Discussions about how employers can support their team members to bring their whole selves to work
Jayme S. Ganey | June 25, 2018
Last week, National Organization on Disability’s (NOD) Corporate Leadership Council hosted the “Bringing Our Whole Selves to Work: Harnessing the Power of Difference by Uncovering Invisible Diversity Traits” event that brought together executives, managers, and employees from various corporations challenged the attendees to think about how people tend to leave a part of themselves at home when they come to work, and how difficult it might be for employees with ‘invisible disabilities’ to” come out” at work.
“None of us have a single identity”, NOD President Carol Glazer remarked. The emotional weight of carrying a hidden identity can be overwhelming and letting it go can “free up emotional real estate”.
During the talk, employers in the room were confronted with another question: what assumptions do they make? Particularly about what employees needed, wanted and were capable of. Glazer talked about employers needing to be supportive, transparent, and to allow the freedom to discuss their disability for peace of mind.
She also discussed her own personal journey as a caretaker and learning that through that experience she was no immune to mental illness. But until the last few years, she had made light of it and chose one identity (caretaker) over the other (PTSD patient) because it was easier.
The important point of authenticity was made, especially in discussing disability in the workplace, and attributed to what allows individuals to bring their whole selves to work.
Eric Mitchell, AT&T’s Assistant Vice President of Human Resources and one of the panelists, brought up the many opportunities employees have to be authentic at work, including within those discussions in their ERGs, which are actually independent 501c3 non-profits.
Completely controlled by employees with some company guidelines, including being open to everyone, he talked about how ERGs were resources for both employees who identified as a specific demographic, as well as a place for those who “needed to get schooled” on what they didn’t know about people.
In the act of sharing, Mitchell said empathy is created. “When people share personal stories, it’s powerful… And it creates collaboration and inclusiveness.”
He also said allies come from that, including executives. His hope: that executives would also “come out” so that they could be a role model for others.
The support, once AT&T employees share: online trainings on working with those with disabilities and the aging population, and job coaches assigned to managers and employees to help them work better together.
Some of the AT&T and ERG’s campaigns Mitchell mentioned were “Stamp Out Stigma”, “Everything is Not Fine” (both connected to mental health) and “Ignite” (a panel on invisible diversity) that encourage all to consider the whole person, not just the parts they see.
This, of course, was NOD’s message, along with stirring up action. Attendees were encouraged to take notes from the event back to their companies for action to ensue.
Every morning for about a month, in training designed for him, the high school senior with an intellectual disability practiced making steel brackets for trucks at a Des Moines factory. The skill took more than a few tries to master. But his co-workers, he said, cheered him on.
A supervisor stayed close, showing him how to pack the parts neatly into boxes that would ship to Ford, Honda and General Motors. And the effort produced something the 20-year-old once deemed distant: A job offer he could see turning into a career.
As the nation’s unemployment rate nears the lowest point in 50 years, sinking in May to 3.8 percent, companies are searching more widely to fill vacancies. Advocates say the labor shortage, coupled with growing openness to workers with mental and physical limitations, has brought record numbers of people with disabilities into the workforce — and it has also pushed employers to adopt more inclusive practices to support the new hires, such as longer and more hands-on training.
Over the past year, the jobless rate for workers with disabilities has fallen at a faster rate than among the general population, dropping 2.7 percentage points, from 9.5 percent to 7 percent.
At the same time, the share of working-age people with disabilities in the United States who are employed — a historically low figure — hit 29.7 percent last month, up 1.7 percentage points from a year ago, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
“Firms are more likely now to reach out in places they’ve never reached out before,” said Andrew Houtenville, research director of the Institute on Disability at the University of New Hampshire. “They’re also customizing jobs for people who might have previously been left out of the labor market.”
In Channon’s case, Dee Zee Manufacturing, a truck and SUV accessory-maker, offeredpersonally tailored training during school hours and held a job for him after graduation in May, paying $10 an hour. (Channon said he requested a part-time role until he gets used to the work.)
Channon, who reads at a seventh-grade level and took five years to complete high school, had worried he would have to settle for a job like his first one, which he dreaded: washing dishes at a grocery store.
“I’ve worn a Dee Zee shirt every single day since I started,” Channon said. “I love being part of it.”
Jackie Harvey, a production manager at Dee Zee, said the average hire starts on the assembly line with written instructions for the part they’re expected to make. A co-worker “buddy” is assigned to answer their questions for a week.
Channon required a little more investment.
“You’ve got to go a little slower,” said Harvey, who oversaw his training. “You’ve got to explain things a bit more thoroughly to make sure he understands why it is the way it is: You put this clip on this brace because it mounts onto the truck, and then the screw goes up through there.”
Dee Zee officials said the arrangement was partly motivated by Iowa’s worker drought, and partly by its desire to attract workers who will stay with the company.
At 2.3 percent, the unemployment rate in greater Des Moines is far below the national average of 3.8 percent. Dee Zee faces tough competition for workers from other plants.
More than 500 manufacturing positions are open in the area, according to Indeed, a jobs website, including at John Deere and wind turbine-blade plants.
“If somebody wants to work and they want to be here,” said Corbon Kinney, a talent acquisition consultant at Dee Zee, “that’s the type of person we want working for us.”
Filling jobs can take months, he added, so the company seeks workers who will stick around for decades.
“We do have to think outside the box,” Kinney said.
The National Organization on Disability (NOD), which tracks hiring trends, said that 62 percent of employers in its 2018 survey of 200 companies had adopted “leading practices” in training and technology for staffers with disabilities, up from 57 percent in 2016. Firms are partnering with local organizations that support people with disabilities, drafting policies on recruiting such individuals and hiring senior leaders to monitor their retention.
“Companies are looking for untapped talent pools,” said Miranda Pax, NOD’s director of external affairs. “There’s an increased awareness that they can recruit from this population.”
The moves toward a more inclusive workplace have also given momentum to the push to outlaw the practice of paying disabled employees below federal minimum wages in sheltered workplaces.
Over the past four years, Alaska, Maryland, Vermont and New Hampshire have banned employers from paying workers with disabilities below the minimum wage. New York has proposed a similar measure.
That’s why the number of employees at companies that are certified to pay these “sub-minimum wages,” in particular, has fallen to 164,347 from 256,203 in 2015, as states phase out the practice.
Meanwhile, some companies are discovering the benefits of a more inclusive workplace, said Michelle Krefft, a director at Iowa Vocational Rehabilitation, a state agency that connects disabled workers to jobs.
“People with disabilities, as a group, have generally experienced barriers living in a world that is not designed for them,” Krefft said. “They are innovators by nature. More companies are waking up to this.”
Ernst & Young, the global consultancy firm,recently swapped out traditional job interviews for hands-on auditions for candidates with developmental disorders, said Hiren Shukla, EY’s neurodiversity program leader.
“We don’t want to get hung up on, ‘Did you make eye contact?’ ” he said.
Over the past two years, the firm has hired 14 people with autism as account-support associates. EY hopes to add six more this summer.
“We think we have hit upon an untapped workforce,” Shukla said.
One is James Hudgins, 33, who works in the firm’s Dallas office. He was selling car parts before a state workforce development agency put him in touch with EY last year.
The company trained him, and Hudgins quickly picked up coding. He soon found a way to automate progress reports.
“That’s my pride and joy right there,” he said.
Krefft said businesses have a financial stake in making accommodations.
She said more manufacturers are offering job shares, allowing workers to split one full-time role. (That can be ideal for workers with physical limitations who have trouble working eight-hour shifts, she said.)
Meanwhile, Janet Bruckshen, executive director of Washington Vocational Services near Seattle, said she has noticed more tablets in use that help deaf workers communicate.
Some employers, though, still hesitate to hire people who rely on screens.
“We still get comments like: ‘We can’t do it. Workers need to communicate with customers,’ ” Bruckshen said. “But all it takes is saying, ‘Wait a sec. What if we figure out an accommodation?’ ”
Julie Propp, a 57-year-old Iowan with a severe intellectual disability, said she wanted a chance.
In her last job, she made $3.49 an hour as a janitor. She would often walk past a Kwik Star gas station 10 blocks from her home in the rural community of Marshalltown.
Propp hoped she could work there. The people seemed friendly.
Her caseworker helped her get an interview.
As it turned out, Kwik Star sometimes spent months trying to find workers. Few passed its background check.
When Propp showed up with energy and a clean record, she was hired. And her boss Sheila Earney said she was more than happy to spend the extra time training her new employee.
Propp stocks the coffee bar with sugar, cream and cups. She sweeps the floor and the sidewalk. She cleans the windows and wipes down the coolers. She leads customers to ketchup, toothpaste and Band-Aids.
“I help people out if they need help with anything,” she said. “I really like it.”
Earney said Propp arrives early early each day and has consistently earned stellar performance reviews.
“Anything we ask her,” Earney said, “she does for us.”
After nearly two years on the job, Propp got her first raise in April. She now makes $11.25 an hour, well above Iowa’s minimum wage.
How many of your employees or colleagues at work are struggling with mental health issues? Do you know? Have you even considered it?
June 20, 2018 | By Carol Glazer, President of the National Organization on Disability (NOD)
The tragic and untimely deaths by suicide of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain should serve as a reminder that even the most talented people, who appear to be holding it all together better than many of us, also can be affected by mental illness, a leading cause of suicide.
How many of your employees or colleagues at work are struggling with mental health issues? Do you know? Have you even considered it?
Mental health conditions are the single greatest cause of worker disability in the U.S., with costs exceeding $193 billion, according to NAMI.
Yet while the costs of mental illness left untreated are high, pharmacological advances and new therapeutic techniques have dramatically reduced the costs of treating mental health disorders — like anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder (the latter of which affects one out of every five veterans of the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan) — in the workforce.
According to a report that NOD advised on for the WMI, employees with invisible disabilities (such as mental health issues) are often less engaged than their counterparts with visible disabilities, likely because the latter workers access the accommodations they need at higher rates. Given the stigma associated with mental illness, it’s natural that workers will hold back on disclosing, and getting the accommodations they need.
From an employer’s perspective, the need for a successful strategy to deal with mental illness in the workplace is clear. And accommodations for someone with a mental illness are often simple — and inexpensive, such as flexibility in scheduling to accommodate medical appointments.
Today, revealing and accommodating a mental illness is a win-win for the employee and the employer. I found it incredibly helpful to share my own story related to mental illness. My hope is that more employers will take the steps to create a culture where more employees can do the same, in part by starting the conversation. Take care of your employees, because some are suffering from mental illness and the results can be catastrophic.
Representatives from over 35 companies attended the NOD Corporate Leadership Council’s April networking luncheon, “Fostering Engagement, Attracting Diverse Talent: The Value of a Disability Inclusive Brand.” EY, Charter Communications, and The Hershey Company shared some of their strategies for building disability-friendly brands, ranging from sensory-friendly events and fostering service dogs on the corporate campus, to integrating universal design principles into consumer products and embedding people with disabilities across the product design process. Each of these companies has realized returns on their investments in branding their workplaces as disability friendly, including increased rates of disability self-identification, broader appeal in the consumer marketplace, and improved employee engagement.
We culled key takeaways from the exclusive Council event that you can use to signal that your company is committed to disability inclusion to employees, jobseekers, and consumers alike:
Engage your employees with disabilities in developing and testing products and services. Peter Brown, Vice President of Design for Charter Communications said, “We bake accessibility into everything you do, just like baking a blueberry muffin. It’s hard to add the blueberries after you baked the muffin.” At Charter, they are embedding people with disabilities across their design team, ensuring that products are being tested and monitored for accessibility at every step of the process. This also spurs team-wide innovation in their work to build accessible products and improve quality of life for the people with disabilities that use them.
Look for creative opportunities to engage all of your employees in disability inclusion. Alicia Petross, Vice President of Diversity, Inclusion & Engagement for The Hershey Company, found just such an opportunity when she met Hachi: a Chocolate Labrador puppy training to be a service dog. A Hershey employee was fostering Hachi, and asked if she could bring the puppy to work. Alicia saw having Hachi on the Hershey campus – and other dogs like him – as a chance to build community and enhance Hershey’s disability inclusive culture. Since implementing the program in partnership with Susquehanna Service Dogs, the company’s disability self-identification rates have risen 29%, indicating increases in employee engagement and trust in the company.
Share employee stories with your entire workforce. David O’Brien, Partner, Americas Brand, Marketing and Communications for EY, discussed how having employees – including senior management – share their personal stories, has created an inclusive and empowering environment where employees can feel comfortable bringing their whole selves to work. EY shared a video with Council members featuring a non-binary, transgender employee who is also on the autism spectrum relating how important acceptance at work is to her. Similarly, PwC showed a video of an employee who uses a wheelchair talking about how his unique life experiences have enabled him to be a more productive and accomplished team member. Visible storytelling, like these examples, goes a long way toward building trust and fostering pride across the workforce. O’Brien related that “…as the story [in the video] has gotten told, our own people have shown remarkable pride in this. They’re interested. And then they are so prideful of the fact they work for a company like this.”
Put your brand behind causes. The panel was moderated by Sheri Klein from The Ad Council. Sheri shared a case study of the Love Has No Labels anti-bias campaign, which showed that 63% of employees felt good knowing they work for a company that supports the campaign. Visibility matters, and just as employees feel proud to work for inclusive companies, consumers also care deeply about how and where they spend their money.
With this in mind, think about what a campaign highlighting your company’s commitment to hiring people with disabilities could do for your employee engagement. Find out more about the NOD CompactAwareness Campaign.
NEW YORK (JUNE 7, 2018) – The National Organization on Disability (NOD) today announced three new members to its Board of Directors. Ken Barrett, Global Chief Diversity Officer, General Motors; Andrew R. Davis, Global Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer, The Coca-Cola Company; and Mike Gathright, Senior Vice President of Reservations and Customer Care, Hilton, were recently elected to the NOD Board, joining 14 other civic and corporate leaders from across the country working to advance disability inclusion in the workforce.
“I am thrilled that these corporate leaders have joined the NOD Board,” said NOD Chairman, Gov. Tom Ridge. “They each bring unique talents to our Board that will help us advance our mission of disability inclusion. Throughout their impressive careers, each has been a champion of diversity and equality in the workplace.”
Ken Barrett, Captain, U.S. Navy (Ret.) became General Motors’ first Global Chief Diversity Officer in 2012. Barrett has introduced a number of initiatives at GM that has resulted in increased diversity hiring, greater accountability through actionable metrics, and has leveraged employee resource groups (ERGs) to support employees and market to diverse communities. Under Barrett’s leadership, GM implemented the company’s first Disabilities Advisory Council, which focuses on inclusion initiatives that advance and enhance the work experience for people with disabilities.
Before joining GM, he served as the Under Secretary of Defense’s Acting Director, Office of Diversity Management and Equal Opportunity, in Washington, D.C. Prior to that, he had five years of experience as the U.S. Navy’s Diversity Director, where he achieved historic levels of minority and female officer additions and transformational work-life balance initiatives.
Andrew R. Davis, in his role with The Coca-Cola Company in Atlanta, is responsible for leading the company’s Global Diversity and Inclusion Center of Excellence, as well as the Workplace Fairness function, creating an environment that promotes fairness, respect and appreciation of the similarities and differences for the company’s 700,000 system employees in more than 200 countries.
Davis joined the company in October 2007 as the Human Resources (HR) Group Director, supporting the FoodService On-Premise sales team for the North America division. In 2010, Davis was appointed Vice President of HR for the enabling functions of Coca-Cola Refreshments, leading integration, culture and transformation work for the company-owned bottler. In 2015, he was assigned to the Southeast Asia region under the Bottling Investment Division, stationed in Phnom Penh, Cambodia and supported HR capability development for five countries in the region.
Davis serves as a board director for Adventist Health in Roseville, CA, as well as the board chair of their Human Performance Committee.
Mike Gathright is responsible for overseeing the Global Reservations and Customer Care operations for Hilton’s portfolio of 14 global brands and network of more than 5,300 hotels across 106 countries and territories. Gathright has been instrumental in creating a number of positions for remote workers. He also leads the Abilities Team Member Resource Group for Hilton.
Prior to joining Hilton, Gathright served as Director of Americas Customer Service & Global Support Services for Amazon.com, a Fortune 500 company and the global leader in e-commerce based in Seattle, Washington. Prior to joining Amazon, he spent 13 years with Capital One Financial where he held various operations leadership roles across the credit card, auto finance and mortgage businesses.
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