​The Enabling Masterplan 2030 by the government of Singapore aims to increase the employment rate of people with disabilities from 30% to 40% by the end of the decade. Employers play a significant role in this plan and are being called upon to create more inclusive workplaces that cater to those with disabilities.

We speak with Dennis Foo, Manager, HR Advisory and Operations Excellence from Charterhouse Asia to understand the steps employers can take to create more inclusive workplaces and a more supportive environment for those with disabilities.

1.Why is it important for companies to build inclusive workplaces that cater to those with disabilities?

Compassion entails human beings the ability to recognize that Disability comes in many forms, from cognitive and behavioural disabilities to physical disabilities. They can also be permanent, temporary or situational.

Inclusion is perceived as a universal human right. Disability inclusion at work is about more than just hiring people with differing abilities, be it physical or cognitive, visible or invisible. An inclusive workplace values all employees for their strengths. It offers employees with disabilities an equal opportunity to learn and advance, to be compensated fairly and be successful. True inclusion is about embracing all differences amongst people, regardless of gender, race, disability, medical or other needs.

2.How do inclusive workplaces help to contribute to a better Singapore society?

People with disabilities bring not only a wealth of talent and unique lifelong experiences but also strengths to any business organization. Empathy, tenacity and resilience are just a few of the characteristics associated with people with disabilities. By including disability in the corporate agenda, businesses are better poised to attract and retain such talent.

From the people’s standpoint, the overall interactive engagement nature of the employees will also improve from just being tolerant to one of welcoming and embracing people with disabilities, not forgetting that the branding and corporate reputation will also be enhanced as customers value and tend to want to work with and partner such inclusive employers.

This in turn should drive the societal impetus of the workforce and people towards achieving and embedding inclusion into our very own Singapore social fabric, thereby realizing one of the Enabling Masterplan 2030 objective of 40% employment rate of people with disabilities.

3.What are some of the challenges companies face in creating an inclusive workplace ?

Below are some key barriers to Employment and Labour Retention.

a) Biases in the hiring process

Disabled people constantly struggle significantly more than normal people when it comes to finding employment. Hiring managers, usually unaware of their unconscious biases, tend to take a more pessimistic view of the work abilities of disabled candidates, regardless of the candidate’s qualifications.

b) Fear of negative judgement and repercussions

Many disabled employees have to juggle multiple fears when they enter the workforce. For one, there’s the daily fear of being ridiculed, underestimated or bothered by colleagues, who may possess an implicit bias against folks with disabilities. On top of that, there’s the fear that their disability status can affect high-stakes situations like performance reviews and promotions.

c) Lack of workplace accessibility

From hiring to performance reviews, accessibility barriers (both physical and non-physical) exist across the employee lifecycle. E.g. many electronics boards and company websites have poor digital accessibility features, thus excluding folks such as those who have vision and sensory issues, limited mobility functions etc. The absence of wheelchair ramps, wide automatic doors and assistive technologies such as Braille devices can solely decide whether people with disabilities can work a given company.

d) Unwillingness to provide reasonable accommodations

Employers are concerned about the provision costs of reasonable accommodations in aiding disabled employees to do their jobs. Lack of awareness (e.g. not understanding the actual cost and benefits) and implicit bias (e.g. the belief that the cost of accommodation isn’t “worth it”) are 2 very likely explanations. Research studies have shown that Workplace Accommodations provide consistent benefits over time, either at no costs or affordable one-time costs of which financial assistance is available to the Employers that provide reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities.

4.What are some practices that companies can adopt to better support those with disabilities?

Here are 4 practices that companies can implement:

a) Top-down approach

Top-level backing is critical if disability inclusion is going to be mandated into the Corporate Policy. Make sure the statement from the CEO that can be incredibly powerful is seen by all employees, shareholders and stakeholders.

b) Remove recruitment barriers & work with social partners and community groups

Ensure that there are no barriers for people with disabilities at every step of the recruitment process and that everyone involved is properly guided and trained. Adverts for job vacancies and apprenticeships should also make it clear that reasonable adjustments will be provided for interviews and the job itself, if needed. Engage with like-minded partners and community groups to identify potential candidates for your company.

c) Think and act flexibly to individual needs

Reasonable adjustments must be prepared to be made to the workplace, working hours, working organization and the work environment. Any new renovation / construction works must comply with accessibility standards and is part of your occupational health and safety plans.

d) Work on being welcoming

Disability awareness should be included in your Corporate Training agenda. It makes employees more confident about communicating with disabled people and reduces the stigma associated with disability, and as a result enhances your working environment to be more welcoming. Always be mindful that people with disabilities are a heterogeneous group, including with regards to gender identity, ethnic diversity and sexual orientation.

In conclusion, inclusivity in the workplace is a crucial aspect that should not be overlooked. Not only are organisations able to attract talent and demonstrate compliant social responsibility, companies can reap positive returns from being inclusive in terms of improved employee satisfaction, increased productivity, enhanced corporate branding & reputation, and yielding financial benefits in the long run.

Charterhouse Asia is one of the select few employment firms for the Workforce Singapore - WSG SG United Jobs and Skills Placement Partners program, and the only one in the executive search category, with aims to increase the placement of local jobseekers who are mature, long-term unemployed, or persons with disabilities, into qualifying jobs and attachments.

We are pleased to be offering our services to help our own people with the hope of establishing a more varied and inclusive workplace in order to grow a strong workforce prepared for the future.

For persons interested to find out more about the SG United Jobs and Skills Placement Partners scheme and possibly register your interest, you can do so here.