In this episode, we hear from Jane Hatton, Founder and Director of Evenbreak, a UK wide organisation that supports disabled people to access the same opportunities in entering, progressing and thriving in the world of work. Jane talks about her own disability, research into the common misconceptions about disabled people in work and how we can continue to improve opportunities through communication, inclusivity and respect for human diversity.
You can find out more about the work that Jane does in her book “A Dozen Brilliant Reasons to Employ Disabled People“.
Transcript for The Benenfits of Employing Disabled People Episode
Hello and welcome to Into Work’s Wellbeing plus Podcast.
Hi my name is Felix Slavin, Wellbeing+ Coach at Into Work. In this episode, we are speaking to Jane Hatton, Founder of Even Break. An organisation based in London, that helps promote of disabled people and people with long term health conditions in the workplace, as well as connecting them with inclusive employers. Jane explains that her own experience of disability has broadened her lifelong work in promoting fairness and inclusion.
Interview with Guest
Host – Hello Jane, Thank you for joining us on our Wellbeing plus podcast.
Guest – Yeah, my pleasure. Thank you.
Host – Can you tell how you started on your journey. And also give an overview of the research and work that you do.
Guest – Yeah, so I have been interested in diversity and inclusion for a very long time. And I wasn’t disabled originally so I was focusing on race and gender, a bit on disability and some of the other protected characteristics. And overtime I recognised that disability was often seen as the poor relation and was fairly low down on the agenda when we talked about diversity and inclusion. And then ironically I became disabled myself so at 44 I developed a spinal condition and had a number of spinal surgeries which didn’t really help so became disabled. So the disability part of the whole diversity piece became very much up close and personal and that’s really why I moved into the area of employment and disability, and disabled people and all the barriers that we face when we are looking for work.
Host – So it has been quite a big journey for you. And what about the research that you have been conducting since you have stepped into this area?
Guest – The main focus of the social enterprise that I founded is on helping disabled candidates find work with employers that will value their skills. But of course, there is a lot of stuff around that that needs looking into and one of the things that I discovered very early on was that if we wanted to talk about why employers should employ disabled people there wasn’t much evidence around about what the benefits were. I mean it was around, but it wasn’t all in one place. And so it was difficult to make the business case in a cohesive way. So one of the things that I did fairly early on was find out all that research, all the studies, all the examples, the case studies of different organisations even different countries at different time who had looked into this and then bring it all together in one place. So that for organisations who were wanting to make the business case to the people with the money, the purse holders; they were able to articulate that business much more easily. And that was really useful.
And then one of the things that came, we did some, well we didn’t actually do the research we got a university to do it on our behalf. And that was around what barriers disabled people face when they are looking for new or better work. And so they surveyed hundreds and hundreds of disabled people to find out what the barriers were and that was a very useful piece of work, because most of us thought the barriers were going to be internal. You know, lack of self-confidence or lack of skills or whatever it might be. But actually we learnt that one of the biggest barriers for disabled people is not knowing which employers are going to take them seriously. Because every employer says they are an equal opportunities employer and that’s one of the reasons at Evenbreak, the Job Board exists so that candidates can see which employers have paid to advertised their vacancies on a job board just for disabled people that clearly they are going to be open to their applications and their skills. And then the final bit of research that I did was around the best ways to recruit and attract disabled candidates and what the barriers were in the recruitment process itself. So right from identifying a vacancy, designing the job description, all the way to job offer and onboarding and all the bits in between, and what the barriers might be at each stage of that process. And what employers could do to remove those barriers so, hopefully what we have covered is what the benefits are of employing disabled people, what the main barriers are that they face, and what employers can do to remove those barriers so that disabled people feel confident to apply but also are then assessed in a way that is fair and open.
Host – It sounds like such incredibly important research and work that you are doing. And Jane, what are the benefits of employing disabled people.
Guest – Yeah, I mean they are really sort of business bottom line benefits. I think sometimes when we talk to employers about employing disabled people there is a kind of “oh yeah, it’s a shame, we really ought to give them a chance” and actually it’s nothing to do with charity or pity. We know that the evidence says that disabled people are on average just as productive as non-disabled people. But we also have significantly less time off sick on average. We stay in our jobs longer, we have fewer work place accidents and we bring with us a whole range of skills that we have had to develop by living in a world that’s designed for people not like us. So disabled people will face barriers of various kinds every day and in order to navigate around those we have to develop skills like resilience and problem solving and creative thinking. And project managing, you know how to think about things in advance – How am I going to get to this place? What happens if that station isn’t accessible? What will I need to do instead? And all of those skills are really valuable to employers.
And I think also when we think about disabled people we are a significant part of the community. 20% of people in the UK have a disability or long term condition and we are all consumers as well as potential employees. And so for organisations that want to tap into that market it is really useful to have internal intelligence about how to market products or services to disabled people. Or even making those service, those products more inclusive and accessible. So there are many many really good bottom line business reasons why organisations should be employing disabled people.
One of the things that we talk about is that neurodiverse people, people who have Autism or Dyslexia or ADHD or whatever it might be, their brains are wired differently and so they think differently. And for me, we have a number of neurodiverse people that work at Even break – we only employ disabled people. And they come up with ideas and solutions and innovation that I wouldn’t be able to think of in a million life times. And for me, for any organisation, it is almost a business imperative to have neurodiverse people within the organisation who can challenge the status quo and think of new and different ways of doing things. It is the way we keep ahead of the game and keep our competitive edge.
Host – And really if you allow people to thrive, what additional skills do you think start to surface within the work environment?
Guest – I think that’s the key isn’t it? I think with any employee whether they are disabled or not, people have additional skills and talents that they may not have mentioned in the workplace. And often if you make people feel safe and valued and listened to, you will get so much more from people. And what we found at Evenbreak, we work very flexibly with our team so everybody works from home and they work the hours that suits them at the time that suits them. But often what we find is that someone might come on board in a particular role and then actually other skills and talents that they have got surface and they move into a different role. So for example, one of our account managers was really good at account managing but what she really wanted to do was marketing and video and so we moved her into a role where she could really use her strengths which was really beneficial for us as well. So I think it is about being open to the talent that is there and knowing that people have lots of things that they don’t necessarily bring to the workplace, but can be really beneficial. And it is actually making people feel they have got that to offer and that it will be listened to is priceless.
Host – And you were talking about the common misconceptions about employing disabled people. And I was wondering when you do engage with employers and you do explain these common misconceptions, what is the response to that?
Guest – We have had generations of conditioning about disability and the narrative around disabled people has consistently been either objects of pity, or during the austerity years benefit cheats, or superhero like Paralympians. But actually disabled people are just people who face more barriers than others. And have the same diversity of skills and strengths. But actually when we talk to employers they worry about things like will they be off sick all the time, and as we said there research says that actually they are off sick less than non-disabled people. Or they worry about health and safety. And again that is a myth. Or they worry about the costs of employing disabled people: “Are we going to have to spend lots of money on ramps and assistive technology?”. And of course, in the UK we have Access to Work which will pay for those things so I think a lot of employers are, for genuine reasons, concerned that employing disabled people is going to be problematic or time consuming or expensive. The reality is that those aren’t the case at all. Access to Work can pay for all or part, depending on the size of the organisation, of any access needs a candidate might have. Most don’t have any anyway it is usually around flexible working. And actually when we talk to employers, after they have employed disabled people it is very much the case of “Oh, well that was so much easier than I thought it was going to be” and “Oh my god, all this talent we have been missing out of”. So I think it is really getting employers to understand the upside of, and there is no downside to employing disabled people, there is a lot of upsides.
But I think we are conditioned into thinking that some disabled people are somehow less than non-disabled people. And actually at Evenbreak we call our candidates, who are all disabled people, premium candidates because we have the same diversity of strengths and skills and talents as the rest of the population. Plus all of those additional benefits like different ways of thinking, or different ways of marketing to that audience, just skills we have developed in terms of having to navigate around barriers on a daily basis.
Host – And promoting diversity seems to be a key theme in the work that you are doing. I’m also interested in your thoughts around the social model of disability. How that applies to the work that you are doing as well, and how you are promoting that?
Guest – Yeah for sure, everything we do is based on the social model of disability. The medical model very much focuses on the individual disabled person being the problem. And therefore the thing that needs fixing. Which is everybody needs to, or wants to or can be fixed. The social model is much more empowering for everybody I think. So the social model talks about actually the problem isn’t the disabled person, it is the barriers in society that we come up against. So whether that is inaccessible transport or buildings or technology or communication. And actually if we can make those inclusive and accessible then people aren’t as disabled. So the work that we do in employment is looking at what are the barriers that people might face when they are looking for work, when they are involved in a recruitment process, and when they are actually in work. And those might be that the employers can do something about. So an employer is unlikely to help a wheelchair user to walk better, or a blind person to see better. But if they can have a working environment where people can thrive because their access needs are met, then actually that person can use all of their talents. So everything we do at Evenbreak is based on identifying barriers that might exist and finding ways to either remove them or find alternative ways.
One of the things that has become apparent during the pandemic is that, for some disabled people, certainly not all, inaccessible transport or buildings can be quite a big barriers. And people have been asking “Can I do this job from home?” for decades and being told no, it is not possible. But of course, during the pandemic it became obvious that many jobs can be done very successfully from home. And I think the new era of remote working, hybrid working actually removes that barrier. So it enables far more people to access the workplace. I mean, lots of disabled people love going into work and not working from home, of course like non-disabled people. But that choice is more available now and I think that’s an example where the social model comes into play. So if you can do your work from home, just as efficiently and effectively as you can from the workplace, if not more so, then why wouldn’t that be something that you would do, and remove that barrier of having to get on a crowded tube at 9 o’clock in the morning with everybody else.
Host – And I guess just to bring things to a close with a final question. What do you think are the key messages that you want to get across to employers and also people in employment, and prospective employees?
Guest – I think for me, it is about everybody society whether they are employees or candidates or whoever to think about disability differently. So disability isn’t a tragedy, it isn’t something to be frightened of. Going back to the social model, it is about barriers people face. And if employers and disabled candidates can see disabled people as premium candidates, so people who can bring additional things with us. As well as the same diversity of skills as everybody else. Then I think it makes the whole atmosphere much better. Because employers are then recognising that this is a pool of talent that maybe they need and haven’t been tapping into. But also candidates can go to employers with confidence. And not going “Oh please give me a chance because I have been discriminated against”, but actually “if you give me this job I can bring so much to it”. And so the whole conversation changes from one about charity and pity, to one about talent and improving organisations. And making organisations better, more fit for the future and more fit for the whole of the population. So if there was one message I wanted to give anybody it would be think about disability differently. It is about people who face barriers, but people who consumers, customers, talent, employees, candidates. It is part of life and sometimes we forget about disability and we are thinking about other areas diversity. And diversity is intersectional, so you can be disabled and black and gay and female. So it isn’t something on its own, it can happen to anybody at any time. It doesn’t discriminate itself and is nothing to be frightened of. It is something to explore and use positively.
Host – Jane, it has been a pleasure to speak with you today and gain insight into the amazing work that you’re doing. Thanks for your time.
Guest – My absolute pleasure. Thank you.
Host – Take care.
Guest – Thank you.
Please help us by spreading the word about our new wellbeing plus podcast. Into Work is a charity providing support to disabled people and people with long term health conditions in Edinburgh and the Lothians to find and sustain meaningful employment. This podcast is dedicated to sharing the stories of disabled people and people with long term health conditions as well as their experience of supported employment and wellbeing management. You can also help support us by going on our website www.intowork.org.uk. If you have any questions about the podcast, please email us on firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you for listening in.