Last week I attended the Disability Employment Australia national conference, which was held in person for the first time in several years. It was wonderful to reconnect with other service providers after such a long hiatus.
The conference theme was ‘Employing Disability Matters’ and there was a focus on service users and consumer peaks challenging the disability employment sector to do better.
Many speakers called on the sector to provide better service to cohorts who are getting left behind, and to lead the way in employing more people with a disability.
Some in attendance took exception to this, rightly noting that many people have an excellent experience with their disability employment service provider, and many already employ a highly diverse workforce.
Despite this, I welcome this kind of challenge and see it as motivation for all providers to find another gear.
I think it is important that our industry’s leaders keep reflecting that while we are currently experiencing very favourable labour market conditions, people with a disability are still grossly under-represented in the labour market.
Another area of discussion was around disability employment quotas and whether government, or broader business should be compelled to employ a statistically diverse workforce, or potentially face fines or sanctions.
The call for quotas has been around the sector for as long as I can recall and is always divisive.
A moment that caught my attention was an exchange between the former Disability Discrimination Commissioner Graeme Innes and Canadian Government Minister for Accessibility Yazmine Laroche.
Both are articulate, wise individuals, both with personally lived experience of disability and both who have held important roles influencing disability policy – yet have disparate views on the use of quotas.
Yasmine strongly stated she did not support quotas given that they can potentially result in further inequality and discrimination, while Graham respectfully disagreed, saying that he felt quotas were the only way to bring real change.
Personally – I’m in Yazmine’s camp.
I don’t like the principle of quotas and feel uncomfortable about the idea of favouring one person for a role over another, for any reason other than their suitability.
I prefer the method of setting goals and then developing strategies that improve pathways, but I also acknowledge Graeme’s perspective that not enough has shifted, and change is too slow.
When I reflect on what this looks like at The Personnel Group, I’m satisfied that while we do employ a large number of people with a disability, we too must do more to see greater numbers of people with lived experience move into senior, influencing positions within our business.
I came back from this conference determined to find solutions for this, and that is why I welcome the challenge, and the criticism.
We can always do better and find better ways.