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Introduction:

Andrew Blair is the Human Resources Manager with Bank of Ireland & a Director of AHEAD. He’s been working in recruitment for 25years. This is his speech from the WAM Leaders Event which took place in Dail Eireann on Wednesday 22nd February 2012.

Introduction to working with disability

I worked in Bank of Ireland Securities Services (BoISS) a satellite company of BoI which employed 450 people at one point (it has since been sold to Northern Trust).

A customer of BoISS approached me to ask for placements for students from Mary Hare School for Deaf. It was only at that point that I realised I had no real knowledge/education on the topic of disability. I also realised that in fact we had no-one with a disability in the organisation. Not only that, no-one ever remembered anyone with a disability applying.

At that time I also met WAM and attended a workshop. I realised that we were potentially missing out on up to 10% of society by (unconsciously) not including people with disabilities. This was at that time (very different to today) when we had high growth; high staff turnover; recruitment plans took us abroad; and cost us a great deal of money and yet we were potentially ignoring potential recruits.

So like all the employers here today we agreed to take people in on placements and our learning really started.

So what did we learn?

  1. There are very real barriers to entry for people with disabilities both conscious & unconscious:
  • Fear/anxieties about legal problems
  • Some recruiters had real issues/unconfident/inexperienced
  • Prejudice may well have existed – easy to find reasons not to support
  • Recruiters; managers; HR staff are powerful gatekeepers and can determine the nature of your organisation through their own assumptions
  1. We realised that for a placement to be successful we (our approach/attitude/knowledge base) had to change and we had to prepare the way:
  • Held education sessions – needed to open minds get issues on the table/Discussed diversity not disability/discussed how will we handle employees (one of us) acquiring a disability?
  • I asked the question “how would you like to be treated if you were disabled in some way”; followed up by “what type of organisation do we want to create and belong to”?  This was the creation of empathy (not sympathy) and was key to persuading manager’s as to the need to get diversity on the agenda and keep it there as a “normal” business practice
  • All students were placed with “positive gatekeepers” who helped prepare their team – mentor was assigned to a key influencer
  • Talked openly about accommodations with the students (and most importantly what not to do!), quite often no accommodations were required.

Benefits to the organisation:

  • Overall attitude shift with regard to diversity in general – eg more part time workers accepted; openness in understanding issues
  • Our core business work had no impossible barrier that could not be reasonably overcome – we were computerised; non manual
  • Education gap on legal issues was addressed with particular regard to holding interviews/creating accessibility
  • Most important though (almost out of nowhere) we starting receiving applications from other people with disabilities!

WAM future

Each of the employers here today is being recognised for being a positive gatekeeper and I applaud each of you for your initiative and professionalism.

Business is about making things happen and that is what WAM does.

For all people trying to get a job in today’s environment no one needs me to state how competitive and tricky it has become.  For those with a disability the barrier to entry is even higher

Therefore it is even more important that all gatekeepers keep diversity on the agenda; and keep providing those opportunities for those that need this valuable start in organisational life

As a Director of AHEAD I wish to thank each of you and as a fellow employer I urge you to keep the faith and continue the good work

Thank you for listening

AB Feb 2012

 

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