In 2011 Jane founded Evenbreak, a not-for-profit social enterprise matching disabled candidates with inclusive employers. In that time she was worked with companies including John Lewis, Lloyds Banking Group, Channel 4, Comic Relief, GCHQ and more, and has written two books – Disabled? Looking for Work? and A Dozen Brilliant Reasons to Employ Disabled People
Jane kindly agreed to give some of her time to answer a few questions based on her experience and expertise.
Having read your book Disabled? Looking for Work? –
Firstly, do you ever feel (or not) that there is a discrepancy between employer’s perceptions of disability and individual candidates’ perceptions of their own disability?
Secondly, in your experience, do you feel there has been any shifts in perceptions of disability in the work place from employers looking for candidates?
There can be discrepancies on both sides. Often employers will see the negatives and the potential problems as being greater than they are, but also sometimes candidates don’t have much confidence in their own abilities (mostly due to conditioning). Generally speaking, particularly with larger employers, there seems to be a slight positive move towards wanting to employ disabled people, but it is slight, and I’m not always sure of the motivations.
Since you wrote Disabled? Looking for Work?, have you had any further insights that you would add to a second addition of the book?
Yes, there are a few changes I would make now, particularly around confidence-building, and putting across disability in a positive way (see answer to next question)
What advise would you give someone who is worried about how their disability might be negatively viewed in the workplace?
If the impairment is visible or obvious, I would suggest the candidate pro-actively puts the employer at their ease, explaining the business benefits of employing disabled people, why disabled people can make better employees, what reasonable adjustments they might need in order to do the job effectively (reminding them of the support offered by Access to Work) and emphasising any specific advantages their impairment gives them (e.g. experience in problem-solving and overcoming obstacles, a deaf person concentrating more without distractions, a person on the Autistic spectrum spotting patterns etc).
What are the biggest concerns that people have mentioned about making the transition from unemployment to employment? How can they address these?
Largely the same as non-disabled people, with the added concerns about how they will manage their condition. Being open with the employer about what support they might need can be helpful.
Do you have any favourite success stories? What positive feedback have you got from employers who have used Evenbreak?
Loads! Briefly, a candidate who thought she might never work again, having been turned down for interview as soon as any employer discovered she was a wheelchair-user. She found a role on Evenbreak working part time from home, and was accepted for the position. This gave her the confidence, some years on, to apply for another post, not on Evenbreak, which she got, and credits her experience with Evenbreak as giving her the confidence to apply and gain such a position. Another candidate was similarly turned down for position after position due to his cerebral palsy. He wanted to marry his girlfriend (who also has cerebral palsy) but her parents were concerned he wouldn’t be able to provide for her. He heard about Evenbreak and successfully applied for a technical sales role. They got married earlier this year with her parents’ blessing. From the employers’ perspective, a social enterprise had advertised two roles using mainstream channels for some months, and had received loads of applications, but none of them were suitable. They advertised the same roles on Evenbreak, received four applications, all of whom they felt were suitable, and employed two of them. They were amazed at the quality of applications they received.