How Companies Can Cultivate a More Diverse Workforce

Never before has society been so keenly aware of inclusiveness and, more specifically, of the efforts we must undertake to eliminate exclusion and discrimination against individuals and groups. This is especially true in the workplace, and not just within the established framework once an employee is onboarded. To strengthen the hiring and retention of your workforce, companies must engage in hiring practices that exclude people with disabilities — 26% of the American adult population – to find his list, to apply, to qualify for the position and to keep a job.

Artificial intelligence algorithms used in corporate hiring processes have been conclusively proven to be heavily biased against people with disabilities. To eliminate anomalies in the hiring process, AI systems “necessarily produce and reflect a normative view of the world”, as the AI Now Institute at NYU says so. However, AI’s understanding of “normal” invariably excludes people with disabilities.

In response to the growing problem of disability-related discrimination that has been facilitated by artificial intelligence (AI) and algorithms, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the Civil Rights Division of Department of Justice (DOJ) recently released tips for employers clarify how the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) limits the use of automated decision-making tools in hiring and employment processes. The EEOC guidance is part of an agency initiative to ensure fair use of AI hiring tools, offering specific instructions to employers on how they can avoid violating the ADA and the rights of future employees with disabilities.

Job search applications, CV posting, online job application submission, online interviewing and AI CV screening must promote accessibility, comply with people with disabilities and not discriminate against people with disabilities. With disability presenting in different ways to different people, a lack of thorough and thoughtful human oversight poses high levels of risk for recruiting and HR professionals, especially when historical data is not informed to preserve fairness. To mitigate this risk, HR professionals should make every effort to ensure diversity in their workplace as much as possible.

Widespread adoption of digital accessibility is aligned with most corporate diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) initiatives – the federal government now calls this DEI&A to account for accessibility. To foster a workforce that reflects what you preach, as digital accessibility continues to impact the mainstream, hiring practices must be designed with accessibility in mind. Companies and organizations that aim to align all aspects of their operations with DEI&A’s corporate initiatives need to step back and work for equal opportunity from the start.

Discriminatory Hiring Doesn’t Stop Once AI Bias Stops

To help employers successfully overcome the risks of employment discrimination, the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) created a program, “Making Online Application Systems Accessible”, to make the online application process accessible to people with disabilities. To understand what constitutes an accessible hiring process, employers need to consider several things. The five questions employers should ask themselves when measuring the impact of recruiting and hiring practices on employment and retention are:

  1. Does the employer have an online application system used as a method of accepting applications for employment?

Putting an application online or on a company’s intranet increases accessibility. Applicants with dexterity or vision difficulties may need someone else to complete the paper or PDF forms. Despite the fact that a growing number of companies are pledging to make reasonable accommodations for their employees with disabilities – providing them with the technology they need to work remotely, for example – the application process can run into obstacles. barriers online, preventing people with disabilities from applying in the first place.

  1. Are there non-online applications accessible?

Although not all job applications are in an accessible electronic format, additional accessible versions may be available. Businesses can accept braille or audio applications. A hiring manager may also verbally interview candidates with vision difficulties. Candidates with dexterity or visual impairments can scan forms into their computers, fill them out in a word processor, then fax or email them to the human resources manager.

  1. Is the employer’s online application compatible with assistive technologies?

A company’s employment website should be accessible to blind and visually impaired users of screen readers, magnification, and color contrast software. Images and GUIs should have text equivalents so that screen readers can recognize them. Screen reader users need to be able to easily find and enter form fields. PDF job applications should be interactive, fillable forms that include a reasonable tabbing order for screen reader and keyboard users only. Content must be resizable for magnification software to work and may be resized if CSS style sheets are disabled, allowing users to contrast background and foreground colors. And of course, deadlines need to be extended – online exam questions can take longer for those using screen readers or assistive technologies.

  1. Are job application options accessible to people with reduced mobility?

People with reduced dexterity should be able to use job portals and online applications with their keyboards. Every button, link, or form field must be tab-activated to enter. Arrow keys should navigate radio buttons and combo box options. If you can’t tab to an interface, apply a keyboard shortcut. As with assistive technology users, keyboard-only users need more time to complete online employment exams because tabbing through form fields is slower than clicking.

  1. Do candidates with hearing loss have visual options?

If a company’s job portal offers audio or video, it should contain captions or transcripts, including workplace onboarding videos. The company must also provide sign language interpreters for interviews and job fairs. HR should know how to receive a relay call from a hearing-impaired job seeker.

It’s time to change culture

Unfortunately, discrimination based on an applicant’s disability falls under the jurisdiction of the EEOC. No. 2 of the most frequently received complaints. Employers must take proactive steps to include people with disabilities in business processes. While it is not necessary to completely eliminate old hiring practices, a change must be made to increase the prospects and contribution of people with disabilities in hiring and retention. To achieve this, companies must first make open positions available to people with disabilities by mitigating automatic disqualification through AI or more manual hiring practices.

The results of a culture shift to a more diverse workforce pay off for the bottom line. According to the Boston Consulting Group’s 2017 Diversity and Innovation Survey, the innovation revenues of companies that claimed to have more than the average amount of diversity were 19% higher than those of companies that had less than the average amount diversity across the organization. Companies with more diverse leadership generate almost half of their revenue from products and services launched in the previous three years, signaling a direct correlation between diversity and innovation – more perspectives sitting around the table is a competitive advantage.

Everyone, whether or not they live with a disability, should have equal opportunity when applying for a job. The better the processes in place to ensure people with disabilities have an equal opportunity, the more likely they are to find gainful employment. As agencies like the EEOC, OFCCP, and Department of Justice do their part to enforce standards and advocate for widespread adoption regarding the employment of people with disabilities, companies must implement appropriate safeguards which will also ensure that they do the same.

image credit: stockasso/depotphotos.com

Colleen Wood is People Manager at Level access. Colleen brings over 20 years of HR experience to her role where she focuses on the most valuable resource: our people. She and her team are committed to creating an engaging and nurturing environment that cultivates exceptional performance and diversity of thought. In her role, she leads the company’s human resource management strategy to drive talent acquisition and development, compensation and benefits, and employee engagement that supports growth, innovation and continued profitability of the business. Colleen is passionate about creating an award-winning culture of inclusion where all people feel a sense of belonging and their voices are heard.


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