October 12, 2017
A Global Untapped Talent Pool: Employees with Disabilities 

NEW YORK, October 12, 2017— A first-of-its-kind study published by the Center for Talent Innovation (CTI) in partnership with US Business Leadership Network (USBLN) finds that far more people than expected have a disability: In the U.S., 30 percent of college-educated employees working full-time in white-collar professions. CTI’s report Disabilities and Inclusion has uncovered that employees with disabilities make up an enormous global talent pool that employers overlook far too often- to their own detriment.

The study also uncovered reasons that employees with disabilities have remained under the radar. Sixty-two percent of employees with disabilities have “invisible disabilities”—people can’t tell they have a disability upon meeting them. 44% of Millennials report that they have a mental health condition, higher than both Boomers and Xers.

“From our interviews and focus groups, we learned that people with disabilities are particularly innovative. In order to navigate the world with a disability, they have to problem-solve each day. They can contribute this gift to their employers, but only if they know they will be recognized and rewarded for it,” says Julia Taylor Kennedy, executive vice president and director of publications at CTI.

The study also explores what it is like to be an employee with a disability (or an employer of individuals with disabilities) in five key markets for multinational companies: Brazil, Germany, India, Japan, and the United Kingdom. The study provides government definitions of disability, most recent legislation, and legal requirements for employers in each of the five markets.

The study provides valuable global insights. In India, the incidence of visible disabilities among survey respondents in India is higher compared to the US (49% vs. 13% in the US), which may be why the disclosure rates to HR are also high. In Brazil, because of federal quotas, college-educated people with disabilities are highly sought after in Brazil—and are likely to disclose to HR. The UK seems to be ahead of the curve when it comes to invisible disabilities. There are higher disclosure rates to HR for invisible disabilities than in the US (29% in the UK sample vs. 13% in the US), and 34% of those in the UK sample who have mental health conditions feel they’re being promoted quickly.

“How do we build great products and services with disability in mind? Disability is part of being human. We’re creating products for humans. We need to find ways for all humans to use our technology to support their work every day,” says Jenny Lay-Flurrie, Chief Accessibility Officer at Microsoft.

The implications of the research for companies is clear. Employers who want to elicit the best ideas from their people should rely on inclusive leadership—and this carries extra relevance for leaders of people with disabilities.

“Whether it’s within the workforce, or through supplier diversity, there are many opportunities to tap into this global talent pool,” says Jill Houghton, President and Chief Executive Officer at USBLN. “We live in an increasingly interconnected world, and as we grow business, we should ensure inclusivity and the opportunity to hire innovative talent.”

How? The study recommends inclusive leadership, disclosure training, understanding signals of support, and the Disability Equality Index (DEI). The DEI is a leading benchmarking tool that provides an objective score and roadmap on disability inclusion policies and practices for Fortune 500-1000 companies.

“Now that we know employees with disabilities make up nearly a third of the white-collar workforce, employers simply can’t afford to ignore this crucial talent cohort,” says Laura Sherbin, co-president of CTI and a managing partner of Hewlett Consulting Partners. “By understanding employees with disabilities—and listening to their ideas—companies can unlock enormous potential.”

CTI’s Disabilities and Inclusion report highlights additional ways employers can signal inclusion to employees with disabilities, and showcases best practices from USBLN corporate partners.

USBLN’s sponsorship was generously supported by: 3M, General Motors, McKesson, Merck, Microsoft, and Walgreens Boots Alliance.

For more information on Disabilities and Inclusion, please visit www.talentinnovation.org.

Research Sponsors: 

Accenture, Aetna, Bloomberg LP, Johnson & Johnson, Lime Connect, Prudential, PwC, Wells Fargo, KPMG, McKesson, Unilever, USBLN

Research Authors: 

  • LAURA SHERBIN is co-president at the Center for Talent Innovation and a managing partner at Hewlett Consulting Partners. She is an economist specializing in work-life issues and gender. She has taught “Women and Globalization” at the School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University, and is coauthor of Harvard Business Review articles, “How Diversity Can Drive Innovation,” “How Gen Y and Boomers Will Reshape Your Agenda,” “Off-Ramps and On-Ramps Revisited,” and Harvard Business Manager article “Letzte Ausfahrt Babypause.” She is also coauthor of Harvard Business Review Research Reports The Athena Factor: Reversing the Brain Drain in Science, Engineering, and Technology and The Sponsor Effect: Breaking through the Last Glass Ceiling and CTI reports including Executive Presence, among many others. She earned her Ph.D. in economics from American University.
  • JULIA TAYLOR KENNEDY is executive vice president and director of publications at CTI. She also drives qualitative research at the Center, and advises on digital learning strategy and implementation at Hewlett Consulting Partners. Taylor Kennedy coauthored Mission Critical: Unlocking the Value of Veterans in the Workforce and Power of the Purse: Engaging Women Decision Makers for Healthy Outcomes.

About the Research: 

The research consists of surveys (U.S. and international); in-person focus groups and Insights In-Depth® sessions (a proprietary web-based tool used to conduct voice-facilitated virtual focus groups) involving over 80 people; and one-on-one interviews with over 100 men and women in the U.S., Brazil, Germany, India, Japan, and the U.K. We also conducted in-company surveys among select sponsors of the research with over 600 respondents.

The U.S. survey was conducted online and over the phone in October and November 2016 among 3,570 respondents (1,605 men and 1,965 women; 1,083 people with disabilities) between the ages of 21 and 65 currently employed full-time in white-collar occupations, with at least a bachelor’s degree. Data were weighted to be representative of the U.S. population on key demographics (age, sex, education, race/ethnicity, and Census Division). The base used for statistical testing was the effective base.

The international survey was conducted online in April 2017 among 500 respondents (100 in Brazil, 100 in Germany, 100 in India, 100 in Japan, and 100 in the U.K.) between the ages of 21 and 64 currently employed full-time in white-collar occupations, with at least a bachelor’s degree and classified as having disabilities according to the U.S. federal definition.

The U.S. and international surveys were conducted by NORC at the University of Chicago under the auspices of the Center for Talent Innovation, a nonprofit research organization. NORC was responsible for the data collection, while the Center for Talent Innovation conducted the analysis. The in-company surveys were conducted by the Center for Talent Innovation.

In the charts, percentages may not always add up to 100 because of computer rounding or the acceptance of multiple responses from respondents. Unless otherwise cited, all quantitative data contained in the report are derived from the US or international surveys.


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