Is your fear standing in the way of diversity?

An award-winning business head says many employers are afraid of hiring someone with a disability because they don’t know what to expect.

Is your fear standing in the way of diversity?

Fear of the unknown could be standing in the way of your workplace diversity – that’s the warning from one award-winning leader who’s now encouraging other employers to go out on a limb.

Claire Matheson is the founder of Coffee Educators – an organisation which has been widely recognised for its work training and employing members of the deaf community. She says employers are often reluctant to hire someone with a hearing impairment as they’re unsure of what to expect.

“The fear comes down to not knowing how people with a barrier such as deafness would perform the same tasks that are expected of those with full hearing,” says Matheson.

“People with hearing issues or other barriers are also overlooked because the person who is doing the hiring doesn’t understand how they would be able to adapt their business.”

Matheson says that because employers tend to be distracted by the potential barriers, they often overlook the multitude of benefits that come with hiring an employee with a unique skills set.

“For those who have barriers, there are usually other areas where you can unlock an incredible potential and an incredible passion which would otherwise have been missed,” she tells HRD.

“I often miss small details but my deaf employees don’t because their attention to detail is so fine that everything is done perfectly and to the same consistent standard every time,” she says.

The company – which won the Diversability Award at this year’s Diversity Awards New Zealand – has also been able to attract and retain valuable talent thanks to its inclusive culture.

“Our multimedia designer applied for a job at the cafe because he had heard we were a deaf-friendly employer,” reveals Matheson. “When I asked to see his CV, I saw that he was the head of the Deaf Sports Association, had represented New Zealand at the Deaflympics and had extensive experience as a designer. At the time, he was working part time as a waiter as he had struggled to find a job in his chosen field after he moved from Auckland to Wellington.”

Matheson also says other employers missed out on hiring café manager Julz, who is profoundly deaf.

“She had worked in coffee previously but no one would ever give her the chance to progress as they were worried her deafness would hold her back,” says Matheson. “We’ve found the opposite. She is strong and determined and an inspiration to all our staff and students.”

While Matheson has worked largely with hearing impaired students, her organisation actually delivers customer service and barista training to students with a range of physical, mental and neurological disabilities – the sentiment, she says, applies across the board.

“A lot of the time, people just don’t know how they would be able to make their changes to their business and they don’t know who to ask for advice,” she tells HRD.

“For anyone who feels like that, I want to tell them to contact us, talk to us – we’re more than happy to share our journey with people.”

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