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Diversity and Inclusion

The disability pay gap hiding in plain sight

We’ve talked a lot about the gender and ethnicity pay gaps, and it’s been enlightening to see the data shared by companies on both sides of the pond. But how much do we talk about the disability pay gap? Probably not as much as we should, and it’s time to give this pay gap the attention it deserves.

The sad truth is that people with disabilities are still being paid less than their peers without disabilities. But the good news is that there’s plenty that employers can do to address the disability pay gap.

🔗 What is the disability pay gap?

The disability pay gap measures the difference in hourly wage between workers with disabilities and those without disabilities or impairments.
In the UK, the Disability and Employment Pay Gap 2019 report found that employees with disabilities earn on average £1.65 per hour less than their peers without disabilities. In the US, people with disabilities earn 87 cents for every dollar earned by those without a disability.

People in different professions experience different pay gaps and, it’s largest for those in senior leadership positions.

We should also remember that there are many kinds of disabilities that affect people differently. A disability isn’t always physical or visible. We shouldn’t forget the many invisible disabilities, including chronic illnesses.

Holland Bloorview kids rehabilitation by @HollandBloorview.

📊 What’s driving the disability pay gap?

As well as prejudices and biases keeping disabled people out of leadership positions, there’s an employment gap lurking in the wings.

In 2018, 50.9% of people with disabilities aged between 16 and 64 were in work, compared to 80.7% of people without a disability. The disability employment gap is wider for men than women.

The disability pay gap is also affected by the kind of disability. The pay gap is wider for those with mental impairments than those living with other impairments. For example, only 16% of adults with autism are in full-time work.

Businesses need to create a culture that welcomes people with disabilities and allows them to thrive and do their best work.

How inclusive is your work environment?

Each of us navigates the world differently. Your work environment, norms, and the tools you use may create barriers for some that are invisible to others. One person’s experience of the world isn’t the same as another, so different elements of our world of work disable or enable us in different ways. Even if you have first-hand experience of a disability, it might be a very different experience to that felt by someone else with a disability.

Take a minute and really consider the set up of your physical or digital work environment.

If someone was blind, how would they navigate the elevator? Is there braille on the floor numbers? What about a person who needed to use a wheelchair? Or people with different sensory perceptions?

Does your tech and etiquette for holding remote meetings include those who are Deaf or hard of hearing? Do you use large and complex spreadsheets and tables that are a breeze for some to navigate with their keyboard but a pain for others?

Small actions and behaviors can make all the difference in creating an inclusive culture and building a welcoming office space for people with and without disabilities. We’ve put together a few simple tips to help make your office feel as inclusive as possible for employees with disabilities.

✅ Taking on another person’s perspective is a great way to broaden your way of thinking. Basically, we need to learn from people with different points of view.

Taking on the perspectives of someone who is differently-abled to you will help you to see just how inclusive (or exclusionary) your workspace is. An easy way to do this? Talk to people! Find out what they love or hate about the office and the ways you work.

✅ Make “reasonable adjustments” to help people with disabilities do their jobs.

Employers can make loads of adjustments to help all members of their teams perform at their best. Usually, at little to no cost. For example, if someone finds commuting during rush hour especially stressful, their manager could allow them a more flexible time to start and finish work.
Employers could provide lower desks for people who use wheelchairs. Or natural daylight bulbs to help those with different sensory perceptions feel more comfortable in their offices.

Not all reasonable adjustments are about physical space. For example, some people with Aspergers benefit from finding a routine that works for them, so an adjustment might be as simple as finding the team’s best daily rhythm and sticking to it.

✅ Check your bias. How do your managers decide who to give a tricky job to? Who do they turn to when they want to give out more responsibility? And who do they exclude? Our biases can lead us to help or hinder certain groups, even unconsciously. Why not take the Implicit Association Test to uncover your own biases?

There is a disability employment gap that makes the disability pay gap harder to close. There’s also a difference in the pay gap between men and women, different professions, and disabilities. Organizations can help challenge the disability employment and pay gaps by making their workspace as inclusive as possible for all their employees by making small adjustments to their office spaces.

In the UK and the US, companies have to collect and submit gender pay data. Some companies are now voluntarily sharing their ethnicity pay gap data. Would your business consider doing the same for disability pay gap data? By shining a light on this data, organizations could learn what they need to do to tackle the gap.

The disability pay gap hiding in plain sight

Each week, we dip into the unanswerable, nuanced and gray areas of inclusion and offer, not answers, but inklings.

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Rebecca Webber (she/her)

Rebecca is a superstar writer and our in-house expert on collaborative leadership and is the powerhouse behind our flagship leadership programme, Leadership Works. She's read more research and writing on leadership than you — guaranteed! Before she joined the Hive Learning team, Rebecca wrote short and snappy news stories about digital innovation and built brilliant client relationship skills. When she's not geeking out about leadership, Rebecca can be found out in the English countryside either horseback riding or walking her pug, Archie.