Staff with disabilities an asset to Kiwi businesses. Increasing flexibility and competitiveness within the workforce.

Small to medium enterprises (SMEs) and large corporates need to rethink the traditional concept of ‘disability’ when it comes to hiring people in order to make Kiwi workplaces more competitive according to the NZ head of one of the world’s largest healthcare companies.

Anna Stove, general manager of the New Zealand division of global pharmaceutical company GSK, says Kiwi managers need to think more laterally about what disability means, and review recruitment processes and work spaces to accommodate people who have disabilities, which may sometimes be an ‘invisible’ condition.

“It’s believed around 96% of people living with a medical condition, have a disability that is not visible,” says Stove.

“That means many managers are unaware of disabilities their staff or potential employees may be dealing with, whether that’s persistent migraines, chronic back pain, developmental challenges, or mental health issues.”

Stove says many companies fail to recognise the value of these people for their workplace, or simply don’t have the time or resources to find ways to make it work for both the business and the employee.

“A lot of local businesses are made up of small to medium sized companies that are lean on both people and resource,” she says. “I think most managers embrace the concept of diversity, but often have an unconscious bias to not go into the disability arena,” says Stove.

The latest New Zealand Disability Survey found that just half of all disabled adults were in the labour force (either employed, or unemployed and looking for work) compared with three-quarters of non-disabled adults1.

It also showed that relatively few disabled workers under the age of 65 needed special modifications or equipment in their workplace. In fact, just 10% said such changes had been made to their workplaces, and 7% said they needed modifications or additional modifications1.

However the benefits for companies of hiring and providing a flexible workplace for a more diverse group of people, including those with disabilities and ‘invisible’ conditions, are being proven globally, says Stove.

“Successive studies have shown that having a diverse organisation, at all levels, is good for business as this brings better quality decisions through diversity of thought, experience and style, and a more balanced approach to risk.”

Stove points to an international retail chain which ran a pilot programme where its distribution centres were staffed with a diverse mix of employees, including those with autism and developmental disabilities, their results showed that this group performed better than others without the same mix of employees2.

Along with improved performance, diversity can have a direct and positive impact on a company’s bottom line, says Stove. A recent international study looked at the top executive teams of 180 public firms in France, Germany, the UK and the US, and found those with more diverse teams outperformed their peers in EBIT margins by an average of 14%3.

Stove sits on the GSK Global Disability Council, which aims to make the company more disability-confident for the benefit of the company’s 100,000 employees around the world.

“At GSK, we have focused on flexible hours and working from home as ways to accommodate our employees, but we are always looking at more ways to make the workplace more suitable for people with disabilities,” Stove adds.

“It could be as simple as ensuring that standing desks are available for those with bad backs, adjusting lighting for someone who suffers from frequent migraines, or having a quiet, private workspace available for someone who needs to concentrate on specific tasks without distractions. Obviously other things also need to be taken into consideration such as IT and access to buildings.”

Globally the company culture is improving, Stove says, with staff feeling like their individual needs are being recognised and there are processes in place to ensure employees are supported and enabled to do the best job they can.

Stove, who will be speaking on diversity at the Aspiring Women Leaders’ Summit in Queensland this month4, says employers need to do more to make it clear to those living with disabilities that they should be applying for positions and will be fairly treated when it comes to recruitment.

“Many companies simply don’t attract any applications from those with disabilities here in New Zealand, and we need to question why that is,” says Stove. “What more could we be doing in our recruitment processes and employment offerings that can encourage greater diversity in our workplaces when it comes to ‘disability’?”

“I think managers need to truly believe that diversity is the right thing, and walk the talk here in New Zealand,” she says. “If we ensure that we have processes in place to attract people from all corners of society, then we all benefit.”


1. Disability and the Labour Market: Findings from the 2013 Disability Survey, accessed 30 April 2015.

2. Can Disability Help Your Bottom Line?, accessed 30 April 2015.

3. McKinsey&Company Study 2012, accessed 30 April 2015.



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