ADA and accommodations. How is it possible to know if the organizational culture and strategy are successfully leveling the playing field and giving people with disabilities the opportunities they deserve as much as anyone else in the workplace? What is the real impact of inclusion on the business?
In the technology age, quantitative and qualitative metrics measure the effort, initiative status, and ROI.
Shaking up the Status Quo
Before implementing measurements, the disability initiative needs development and implementation. Given the cultural biases that have kept people with disabilities out of the workplace or in low paying jobs, the reality is the status quo usually needs shaking up, and metrics can play a role.
If hiring managers are allowed to quietly exclude candidates with disabilities, the workplace culture discourages inclusion, and only minimal accommodations are made to discourage rather than encourage people with disabilities from fully contributing or reaching their potential, the current status needs to change. An initiative only succeeds if people are willing to give it honest consideration and effort.
Organizational readiness is a key factor in implementation of any initiative. One of the first steps is getting all leaders to commit to employing people with disabilities and removing barriers to success. A hiring manager who continues to maintain the perspective that employees with disabilities will cost the department money, slow overall performance, and become a burden on co-workers is not going to willingly provide accommodations beyond the minimum required by law and is more likely to perpetuate a culture of exclusion.
Early metrics can include data collected from surveys completed by organizational leaders at every level. The goal is not to single out leaders, so it can be anonymous. It is to identify the level of commitment, identify perspectives that present challenges to inclusion, and pinpoint management levels that currently serve as obstacles but can become pivots for change. Periodic surveys after the initiative is developed can demonstrate progress and areas needing more concentration.
Additional metrics associated with developing leadership commitment include reviewing the number of people with disabilities in or placed in leadership positions; data analytics concerning the level and quality of communication efforts; and the number and types of actions taken externally to connect with diversity organizations.
Moving on to Broader Success
Developing leadership commitment is only a first step, and the information gleaned from managers and supervisors becomes important feedback for identifying what needs addressing and the challenges to overcome. A team of people can develop the initiative, but it needs representation of one or more people with disabilities.
However, someone needs to clearly be in charge of the team and the organization's effort to attract, hire, engage, and develop people with disabilities. Without oversight, initiatives tend to experience a slow demise.
The person in charge can establish one or more employee resource groups that include senior leaders, and people with and without disabilities. An important step is training employees on etiquette to eliminate much of the fear that keeps people without disabilities from interacting with those with disabilities. People fear saying or doing the wrong thing. It is just a fact of life. Like the leadership surveys, general employee surveys are useful for identifying perspectives on inclusion and can address things like whether people feel free to disclose their disabilities.
Managers need to be held accountable for results by setting performance goals and measuring results as initiatives are implemented and progress. Metrics must address real outcomes and employee engagement.
After a disability initiative is implemented, measuring the financial impact moves the effort from philanthropic to mission-driven investing.
Is the workforce perspective changing? Are more people with disabilities being hired and developed? Are people with disabilities career planning and represented in the leadership pipeline? Do employees without disabilities feel more comfortable and assured about working with people with disabilities? Do employees, including managers, understand the law and the organization's strategy to go beyond the law to be fully accountable?
Measuring Organizational Success
Numerous studies have demonstrated that companies with more inclusive cultures do better financially.
A recent study by Accenture of 140 U.S. companies, in partnership with the American Association of People with Disabilities and Disability:IN, found that inclusive organizations achieved an average of 28 percent more revenue, twice the net income, and 30 percent greater profit margins compared to peer companies. Companies considered "disability inclusion champions" were twice as likely to experience a higher shareholder return, compared to peer organizations. Even companies that were not rated champions yet, but were proactively striving to better support people with disabilities, were four times more likely to experience higher shareholder returns.
After a disability initiative is implemented, measuring the financial impact moves the effort from philanthropic to mission-driven investing. Business leaders and investors need to know the ROI.
After a disability initiative is in progress, measurements may include increases in innovation in products and services, productivity, access to the disability market, access to new suppliers, brand reputation, and reputation as an employer-of-choice. All this is saying is that measuring the true success and impact of diversity initiatives goes far beyond headcounts and reporting the amount invested in accommodations.
Benchmark and Track
There are four organizations that have developed tools and other resources for benchmarking and tracking disability inclusion efforts. They are internal tools for self-directed audits.
The tools are the USBLN Disability Equality Index, the NOD Disability Employment Tracker, the Cornell University BenchmarkABILITY, and the ILO Global Business and Disability Network.
Any tools used should be supplemented with other metrics, like ROI measurements, as appropriate.