Creating A Workplace for Disability-Led Fairness + Inclusion = Good Business
Ali Stroker was the first actor to use a wheelchair who won as featured actress in a musical at the recent Tony Awards, and she also won hearts and minds for her acceptance speech, not just her performance in “Oklahoma!”
Yet her high profile win unfortunately also highlighted the reality that she could not access the stage down the aisle in time for the group award—as it had no ramp at the front of the stage, Variety reports.
Awareness is only the first phase of change. Inclusion and fairness policies need to be in place for disability-led initiatives. The bottom line is –with some exceptions– the workplace is not a fair place for adults with disabilities.
“In the U.S, 10 million people have both physical and mental disabilities, and they are underemployed. As of July 2018, only 29 percent of working age Americans (between ages 16 and 64) with disabilities participated in the workforce. That is compared with 75 percent of Americans without a disability. And in 2017, the unemployment rate for people with disabilities was more than twice that for those without a disability—9.2 percent, compared with 4.2 percent,” according to Harvard Business Review.
Pooja Jain-Link, executive vice president at the Center for Talent Innovation and Julia Taylor Kennedy, Executive Vice President at the Center for Talent Innovation, write in HBR, “Since 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act has explicitly prohibited disability-based discrimination. But the abstract reality of employee protection clauses belies the day-to-day work experience, in which a dominant work culture may implicitly signal — if not explicitly encourage — conformity. Many express concerns that their manager might see them as lazy or less capable, and that their career progress will stall as a result.”
CNBC reports, “One in 4 adults will become disabled at some point before reaching retirement age, according to the Social Security Administration. A total of 20.1 million adults of employment age report a work disability, according to research published by the National Institutes of Health.”
The welcome inclusion of people with disabilities in the workplace is top of mind for the millions with disabilities in this country as well as a group of fair-minded investors.
According to Chief Investment Officer, “A group of institutional investors representing more than $1 trillion in combined assets are calling on the companies they invest in to do more to include people with disabilities in the workforce.”
New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, Oregon State Treasurer Tobias Read, are leading the initiative along with California State Teachers’ Retirement System, Voya Financial, Inc., American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations, and the state treasurers of Illinois, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Vermont.
DiNapoli says,”Disability inclusion expands the pool of talent companies can hire from and creates welcoming workplaces that foster different perspectives, giving an enterprise a competitive edge.”
While inclusion of persons with disabilities is good business, the representation in popular culture remains minimal, even with Stoker’s recent Tony, and movies and TV shows such as “Upside,” “The Theory of Everything,” and “Atypical.”
Bustle reports, “In 2017, the Ruderman Family Foundation, an organization that promotes the inclusion of people with disabilities in media, published a study showing that while 20% of the U.S. population has a disability — some 5 million people — only 2% of characters do on screen. Furthermore, 95% of TV characters with disabilities are played by non-disabled actors, according to the study, and the numbers are equally dismal in film. According to USC’s Inequality in 800 Popular Films report, only 2.4% of all speaking or named characters had a disabilityfrom 2007 to 2015. This means a large community remains unrepresented, and actors with disabilities are often left unconsidered for jobs they’re uniquely qualified for.”
This is at a time when reports are that inclusion is good business. A 2018 report from Accenture in partnership with Disability:IN and the American Association of People with Disabilities, “Getting to Equal: The Disability Inclusion Advantage,” analyzed the disability practices and financial performance of the 140 companies participating in the Disability Equality Index.
Accenture reports, “The 45 companies that Accenture identified as standing out for their leadership in areas specific to disability employment and inclusion had, on average over the four-year period, 28 percent higher revenue, double the net income and 30 percent higher economic profit margins than the other companies in the DEI. Accenture analysis also revealed that U.S. GDP could get a boost of up to US$25 billion if more persons with disabilities joined the labor force.”
Yet unconscious and overt bias toward persons with disabilities continue to plague workplaces.
Dr. David Nyoro, Biomedical laboratory Technologist at Labbotecth Company, writes in Thrive Global, “Some employees may be consciously or unconsciously be biased about their disabled counterparts. It’s therefore important for you to familiarize yourself with the affirmed commitment and policies protecting people with disability. This will help dispel notions of ignorance about rights of people with disability.”
Denise Brody writes in Forbes that Return on Investment estimates there are “1.3 billion people with disabilities, many of them Baby Boomers who control a larger share of wealth than any previous generation.” She adds, “Disability inclusion is a significant opportunity for companies to improve their performance, enhance labor-force diversity and develop a sustainable corporate culture.”
Accenture offers four pillars of inclusion in order to shift the workplace culture to one of fairness for those with disabilities.
Employ: Organizations must ensure that persons with disabilities are represented in their workplace. Beyond hiring, employers should implement practices that encourage and progress persons with disabilities.
Enable: Leaders must provide employees with disabilities with accessible tools and technology and/or a formal accommodations program.
Engage: To foster an inclusive culture, organizations must generate awareness-building — through recruitment efforts, disability education programs and grassroots-led efforts (for example, an employee resource group).
Empower: Organizations must create empowering environments for employees with disabilities through mentoring and coaching initiatives, as well as through skilling/re-skilling programs, to ensure that they continue to advance and thrive.
You can definitely create change in your workplace. Gloria Feldt, president and co-founder of Take The Lead, demonstrates that in her 9 Leadership Power Tools. Power Tool # 7, “Take Action; Create a Movement,” relies on your ability to move change forward. Feldt writes, “Things don’t just happen. People make them happen in a systematic way. And you can change systems. Apply the three movement building principles of Sister Courage (be a sister, act with courage, put them together to create a PLAN) and you will realize your vision at work, at home, or in public life.”