Paralympian Liz Johnson: Challenging stereotypes in recruitment

Businesses often underestimate disabled people in the recruitment process, according to ?gold medal-winning Paralympian Liz Johnson

Speaking to HR magazine, Johnson said that while she believes most employers are not deliberately discriminatory towards disabled people, many disabled candidates are still subject to unconscious bias.

“A lot of people with the best of intentions still look at disability as if it’s a problem that needs to be fixed rather than looking at the issues within their organisations and giving people opportunities," she said.

"It’s no secret that this is a huge issue. Disabled people really are the minority of minorities. It can be frustrating when businesses don’t even bother to push it, or provide the opportunities. As a Paralympian no-one questions what I'm capable of. But they didn't always see it; I had to fight all the way," she added.

Johnson said that these experiences influenced the launch of her new recruitment agency The Ability People. The business will be recruiting both able-bodied and disabled candidates for roles in the technology, engineering, software and HR sectors, as well as providing support for graduates and school leavers.

Johnson, who took gold for ParalympicsGB in Beijing in 2008, silver in Athens in 2004, and bronze in London in 2012, also has a degree in business and experience working as a consultant.

“A combination of things led to me starting the business. I’ve been lucky enough to have had a career I’ve loved for almost 20 years and progressed right through to the top, but I know that a lot of people with disabilities have faced significant barriers.

"My degree was in business and consultancy, and the more I became involved in that world the more I became aware of some the attributes required to make a great recruitment consultant – like goal-setting and dealing with issues on the spot. I also found that there weren’t a lot of people who were able to understand some of the barriers people with disabilities are facing – particularly around a lack of flexibility at work,” she said.

The business hopes to challenge stereotypes about the role those living with disabilities can play in the job market, as well as providing career paths for each member of the team.

The Ability People has already secured a contract with Guidant Group, which will see it placing candidates for major brands including Diageo, John Lewis and British Airways.

"We're really pleased about how much interest it's had already. It’s our hope that as organisations build a relationship with our consultants they’ll start to get to that level of empathy. I hope it will be a chance for people to see that everyone on this earth has barriers in one way or another, and deserves to be given a chance to be the best they can be."