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Sept. 23 — Most federal contractors have a long way to go to attain a workforce that includes at least 7 percent disabled employees, a goal set by the Labor Department's Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs, if a survey conducted by the Conference Board is any indication.
The OFCCP's final regulations under Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act (41 C.F.R. part 60-741), which took effect March 24, require contractors to establish a nationwide 7 percent utilization goal for disabled individuals in each job group of their workforce. If a contractor has less than 100 employees, the final rule requires the 7 percent goal to be applied to the entire workforce.
But the July-August e-mail survey by the Conference Board, which included responses from 98 companies in various industries that had contacted the board for advice on disability and other diversity topics, found that just 13 percent were at the target level, 28 percent had more than 2 percent but less than 7 percent disabled employees, and the remaining 59 percent had less than 2 percent, Mary B. Young, principal researcher on human capital at the board, said in a Sept. 22 webinar sponsored by the New York-based business membership and research association.
The OFCCP regulations also include a requirement for contractors to invite job applicants to voluntarily self-identify as disabled at the pre-offer and post-offer phases of the application process.
“I think it's important here to note that this is the percentage of the workforce who voluntarily self-identified as having a disability,” Young said. “It is not the percentage of your workforce who do have a disability. In fact, every company we spoke to said that whatever the self-identification was percentage-wise, it was significantly lower than the actual number of people with disabilities. I think this is the crux of the issue for many employers.”
The survey also asked employers whether they had a way for their employees to self-identify as disabled either by name, anonymously or both. The companies that had achieved the target 7 percent disabled employees level were more likely than the others to have made both methods of self-identification available, Young said; overall, only 32 percent of respondents made things easier on their disabled employees this way.
At-target companies, Young added, were also more likely to have 20 or more disability inclusion practices; to offer training and resources to improve disability awareness while holding managers accountable for meeting disability inclusion goals; to rate their training and resources in this area as very effective; and to be in the government or nonprofit sector.
These findings dovetailed with the board's best practice advice for increasing self-identification of disabilities by employees, as Young presented it:
• Offer employees multiple ways to identify themselves as disabled.
• Offer effective training and resources to improve awareness of disabilities.
• Hold managers accountable for meeting disability inclusion targets.
• Explain why the organization is asking for this information, including regulatory requirements, the business case and what's in it for the self-identifying employee. This, Young said, can help allay disabled employees' fears about disclosing they have a disability.
• Explain how the information will be used and protected.
• Raise awareness of the definition of a disability in the Americans With Disabilities Act as amended, “since many employees who may qualify don't realize they do.”
A positive case study is Prudential Financial Inc., which has put in place “an integrated communications strategy to promote the recruitment, retention and advancement of individuals with disabilities,” Michele C. Green, vice president and chief diversity officer at the financial services company, said during the webinar.
“We also created various communications and educational materials to increase understanding of the term ‘disability,' the confidentiality around disclosing disability and veteran status, and the benefits of providing disability and veteran self-identifying information,” she said.
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