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Companies Are Drastically Underestimating How Many of Their Employees Have Disabilities

  • 25% of Employees Around the World Self-Identify as Having a Disability or Medical Condition That Limits a Major Life Activity
  • Meanwhile, Most Companies Report That Just 4% to 7% of Their Employees Are People with Disabilities
  • People with Disabilities Report Lower Levels of Inclusion in the Workplace—Which Is Directly Correlated with Higher Attrition
  • A New BCG Report Outlines Actions Organizations Can Take to Address This Attrition Risk

BOSTON—Most companies report that their workforce includes relatively few employees with disabilities: just 4% to 7% on average.[1] But in a major survey by Boston Consulting Group (BCG) of nearly 28,000 employees in 16 countries (across all regions and various industries) some 25% of people said they have a disability or health condition that limits a major life activity.

People with disabilities (PwD) report lower levels of inclusion in the workplace relative to their colleagues without disabilities—and lower levels relative to other employee groups that are often the focus of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts: women, the LGBTQ community, and Black, Indigenous, and other people of color. These findings matter because lower feelings of inclusion are correlated with higher attrition.

These are among the findings of a report being published today by BCG, Your Workforce Includes People with Disabilities. Does Your People Strategy? The disparity between the prevalence rates that employers report and the self-identification rates that employees shared with BCG reveals three troubling workplace realities:

  • Employees with disabilities significantly underdisclose to their employers, perhaps fearing stigma or a negative impact on their job security or promotion prospects.
  • Employers are missing a large-scale opportunity to enable a quarter of their workforce to bring their full selves to work.
  • Employers making decisions and investments regarding their workforce are relying on inaccurate information. If management doesn’t understand the true number of people with disabilities, it’s hard to make a case for developing tailored support systems that could have significant performance and engagement benefits.

“No organization can afford to ignore or misunderstand around a quarter of their workforce. Employers should recognize that their current disclosure data is most likely incomplete, and that the true number of people with disabilities in their workplace is much higher than they realize,” said Brad Loftus, a managing director and senior partner at BCG and a coauthor of the report. “Our data shows that organizations can take practical steps to get high-impact results, making it possible for employees with disabilities to be happier, more productive and motivated at work, and more likely to stay on the job.”

The report’s findings are based on survey results, interviews with employees with disabilities and experts on disability inclusion, and analysis using BCG’s BLISS Index (BLISS = Bias-Free, Leadership, Inclusion, Safety, and Support), which measures employees’ feelings of inclusion and provides a quantitative window to understand the workplace experience of employees with disabilities today. It provides a single, comprehensive score that reflects feelings of inclusion. Scores range from 1 to 100 and are based on rigorous statistical modeling.

On average, the BLISS Index scores for PwD are 3 points lower than the average score for those without a disability or health condition. These findings hold true across the 16 countries from around the world included in BCG’s research.

Beyond differences in BLISS Index scores, BCG also found that PwD have a more negative work experience: PwD are 6 percentage points less likely than nondisabled employees to indicate they are happy at work. They are nearly 15 percentage points more likely to say that work negatively impacts their mental and physical well-being and their relationships with friends and family. And they are 1.5 times more likely to have experienced discrimination at their organization than those without a disability or health condition.

Given the disconnect between perceived prevalence and self-disclosure rates and given the worse experiences of PwD in the workplace, it’s clear that organizations need to create a more inclusive culture. BCG’s data shows that organizations can dramatically foster greater feelings of inclusion for PwD by effectively executing on the following levers, and in the process improve the workplace experience of all employees:

  • Employee-Centric Policies and Programs
    • Among employees with disabilities whose organizations invest heavily in employee-centric policies, average BLISS Index scores rose to within approximately 1 point of the score for employees without disabilities in similarly inclusive environments.
    • Among those working for organizations that did not invest significantly in employee-centric policies, the divide between those with and without disabilities was much greater: BLISS Index scores for those with disabilities were 4.5 points lower.
  • Mentorship
    • Having a mentor improves feelings of inclusion for employees with disabilities. The average BLISS Index score for PwD with a mentor is nearly 8 points higher than that for disabled employees without one.
    • Mentorship improves happiness at work: 77% of PwD with a mentor say they are happy versus 57% of PwD without a mentor.
    • PwD with a mentor report less than half the attrition risk: 4% with mentors say they are likely to leave within a year, but 10% without a mentor are likely to leave within that time frame.
  • Reasonable Accommodations
    • When people with disabilities request reasonable accommodations—such as particular equipment or software, flexible working arrangements, or adjustments to their physical environment—and those requests are approved, BLISS Index outcomes improve significantly: a 17-point increase over the scores of PwD whose requests for accommodations were denied.
    • With approvals, the average BLISS Index score for employees with disabilities nears that of employees without disabilities; the difference narrows to just over 1 point.
    • In cases where requests for accommodations are denied, the impact is profoundly negative: BLISS Index scores plummet, falling 15 points below the baseline scores for PwD who do not request accommodations and 18 points below those of nondisabled employees. Attrition risk increases, too, when requests for reasonable accommodations are denied.

Download the publication here.

Media Contact:
Eric Gregoire
+1 617 850 3783

[1] According to two sources: US company-based research conducted by the nonprofit Disability:IN, a leading resource for business disability inclusion and a survey conducted by the Australian Network on Disability, a national, employer-led network that helps organizations engage with PwD.

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