Where positive discrimination works

By Heather Lawson (Director - Wells Tobias Legal)

This year I have been lucky enough to be instructed as a recruiter, by law firms, to help them create more opportunities for people with disabilities.

I can’t tell you how delighted I was to get involved in these projects and I learned some interesting lessons along the way that I want to share. The people that I had on interview with these firms had varying disabilities, from partial sight to mental illness, from neurodiverse conditions to partial hearing - and, they were all candidates that had registered with me previously yet had initially decided not to disclose their disability.

As the vacancies I was working on had been ring-fenced so that only those people with a disability could be put forward these candidates had to disclose their disability to me to in essence, qualify to be put forward (disability being the one protected characteristic you can legally use to positively discriminate). This made for some very interesting conversations, especially as one of the candidates who was actually offered a position was someone I had placed previously into another role

So I challenged these individuals about their non-disclosure previously and the conversations all led to two major conclusions:

  1. They did not want to be defined by their disability. The majority of the candidates all used the same language “the disability is part of me, it is part of who I am, I do not want to be defined by it”

  2. They had not disclosed the disability previously as they did not want to be discriminated against.

Let’s go back to point 1... They didn’t want to be defined by their disability, yet they were responding to communications about a role that was purely open to those people with a disability – is that not a little hypocritical?

On asking why they had chosen to come forward and apply for the positions the overwhelming response was that they felt that this employer was being openly supportive about disability, and they felt that this would make for a better working culture. Yes, they knew the firms would make reasonable adjustments for them individually, but more important to them was the fact that the firms’ open policy on creating opportunities for those with a disability said more about them as a whole. The candidates felt this approach was ‘unusual’, ‘ground-breaking’ and showed that organisations are not just paying lip-service to rubber-stamp disability schemes.

Point 2 needed some closer scrutiny... With our equality and discrimination laws here in the UK, do people who have a disability really feel that disclosure of their condition could jeopardise their career? – the overwhelming answer was ‘Yes’

I have worked in legal recruitment for 29 years, and I have seen some major leaps in terms of firms’ recruitment processes, however, there is still work to do! But what sort of work am I talking about? I think each firm’s approach to the hire of staff with a disability is different. Some are very au fait with the potential fears that often arise, such as the cost of adjustments, or managing concerns about absenteeism and productivity and how it may impact other workers. Other firms are just beginning to make headway in this area and are coming up against the ‘the un-comfortability factor’ – people not knowing what to say, how to interact, talk to and work with disabled people.

These fears are easily overcome, and once employees and employers understand the true value of recruiting disabled people, they will start to reap the benefits of...

As a recruitment consultant, I have always seen my position as quite privileged. What I mean by that is that I can present candidates to a law firm with a substantial argument as to why I am putting them forward and the added value they could bring. I can have an impact on changing someone’s career when their CV might otherwise have been rejected.

I have tried this approach with disabled candidates with no effect. Last year I tried to help a law student get work experience, he had cerebral palsy and was a wheelchair user to– and I failed. Not one law firm (out of 200!) came back to me and even a LinkedIn campaign fell on deaf ears.

I want to change this...

Disability is an area I feel really passionate about. Wells Tobias are partners and sponsors with the Recruitment Industry Disability Initiative (RIDI). Candidates trust me to discuss their conditions in complete confidence. It seems that the stars are aligning and all I need to do is speak to more law firms about their recruitment opportunities for people with disabilities and ensure that the amazing talent I work with is supported and nurtured in a positive work environment, how hard can that be?

As with each piece of recruitment I complete, only one person can get the job, so I have a number of candidates with varying forms of disability who are keen to work for an employer who is supportive of their needs, and also understands the value that they can bring to an organisation.

The person who filled the ring-fenced position has been given additional staff to work for and has become an integral part of the team – she is flying in her new role, and hearing that both employer and the employee are extremely happy only goes to prove the positive impact that hiring people with a disability can have on your business.

If you would like to have a conversation with me about the possibility of working on ring-fenced opportunities or would just like to discuss this subject in more detail, then please get in touch with me...

Heather Lawson (Director)

Wells Tobias Legal

heather.lawson@wellstobias.com 0203 008 4338.

Inventum Consulting and Wells Tobias Legal are part of the Wells Tobias Group