Making informed adjustments, rather than knee-jerk assumptions, enables people with disabilities to add value, writes HSBC care consultant Fuchsia Carter.
I was brought on board a year ago by Alexander Mann Solutions as a candidate care consultant, to oversee reasonable adjustments for candidates with disabilities applying to HSBC. As a disabled person (I am a wheelchair user and have Ehlers-Danlos syndrome) I know, all too well, the challenges that can be faced during a recruitment process.
Often, people just don’t know how to talk to those with disabilities, which results in their not putting the right reasonable adjustments in place. When I began my role, I was tasked with liaising with hiring managers to make sure that no one is discriminated against and the right help is there for disabled candidates.
At first, I had a lot of emails from hiring managers asking me to explain things. I’d assumed that everyone knew about certain levels of disability; for example, with diabetes, that you sometimes need to have a break to check your blood sugar levels or to eat. I thought that was just general knowledge. But it isn’t, so it became a case of giving managers a glimpse into the disability world.
It’s all about making small changes. It’s not difficult or expensive, it just needs a little bit more understanding, research and letting go of assumptions
Frank and open conversations
People make things around disability recruitment incredibly complicated; they don’t need to be. However, it’s so important not to base action around assumptions. For example, don’t assume that just because someone’s got a disability, they’re incapable of doing something. Have an open and frank conversation with them – don’t be afraid to ask. Rather than saying “what’s wrong with you?” or “do you need someone to fill out that application form for you?” ask “what can I do to help you; what do you need?” They will tell you in their own words.
If they’re like me, they might need a little more time to answer questions. They might not be able to shake hands at interview or look an interviewer in the eye. I really struggle to look people in the face – I can’t even do it on Zoom. If that happens, don’t assume someone’s being rude. The ‘old- school’ practices of wearing suits and shaking hands can be incredibly intimidating for someone with a disability like mine.
About seven months into my role, things really started to click into place; recruiters and hiring managers were no longer making assumptions and were asking fewer questions. I had positive feedback from colleagues saying that my insight is helping them to do their jobs better; that it helps take the guesswork out of everything. There has been an increase both in the number of disabled people being employed and in the proportion transferred internally to different jobs within HSBC. We’ve seen a rise in productivity across the account because of my work. It’s a great feeling to receive such great feedback after just one year in the job.
Someone to talk to
I’m also here to support candidates. Going through the process of changing jobs, especially if you’re at risk of redundancy, is incredibly stressful. If you have a high level of anxiety or poor mental health, you’re not necessarily going to be thinking straight. I’ve had quite a lot of people contact me upset, especially during COVID. But they just want someone to talk to and to understand what is going on in their heads. I’m that person; I’ve supported around 1,000 people so far.
I think Alexander Mann Solutions is leading the way on this. I don’t know of any other company in the UK that has someone solely looking after reasonable adjustments for candidates with disabilities. And although I’m based within HSBC, I’m also able to support other clients.
Ultimately, it’s all about making small changes. It’s not difficult or expensive, it just needs a little bit more understanding, research and letting go of assumptions. It’s just stripping it back to basics and literally asking “what can I do to help you? Let me know. Email me, call me, I’m here”.
Originally published in Catalyst Magazine The 'Diversity' Issue.