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May 2024

Adjusting attitudes and mindsets about disability

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Source: Asia Insurance Review | Sep 2023

Insurers are always on the search for more talent. Recruitment has become increasingly competitive, with potential employees across Asia able to select their employer. However, OJ Ability’s Mr Loic Andre says that there is an untapped market for employers – those with disabilities.
By Ahmad Zaki
 
 
For a long time, the insurance industry has been working towards improving diversity, equity and inclusion in the industry, both internally – through diversifying its workforce – and externally – through making products that target specific minority demographics.
 
However, according to OJ Ability global director Loic Andre, the industry knows little about disability inclusion, which is an untapped talent pool that consists of over 1bn people worldwide, many of whom are of working age and, more importantly, willing to work.
 
“They were focused on gender diversity and equality and also moving towards inclusion for LGBTQ+. Those that were a bit ahead of the curve were also looking at ethnic minorities, but none was really focused on disability inclusion,” he said.
 
OJ Ability is a for-purpose arm of Oliver James, a recruitment firm that specialises in the insurance industry. As a supplier of talent to the industry, Mr Andre was constantly hearing from the industry about the lack of talent, with many choosing to find expatriates to come to work in Singapore or Hong Kong.
 
“There is this talent pool that exists, but no one is tapping into it. The two main reasons were that they didn’t know where to find this talent and even if they did find that talent – people with disabilities (PWDs) who have the skills to work in insurance, whichever department it is – they didn’t know how to hire them.”
 
Creating the solution
There was an obvious need for solutions in this space. While there were government efforts to improve the situation, as well as several NGOs and charities both in Hong Kong and Singapore, these were not professional recruiters trained to qualify a business need and match skilled talent.
 
Through working with experts in the field, and by utilising its own team of recruiters – all of whom are PWDs themselves – OJ Ability has begun to help to fill this gap.
 
“Beyond helping place PWDs in various roles across the insurance industry, we also work with insurers to raise awareness internally, speaking to them about disability inclusion, training their HR staff on how to write inclusive job descriptions, based on an inclusive job design process, which is then followed up with an inclusive, equitable and accessible job interview,” he said.
 
“We also have a process in place which prevents the employers from falling victim to their bias, whereby we only tell them about the candidate’s adjustment needs (based on their disability) at a certain point of the process, so that they’re only focused on skills when selecting applicants. So, when you introduce someone to them, they only know about the skills of the person, the merits and why that person is good, at least on paper, for that job.”
 
It is only after the insurer has decided to conduct the interview that the adjustment needs are made known. “And if relevant, we’ll tell them the disability. So, our order of priority is skills, adjustments, disability,” said Mr Andre.
 
He added that he did find resistance when potential employers knew about the disability or adjustment requirements before having the chance to know about the person’s skills. “If they meet the candidate and they are impressed with their skills, then they’ll probably be more likely to be willing to make adjustments,” he said.
 
Inclusive design
Typically, job descriptions are a list of ideal things that an employer needs to have. “It’s like a wish list for recruitment. It’s hard to find the perfect candidate and employers know this. Despite this, we still see job descriptions that are just a list of some must haves and a lot of nice to haves, and sometimes quite vague descriptions such as ‘excellent communication skills’,” he said.
 
“When you enter a world of different types of communications, people who are visually impaired, hearing-impaired, people who are neurodiverse, the outcome of communications is the same, but the method can be very different,” he said. “So, what exactly does excellent communication mean? Is it oral, or written? Is it in person, or digital? Which languages?”
 
In he past 18 months, OJ Ability has placed 51 hires across Hong Kong and Singapore. Most of them have required mild adjustments, in terms of costs or infrastructure. “They’ve required some effort in shifting mindsets, convincing some stakeholders to take a leap of faith, but none of them have required anyone to completely change an IT system for example, or to break down a wall,” he said.
 
Changing mindsets
It is important to note that disabilities are not just physical and many can be invisible. Diagnoses such as attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD) and autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are increasingly common, as awareness and diagnostic methods improve. Not all disabilities require physical adjustment, only one of mindset and perception.
 
An example is one of Mr Andre’s own team members who is autistic. “He needs to be left alone to work at his own rhythm. Sometimes he’ll just be staring at the ceiling for some time, but that might just be his system. As long as he’s accomplished his agreed upon output at the end of the day, he can do it however he wants. He actually exceeds our expectations in data input and analysis and his clients are happy with the output.”
 
Similar things might be required for those affected by ADHD, who might need to be seated away from distractions – not next to the pantry, or a corridor, or where the music might be. “Another useful adjustment for people with ADHD can be having a very clear job description – a daily or weekly output to achieve,” he said.
 
There are more subtle adjustments. For hearing-impaired people, it is best to not be sitting in front of a backlit window when talking to them, said Mr Andre. “While the view might be beautiful, the light might make it more difficult for lip-reading.”
 
Finally, he added that employers should not wait to have increased readiness before starting to hire. “They’ll say ‘this is great, we have to do this, it’s the right thing to do, and it’s good for business. But before we do it, let’s spend 18 months, 24 months doing in-office accessibility, auditing, training the staff, reviewing our policies, checking how much it would cost’. It’s great that you do all of that but do it while you’re hiring.” A 
 
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