Executive Director, CASE
IT Support Manager, Meticulon Consulting
Employee Engagement & Change Management Specialist, ONxpress Transportation Partners
Diversity isn’t just a buzz phrase — it’s a strategic advantage for forward-thinking organizations. CASE helps employers build truly disability inclusive workplaces.
Diversity and inclusion in the workplace are not just buzz phrases or a moral imperative. They offer a strategic advantage for forward-thinking businesses in the trades — and every other sector.
The power of diversity: creativity, innovation, and a healthier bottom line
A wealth of research indicates the benefits of a more diverse workforce to an organization’s bottom line. “Teams with diverse experiences and identities are more creative and innovative, are better equipped to solve complex problems, and have a broader range of skills,” says Joanna Goode, Executive Director of the Canadian Association for Supported Employment (CASE). “All of this contributes to better business performance and ultimately to higher profit. What you’re recruiting for in the trades may be different from other sectors, but all the same benefits of a diverse workforce apply.”
Untapped talent pool ready to work
During a well-publicized labour shortage in the trades (and other sectors), a largely untapped pool of skilled potential employees experiencing disability is looking for work. More than one in five Canadians identify as experiencing disability, but employment statistics for this population are far from encouraging.
People who experience disability in the core working age (25-64) are 20 per cent less likely to be employed than their counterparts without disability (Statistics Canada). Meanwhile, unemployment rates for neurodiverse individuals are eight times higher than for persons experiencing other disabilities.
Persistent challenges for job seekers experiencing disability
Many persons who experience disability are educated and trained — or have an interest in pursuing education or training — but find themselves shut out of the labour market as a result of stigma or non-inclusive hiring and career advancement practices within organizations. “Employers have a real opportunity to change the trajectory of inclusive employment in our lifetime,” says Kristin Light, Employee Engagement and Change Management Specialist with ONxpress Transportation Partners, and consultant and speaker on neurodiversity and mental health.
Relevant resources and support for employers
Many employers have the best of intentions when it comes to diverse hiring but don’t always know where to start. Enter CASE — a resource for employers seeking to embrace inclusivity for persons experiencing disability. CASE represents community-based employment service providers across the country, and runs national projects focused on mentoring and on fostering innovation delivered at provincial/territorial and local levels through partner organizations. CASE also focuses on capacity building for service providers in the supported employment sector through learning and development opportunities, networking, and research.
It’s time for organizations to heed the call for diversity, unlock the potential of diverse talents, and build inclusive workplaces that reflect the strength derived from embracing every individual’s unique talent and abilities.”
“We offer resources that employers can access quickly and easily and that are adaptable to wherever employers are in their journey,” says Goode. “We also link them with service providers in their communities for more individual support around hiring.” This strategic collaboration connects employers with the knowledge and expertise necessary to create truly inclusive work environments.
Light recently completed CASE’s Supported Employment Essentials Course for her work developing a neuroinclusion program at ONxpress Transportation Partners. “There were a ton of helpful resources about what’s working in Canada and other countries, so I’m not having to reinvent the wheel,” she says. “It’s been immensely helpful.”
CASE offers a wealth of free resources to employers — like an inclusive HR practices toolkit, courses on disability inclusion and accessible communication, a monthly employer newsletter, and opportunities to network and to embed mentoring into their inclusion strategies. Organizations can leverage CASE to connect with service providers in their community who act as matchmakers with job seekers who experience disability and possess relevant skills.
Tim Murray’s journey with inclusive hiring
Tim Murray, IT Support Manager at Meticulon Consulting, was diagnosed with autism as an adult. Inclusive hiring and career development have made all the difference in his quality of life and have allowed him to contribute his unique talents and perspective to his organization.
“Having neurodiverse or persons with disabilities in the workforce broadens an organization’s perspective,” he says. “Neurodiverse voices often gently encourage organizations towards initiatives that are good for society at large. Including them not only enhances an organization’s respectability but moves us all towards a better world.”
Inclusive organizations go beyond entry-level hiring
Crucially, disability inclusive organizations don’t just focus on hiring people experiencing disability at the entry level. “As a society, we haven’t always done a good job at recognizing the importance of career development or progression,” says Goode. “Skills related to creativity and innovation, which persons who experience disability often excel at, are even more essential at leadership positions.”
Goode encourages enhancing the accessibility of traditional pathways to grow careers, like accessing professional development or mentoring opportunities. Examining these pathways in order to identify and remove barriers to persons experiencing disability can go a long way.
Integrating individuals experiencing disability is not merely a checkbox to fulfill; it is an active pursuit of a transformative workplace culture and a healthier bottom line.
Tim, how did your autism diagnosis shape your approach to work, and what insights did it bring to light?
Tim: The diagnosis was a game-changer. It justified my unique needs and preferences, explaining why certain aspects of work, like sticking to a rigid schedule or hierarchy, were more challenging for me. It also opened the floodgates to understanding how my heightened sense of justice, a commonality in the autism community, influenced my experiences.
What does an inclusive employer look like to you?
Tim: I would summarize it as open, healthy communication. My current employer, versus other employers, fosters an environment where I can be myself. I can speak in the way that comes naturally to me. I can say “I don’t have the energy for this right now, I’ll come back to this in an hour.” There’s a sense of camaraderie and respect that’s not always there with traditional employers with strict hierarchies. And importantly, I have the opportunity to work on all sorts of problems outside my IT support job description, like creative marketing.
Joanna, could you elaborate on the challenges that individuals with disabilities often face in the workplace, and how CASE addresses them?
Joanna: Persons experiencing disability can face barriers at all stages of the employment process. CASE and member organizations provide crucial guidance and resources to companies looking to change their practices, from hiring to career development. This includes leveraging national projects and local partnerships to offer resources, and novel approaches to increasing accessibility and inclusion in the workplace. We want to ensure employers are equipped for successful inclusion initiatives.
Kristin, can you draw a line between the mental health crisis in construction and a lack of focus on neurodiverse hiring?
Kristin: Over 80 per cent of construction professionals report experiencing a mental health issue, while being a staggering five times more likely to die by suicide. There’s a huge push in construction towards physical safety, but not anywhere near enough towards mental safety. But we can’t tackle these alarming statistics without also acknowledging that neurodiverse individuals in the field have a suicide risk that’s nine times higher. In short, our efforts are incomplete without neuroinclusion. With at least one in five people globally identifying as neurodivergent, that’s a lot of lives we could save.
What do you want employers to know about hiring inclusively?
Kristin: Traditionally, we hire for fit but that can pigeonhole us into hiring the same type of thinking over and over. To be innovative and jump ahead of your competition, diversify the cognitive makeup of your workforce. Neuroinclusion can do this, in addition to your other diversity efforts. This isn’t charity — it’s progress. Why would you want to let your organization fall behind to preserve a narrow view of what “normal” is?
Joanna, any final thoughts?
Joanna: It’s time for organizations to unlock the potential of diverse talents and to build inclusive workplaces that reflect the strength derived from embracing every individual’s unique talent and abilities. CASE is here to support and guide employers every step of the way.
Connect with CASE to build a disability-inclusive workplace that fosters innovation, resilience, and growth. Visit supportedemployment.ca.