Cynthia Rose Bryant is Chair of the Board of Trustees for The Seeing Eye, Inc and an attorney who has served as Special Counsel for Alternative Dispute Resolution with the Federal Communications Commission’s Office of Workplace Diversity and program management for President Clinton’s presidential task force ensuring employment for people with disabilities. She shares her thoughts on speaking at Everlaw Summit '23 and on how to create a more equitable hiring process below.
While speaking on an incredible panel — “Diversity in the Legal Profession, But for Real” — with Shana A. Simmons, Luke Liss and Jasmine Singh at Everlaw Summit ‘23, I was asked to touch on recruiting practices to promote inclusivity and equitable opportunities for people with disabilities.
Presently, the number of people with disabilities in the legal profession is unclear because of the difficulty in capturing reliable data. It is estimated that just over one percent of all lawyers have disclosed a disability. What about those that do not disclose?
I shared my thoughts and experiences to hopefully shed light on the apprehension that people with disabilities face when seeking employment. My thoughts should not be perceived as playing hide-and-seek, but rather on my struggles in taking steps to ensure a focus on qualifications and not on disability. It is important to understand this is not easy since we as humans rely on our eyes – approx. 85% - to assist our brain in perceiving the world. For myself in my employment journey, I sought for others to focus on listening to me, not just looking at me. That said, I talked about several recruitment practices including developing a well-informed hiring manager.
Today, when you look at me, my disability is obvious. I am blind. I can disclose my blindness to the hiring manager in my written application, but if I do, I fear what may happen to my application. If my application is accepted and I have not disclosed, it will certainly become apparent during my interview.
It is estimated that just over one percent of all lawyers have disclosed a disability. What about those that do not disclose?
My thoughts are not to say that I won’t be treated fairly, or that there are no policies or regulations to assist me. It is simply to say that my thoughts as a person with a disability integrating into the workforce are real and I proactively strategize on ways to address the challenges.
I have matured into my blindness and have become less concerned with how I present though. I am who I am and I most often disclose at the initial written application process.
On the other hand, many years ago, I was in the early stages of retinal deterioration and my vision loss was not obvious. In fact, I was accused more than once of faking my disability. Go figure.
In seeking a job, I was apprehensive and did not disclose in the initial written application stage. And, from there, while disclosure was and is not required during the interview, I spent many anxious moments trying to figure out when and if to disclose and how to get them to focus on my qualifications and not my disability.
For me, I chose to disclose at the end of the interviewing process essentially as a footnote knowing that I had successfully established a positive relationship with my potential employer. At that time in my life, it seemed to work. That said, I understand how individuals with hidden disabilities may choose not to disclose.
So, what about the hiring manager?
Hiring managers need to address their blind spots (unconscious biases), and I assured the audience that this does not make us bad people because all of us have them. The goal is for each of us to be honest with ourselves, and to explore, identify and manage our individual biases.
This holistic recruitment approach across the board is critical to show that all are welcome and indeed valued.
Hiring teams also benefit from disability awareness training and reasonable accommodations to become knowledgeable as to diverse needs. When interviewing a person with a disability, demonstrating a clear commitment to transparency on evaluation and growth potential helps to ensure a sense of equitable career advancement.
I went on to say that the commitment to transparency should extend beyond the candidate with a disability. Hiring managers should in fact apply these principles across hiring practices in general because, while you may know Cynthia Bryant with an obvious disability is sitting before you during the interview, you may not know that Cynthia Bryant with a hidden disability may be sitting before you seeking the same assurance. This holistic recruitment approach across the board is critical to show that all are welcome and indeed valued. It is an excellent beginning.
Diversity of people = diversity of thought = productivity enhanced.
For more information on countering unconscious bias, check out this book: Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People by Greenwald and Mahzarin.