Under-represented job candidates vault into executive suite

Persons with a disability can excel to the highest levels when given a chance to demonstrate their skills, as one Toronto-based company discovered.

With the help of BioTalent Canada’s Opportunities Fund wage subsidy program, RightBlue Labs Inc. was able to tap into a highly skilled labour pool at a level that wasn’t previously feasible. This program provides up to $13,500 towards the onboarding and training of persons with a disability and is helping companies hire talent they may not have been able to in the past.

The new candidates, hired in late 2017, were brought on to help with software engineering. Within six months, the bio-health analytics software maker so impressed with the hires that they promoted both individuals into executive roles. One was promoted to chief product officer, and the other was promoted to vice-president of engineering “because of the tremendous impact on our team,” says Ronen Benin, Co-founder and CEO at RightBlue Labs.

He noted that the company had previously hired persons with a disability, starting with its third employee: “We were employing persons with a disability before.” The process was like hiring any other employee, but they were more readily available.”

That fact comes as no surprise to Canadians with disabilities. Statistics Canada data and a 2016 Angus Reid poll both show that about half of all Canadians with some form of disability are unemployed. As many as 35 per cent of people with a disability had been refused employment because of that disability, according to Statistics Canada.

Potential employers who would exclude a candidate due to a disability are missing out, says Mr. Benin. “Based on our experience, a lot of these candidates aren’t particularly skilled at interviewing but as employees they are terrifically skilled.”

Only 23 per cent of people with disabilities would disclose the fact of their challenges in an interview, and 19 per cent would never share that information, fearing discrimination, the Angus Reid poll found.

To identify that potential, RightBlue Labs learned to look past interview performance and instead focuses on the outcomes of technical tests and assesses candidates in social situations with the team they would work with if hired.

“An Interview isn’t the most accurate representation of what an individual is capable of, particularly in a technical role,” says Mr. Benin, noting that bringing a candidate in for a day or two is more effective. “Make it a lot more hands-on.”

Other indicators of success are candidates’ qualifications, a strong referral from a trusted third party, or a strong resume and reference checks.

BioTalent Canada and its programs have been an important factor in the growth of RightBlue Labs, which has 185 clients and has set a target of 350 this year after a $5 million funding round at a $15 million valuation, he added.

“It’s a terrific organization that has helped us hire a lot of individuals and helped us offset our costs. I would definitely recommend that other companies pursue these programs,” Mr. Benin said.

The 34-person company’s software gathers information on individuals, forecasts risk factors for illness and injury, and prescribes a course of action to help them avoid getting sick, hurt or burned-out.

“We keep people happy and healthy,” says Mr. Benin.

Newsletter Issue: 
HR Microscope May 2018