How people with disabilities hold the key to future-proofing Ireland's workforce

Workers with neurological differences can bestow special skills in businesses.

By Olivia McEvoy EY Ireland

WITH THE IRISH economy continuing to grow faster than the rest of Europe, and a labour market at almost saturation, organisations in Ireland will increasingly need to look to talent pools from overseas.

However, businesses must first future-proof their talent strategies if they want to cast their nets wider and continue to prosper in the jobs market.

To compete on an international stage – with Luxemburg, Frankfurt and Paris, among others – Irish organisations need to rethink their strategies to attract a talent pool diverse in thinking styles and perspectives, backgrounds, ethnicity, age and ability, to name but a few diversity profile strands.

In tandem, and crucially, organisations need to create environments that celebrate and foster those differences, espousing a genuinely inclusive environment where everyone experiences the ‘céad míle fáilte’ and can feel they belong, wherever they come from.

To achieve more diversity and inclusion, or D&I, organisations first need to stop fooling themselves.

EY’s 2018 survey of D&I in the Irish market – which surveyed over 150 C-suite executives and HR directors – revealed a significant disconnect between what people say about D&I and what they are actually doing.

Some 95% of organisations surveyed said having a diverse and inclusive workplace is key to talent acquisition and retention, but only 24% have a programme in place to recruit diverse candidates.

In addition, just under half have a D&I strategy while a third have one as a regular or fixed board agenda item.

Indeed, the survey provided further evidence that established work practices in areas such as recruitment and leadership development are largely continuing unchanged.

Untapped talent

There are considerable untapped pools of talent in Ireland including persons with disabilities and ‘neurodiverse’ people.

‘Neurodiversity’ refers to the concept where various neurological conditions like autism and ADHD are considered to be the result of normal variations of our genetic make-up.

EY’s report revealed just 14% of the organisations surveyed have people with disabilities in senior leadership positions.

But people with neurological differences can bestow special skills in pattern recognition, memory, or mathematics.

This makes them particularly suited to many areas of business including audit, forensics or data analytics, which begs the question why more businesses do not specifically target this cohort.

Some adjustments do need to be made in the arenas of recruitment and selection.

In addition, neurodiverse people may require accommodations such as headphones to prevent auditory overstimulation. However, the challenges are very manageable and the potential returns enormous.


While we talk of ‘future-proofing’ talent strategies, it is often the age-old requirements and basics that people are looking for: personal connection and trust.

People are looking to play a meaningful part in an organisation with a ‘human culture’ where there is potential for both personal and emotional connection to people and to purpose.

Simple as it sounds, building a diverse, inclusive and ‘human’ culture takes significant resources and investment. It will not happen by osmosis.

But until we adopt a more transformative approach that embeds D&I as part of our systems and structures and ultimately our workplace culture, we will simply ‘expect’ rather than realise change.

However, when that power is harnessed, organisations can create an agile and resilient workforce capable of thriving in this continually disruptive economy.

Olivia McEvoy is director of diversity and inclusion at EY Ireland.

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