Helping Employers “Bring Their A Game” to Workplace Mental Health

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A desk covered in work essentials and a notepad with the words "mental health" written on it.

By the Employer Assistance and Resource Network on Disability Inclusion (EARN)

The challenges brought to daily life in 2020, coupled with an increased understanding about the prevalence of mental health conditions, is spurring employers to consider strategies they can use to support employees’ mental health.

To help employers learn how to cultivate a welcoming and supportive work environment for employees with mental health conditions, the Employer Assistance and Resource Network on Disability Inclusion (EARN) created a Mental Health Toolkit centered around four pillars referred to as the “4 A’s of a Mental Health-Friendly Workplace.” The toolkit also provides summaries of research and examples of mental health initiatives implemented by employers of varying sizes and industries.

The first “A” of the four pillars, awareness, involves strategies for educating employers and workers about mental health issues and taking action to foster a supportive workplace culture. One example of an organization’s efforts in this area is professional services firm EY’s “We Care” campaign. This internal campaign uses personal stories, including those shared by company leadership, to educate employees about mental health conditions, reduce stigma, and encourage them to support one another.

The second “A” in the “4 A’s” is accommodations, meaning providing employees with mental health conditions the supports they need to perform their job. Common examples include flexible work arrangements and/or schedules, which may be considered reasonable accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act, and other disability nondiscrimination laws and regulations.

An example of accommodations for someone with a mental health condition are those provided by defense contractor Northrop Grumman for an employee who is a veteran with service-connected disabilities, including post-traumatic stress disorder. The employee uses several workplace accommodations to ensure his workplace success, including noise-cancelling headphones and bringing his service dog to work with him.

The third “A,” assistance, refers to assisting employees who have, or may develop, a mental health condition. Many employers do this through formal employee assistance programs (EAPs). An example of this in action is chemical and pharmaceutical manufacturer DuPont, which has a long history with EAPs. In fact, DuPont is regarded as having one of the first.

Today, DuPont has a number of internal initiatives focused on mental health and employee wellbeing, with strong support from top leadership. As an example, DuPont’s global EAP team created and implemented an internal anti-stigma campaign called “ICU” (“I See You”), the centerpiece of which is an animated video about how to recognize signs of emotional distress in colleagues and encourage them to seek help. Based on its success, DuPont decided to make the program available to all employers, free of charge, through a partnership with the Center for Workplace Mental Health.

EAPs are associated with larger businesses, but it is important to note that there are strategies small businesses can use to offer EAP services, for example, by banding together to negotiate for better rates. Business membership groups such as chambers of commerce or trade associations may be of assistance in this regard. In fact, providing employee assistance in the small business environment can be especially important, given that decreased productivity or the absence of even one employee can have a significant impact on a small organization.

The final “A,” access, encourages employers to assess company healthcare plans to ensure or increase coverage for behavioral/mental health treatment, something shown to benefit not only individuals, but also companies by way of the bottom line. According to the American Psychiatric Association, more than 80 percent of employees treated for mental health conditions report improved levels of efficiency and satisfaction at work.

An example of a company with a strong focus on providing access to mental health services for its employers is global pharmaceutical company Lundbeck, which engages in the research, development, and sale of drugs for psychiatric and neurological disorders. According to company representatives, educating about and decreasing stigma associated with mental health is one of Lundbeck’s core corporate beliefs—and this applies not only externally, but also internally for its employees. Reflecting this, prescription medications for mental health conditions are available to employees or their dependents at no cost when prescribed by a physician. Further, all benefits information sent to employees leading up to the company’s healthcare plan open enrollment period prominently feature mental health messaging.

For companies that are federal contractors, taking steps to foster a mental health-friendly workplace can have additional benefits by helping demonstrate an overall commitment to disability inclusion. As a result, employees with mental health conditions may feel more comfortable self-identifying as having a disability, which helps employers measure their progress toward goals under Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act. Federal contractors, and all businesses, can use EARN’s Mental Health Toolkit to learn how to “bring their A game” when it comes to workplace mental health.

Click here to access EARN’s Mental Health Toolkit.

3 Ways Elevating the Narrative on Disabilities Leads to Business Success

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A woman in a wheelchair, going down a hallway

By Sheryl Snapp Conner of Entrepreneur 

In a recent column, I introduced Ric Nelson, a 37-year-old disability advocate in Anchorage, Alaska. Nelson has cerebral palsy and requires full-time assistance to manage his physical needs. Despite his challenges, he’s dedicated his career to advancing programs and understanding of the disabled in Alaska (which ranks third in the U.S. for the strength of its programs) and throughout the U.S.

After graduating in the top 10 percent of his high school class, Nelson secured associate’s and bachelor’s degrees in Small Business Management and Business Administration on scholarship, followed by a master’s degree in Public Administration.

Nelson serves on multiple boards and has testified in Washington D.C. toward advances in the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act). Appointed in 2007, After six years’ service as a committee member of the Governor’s Council on Disabilities and Special Education (GCDSE), he was elected as the program chair for two years and hired as a staff member from September 2015 until September 2020 as the program’s Employment Program Coordinator.

Most recently Nelson has assumed the role of Advocacy and Outreach Specialist for The ARC of Anchorage, one of 600 U.S. locations for The Arc of the United States, an organization launched by parents of people with developmental disabilities in the 1950s and headquartered in Washington, D.C.

The Covid-19 recession has hit the disabled particularly hard, Nelson says. The disabled have lost nearly 1M jobs between March and May of 2020. Complicating factors include jobs that ended due to the extra risk of immunocompromised conditions and the predominance of lower-level positions in industries that have been most heavily hit. With DEI (Diversity, Equality and Inclusion) becoming one of the highest priorities for this year’s end and the seasons to follow, what do businesses need to know and do to support the disabled from here forward?

In an interview, Nelson reinforced the need for self-advocacy among the disabled and the need for greater awareness and education of the businesses and communities they serve. Public perception is tantamount, he says, to avoid the creation of further problems by the very solutions we attempt to create.

For example, he notes the extreme difficulty (and even impossibility) of having a savings account when government programs assume any earning potential should be used to reimburse the cost of Medicare needs.

“The cost to Medicare of a full-time assistant may be $100,000, regardless of the person’s activities,” Nelson says. “But if a fully-employed disabled person makes $50,000 or $80,000 – a rarity in itself – and loses their qualification for Medicare funds, they can’t go to work without suddenly incurring this debt.”

Other issues include the right to continued health care benefits if they marry, or to put away retirement savings or to maintain equivalent benefits if they move to a different state. Many of these issues require continued advocacy to state and federal agencies.

Continue to Entrepreneur.com to read the full article. 

Collettey’s Cookies Founder Helps Others with Disabilities

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Collette Divitto holding a bag of her cookies

By Kellie Speed

After applying for numerous jobs and receiving countless rejections, Collette Divitto did what not too many young ladies her age might do after college – she decided to start her own business.

Born with Down Syndrome, Divitto has now made it her personal mission to beat all odds and help others with disabilities.

The Ridgefield, Connecticut, native and disability activist graduated from Clemson University’s three-year LIFE program in just two years. Shortly after that, she moved to Boston in search of employment. “I went on about nine interviews and would have a cup of coffee with the CEO and talked about their company, but days later I would always get an email saying it was great to meet you in person, but that I was not a good fit,” she told us in a Zoom interview.

No stranger to facing rejection over the years, the headstrong Divitto knew she would have to reinvent herself. With her mother (and biggest cheerleader), Rosemary, by her side, they developed a marketing plan to do what Collette has always loved doing – baking cookies.Collette holding a tray of cookies

“Collette had a teacher back in high school, who said that she could make baking a profession because she is the best student in the class and helps everyone else in the class,” Rosemary said. “I would always tell Collette I would help her as best as I could to have the life she wanted, but it was Collette who has to do all of the work. She had a mantra that she used to say to herself all the time growing up – ‘I deserve the best for me’ – and that has helped build her confidence, be clear about what she wants, and set herself up to work hard to achieve it.”

After learning the basics of baking in high school, Collette began creating new recipes to have her family taste test. The standout was one filled with chocolate chips, rolled in cinnamon sugar and baked to a golden perfection. Originally dubbed “The Amazing Cookie,” it’s now one of her best sellers.

Collette posing with a plate of cookies and a glass of milkToday, she has a thriving online cookie business known as Collettey’s Cookies (Click here to visit her website) that serves up everything from her personal favorite (and the now famous) crunchy-on-the-outside, soft-on-the-inside, chocolate chip cinnamon cookies to the popular chewy peanut butter cookies.

With 13 employees and three interns in her Boston kitchen, the Collettey’s team bakes twice a week and ships to customers four to five days a week. “In four hours, they make and bake between 2,000 to 3,000 cookies,” Collette said. “Some of these cookies have to go right into storage containers to avoid getting too hard too fast if not stored immediately, so there are extra precautions they have to take with each cookie along with all of the sanitization requirements.”

At the beginning of the pandemic, Collette decided to create a specialty gift package for essential workers and first responders. The response she received was so overwhelming that she wanted to give back as well. She decided that for all cookies ordered, she would personally match the number of cookies in each order. Right now, she is wrapping up filming for a TV show that will feature select entrepreneurs like Collette, who have faced major challenges in life but were successful in overcoming them.

Collette, who loves chocolate, is in the process of perfecting yet another cookie – this one made with espresso and dark chocolate. She first tested the recipe with milk chocolate and cocoa powder, but determined “it wasn’t rich enough.”Collette holding a cookie in front of a large tray of cookies

Today, this big-hearted young lady is setting out to prove to the world (one cookie at a time) that with a positive attitude and determination, you can do anything. “I would say to people with disabilities do not focus on your disabilities,” she said. “You need to focus on your abilities. Do not give up on your dreams. Do not let people bring you down, and my favorite saying is, ‘No matter who you are, you can make a difference in this world.’”

Luckily for Collette, she has already done just that.

Rehiring the Smart Way: Mainstreaming Disability in Recruiting Strategies

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A woman in a wheelchair accepting a pen and paper from a fellow employee

By Tamala Scott

As we envision a return to normal following the pandemic, many businesses find themselves in a position of having to rehire staff to ramp back up to pre-COVID productivity and revenue.

While traditional sourcing strategies—such as online job boards, newspaper ads, staffing agencies— may secure employees in the short-term, your recruiting strategy may be missing the mark in reaching a valuable yet untapped resource—job seekers with disabilities. This article will shed light on the multiple advantages that businesses gain from hiring people with disabilities, beginning by dispelling three of the most common myths that deter businesses from actively recruiting jobseekers with disabilities. We also offer a few key strategies on how to get started on your inclusion journey.

Cost. The first and perhaps most insidious myth is that hiring people with disabilities is a costly practice. The Job Accommodation Network has surveyed nearly 3,000 employers since 2004 to ask them about their accommodation practices and costs. Nearly 60 percent of all of those surveyed have reported reasonable accommodation costs of $0 for their employees with disabilities, while the remaining respondents report an average cost per individual of $500 or less. The same study also lists numerous cost-saving benefits for providing a streamlined and comprehensive reasonable accommodation strategy, including employee retention, increased employee productivity and improved workplace safety.

Productivity. Another misconception is that employees with disabilities are less productive than their peers. One of the country’s leading disability-inclusive employers, Walgreen’s, conducted a study to measure the effectiveness of its disability hiring strategy within its distribution centers. Among the three areas the study examined was the productivity, safety and turnover among its staff with and without disabilities. The study concluded that Walgreens’ employees with disabilities typically outperform or perform at the same level as their colleagues without disabilities, while also experiencing less safety-related incidents and remaining in their positions for longer.

On a macro-level, disability-inclusive companies are also proven to perform better than their industry counterparts. A landmark study conducted by Accenture in 2018 shows that businesses that prioritize diversity and inclusion within their workforce outperform their industry peers and are better able to respond to business challenges.

Difficulty finding talent. The labor force with disabilities has historically been—and remains—underemployed relative to the overall national labor force. The unemployment rate among jobseekers with disabilities is 1.5 times that of jobseekers without disabilities. Despite recent data showing a narrowing employment gap between graduates with and without disabilities, graduates with disabilities report that they are more likely to get part-time or temporary positions and earn on average less than their peers without disabilities. Qualified talent is out there, but due to the barriers to employment, many of these jobseekers with disabilities remain invisible to employers that could benefit immensely from their skill.

For the first time in history, business leaders are realizing that hiring jobseekers with disabilities is not simply the right thing to do, but the smart thing to do for their business. Despite that, many businesses get stuck trying to figure out where to start in their disability inclusion efforts. Here are some achievable steps to getting YOUR business started on a path to a stronger and more inclusive diversity strategy:

Create a group of champions. As a first step, establish a core group of passionate individuals within your business that are willing to dedicate time and resources toward advancing your initiative. This group should include people from a variety of different departments and leadership levels within the company so that there are as many diverse perspectives and skillsets represented as possible.

Cultivate buy-in. Creating a disability-inclusive workplace requires that changes be made to an organization’s culture, operations, recruiting and hiring practices, and many other facets. Now that the business case has been made, your champions need to create an airtight pitch and messaging campaign to inform staff and leadership at multiple levels of the “how” and the “why” to have a disability-inclusive workplace.

Develop partnerships with local and national disability organizations. Once your internal support is secured, the next step is to seek out the expertise from local and national disability agencies to familiarize yourselves with the local disability community and find that aforementioned talent. Establishing your business as a disability-inclusive employer to the surrounding disability community is an important step toward getting individuals with disabilities to join your team.

Start small. It is important to keep an eye on the big picture and how to fold disability inclusion into multiple facets of your organization, but it is even more important to start small to develop a sound strategy that can be scaled in the future. Start small and aim for small wins before scaling.

Thinking about starting a disability hiring initiative? Contact The Arc@Work.

Can You Hire a Deaf Employee When the Job Requires Phone Work?

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Two deaf individuals talking through sign language

By AnnMarie Killian

Imagine this: You are hiring for a job that requires phone work…but the person sitting in front of you is deaf/hard of hearing.

You may be wonder, can a person who is deaf/hard of hearing use the phone successfully?

The answer is yes.

And consider this: Companies and corporations are actively seeking out people with differences. Diversity and inclusion are not just buzzwords—they’re real-life practices that today’s companies are required to implement. Diverse teams and inclusive environments produce an organizational culture that is beneficial to the bottom line.

Yet, at first glance, managers and human resources personnel may be reluctant to consider a deaf/hard of hearing person for a job because of presumed limitations.

They may be wondering:

  • If a person can’t hear in the normal range, how can they manage parts of the job that require audio communication?
  • If a person can’t hear in the normal range, how will they communicate?
  • If a person can’t hear in the normal range, can they really do the job?

And…

  • If the job requires phone work, can a deaf/hard of hearing person really handle that aspect of the job?

The reluctance from employers to consider deaf/hard of hearing for jobs that involve phone work often comes from fear of the unknown. If you’ve never met a deaf/hard of hearing person doing the work that you’re hiring for, you might hesitate or even refuse to consider hiring that person.

Technological advances have leveled the playing field in many professions. In many cases, deaf and hard of hearing people bring a different perspective to a job that a person with hearing in the normal range may not have.

You’ll find deaf and hard of hearing people in all kinds of jobs, even those that are considered “impossible” for a deaf/hard of hearing person to be employed in. Surgeons. Lawyers. Auto shop managers. Airplane mechanics. Pharmacists. Audiologists. Bartenders. Musicians. Restaurant servers. Firefighters. NASA launch team specialists.

Even at call centers—which require being on the phone all hours of the job!

For example, Dale McCord works as a Purchase Card Specialist and his job requires frequent phone contact with vendors. “In the past, I occasionally came across managers who were reluctant to hire me for jobs because of perceived ‘limitations,’” Dale explains. “I’m a loyal and hard-working person and today’s technology allows me to do my job very well.”

Dale also has some advice for those who hire: “When you hire a person with a disability, don’t doubt their ability to do the job—because they will often do the job twice as well.”

Today’s technology has made telephone communication accessible in a variety of ways, including captioned phones and videophones. Deaf and hard of hearing individuals can make and receive calls via Video Relay Services such as ZVRS and Purple Video Relay Services.

By utilizing a videophone, a deaf/hard of hearing person is capable of working via phone. The person on the other end of the line does not necessarily know the conversation is woven with two languages, facilitated by a qualified, highly-skilled interpreter.

Here are some frequently asked questions about using Video Relay Services:

How does a deaf/hard of hearing person use a phone with a Video Relay System?

Both ZVRS and Purple provide equipment and software that routes a phone call through a video relay system.  The deaf/hard of hearing individual accesses a phone conversation by watching a sign language interpreter on a video screen. The deaf/hard of hearing individual can respond via sign language (the interpreter will voice a translation) or by using their own voice. The conversation flows back and forth between a deaf/hard of hearing individual and a hearing person with an interpreter translating the conversation seamlessly.

Can a deaf/hard of hearing person answer an inbound call?

Yes, calls can be routed through a phone number assigned to a videophone.  A visual alert system will notify the deaf/hard of hearing person that a call is coming through. With the press of a button, the call can be answered.

Our network is extremely secure–will a videophone work with our network?

ZVRS and Purple can provide equipment that is encrypted and works with firewalls. The systems are ADA compliant and integrated within your network. Our teams work directly with network system managers to ensure secure connections.

Where can I find more information about phone solutions for potential deaf/hard of hearing employees?

Click here to access Purple Business Solutions

Click here to access Enterprise Solutions/ZVRS

Click here to access ZVRS

A passionate and people-centric leader, AnnMarie is vice president of diversity and inclusion for Purple Communications. She brings over 25 plus years of diverse experience in telecommunications, retail and fitness. As a Deaf individual, she is intimately familiar with the challenges of engagement and inclusion, which has influenced her professional aspirations. Recently, AnnMarie served as the vice president of operations responsible for leading key deliverables for increasing profitability, growing revenue and maximizing operational efficiencies.

Seven Steps to Building a Disability-Inclusive Workplace

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A wheel listing the seven accessibility points mentioned throughout the article

By the Employer Assistance and Resource Network on Disability Inclusion (EARN)

October marks the 75th observance of National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM). While the past 75 years have seen groundbreaking developments, including the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990, when it comes to disability inclusion in the workplace, there’s still work to be done.

In fact, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) reports that, in June 2020, the unemployment rate for people with disabilities was 16.5 percent, compared to 11 percent for people without disabilities.

Many employers want to establish diverse workforces that include people with disabilities but don’t know how to do so. The Employer Assistance and Resource Network on Disability Inclusion (EARN) can help. EARN is a free resource funded by ODEP that provides information and tools to help employers recruit, hire, advance, and retain people with disabilities. EARN’s Inclusion@Work Framework, which was developed in collaboration with employers with exemplary practices in disability employment, outlines core components of a disability-inclusive workplace, along with a menu of strategies for achieving them. From disability-inclusive recruitment practices to effective communication, here are seven ways companies can foster disability inclusion at work:

Lead the Way

The foundation for a disability-inclusive work environment is an inclusive business culture. This begins by gaining buy-in from executive leadership. Examples of best practices for fostering an inclusive culture include:

  • Making equal employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities an integral part of the company’s strategic mission.
  • Establishing a team that includes executives with disabilities to support the recruiting, hiring, retention, and advancement of individuals with disabilities.
  • Conducting employee engagement surveys to gather input on whether the workplace environment is accessible and inclusive.

Build the Pipeline

Proactive outreach and recruitment of people with disabilities is the foundation of a successful workplace disability inclusion program. To build a pipeline of applicants, employers should work to develop relationships with a variety of recruitment sources. Best practices for disability-inclusive outreach and recruitment practices include partnering with local and state service providers (such as vocational rehabilitation agencies), participating in employer networking groups, attending career fairs for people with disabilities, and providing inclusive mentoring and internship opportunities.

Hire (& Keep) the Best

Building a disability-inclusive organization means not only attracting and recruiting qualified individuals with disabilities but also ensuring policies and processes across the employment lifecycle support the hiring, retention, and advancement of employees with disabilities. Companies should have effective policies and processes in place for job announcements, qualification standards, hiring, workplace accommodations, career development and advancement, and retention and promotion.

 Ensure Productivity

All employees need the right tools and work environment to effectively perform their jobs. Employees with disabilities may need workplace adjustments—or accommodations—to maximize their productivity. Examples of workplace accommodations include automatic doors, sign language interpreters, and flexible work schedules or telework. According to the Job Accommodation Network (JAN), more than half of all workplace accommodations cost nothing to provide. Furthermore, JAN research has found that most employers report financial benefits from providing accommodations, including reduced insurance and training costs and increased productivity.

Communicate

Attracting qualified individuals with disabilities requires clear communication, both externally and internally, about your company’s commitment to disability inclusion. This can include internal campaigns, disability-inclusive marketing, and participation in disability-related job fairs and awareness events. Best practices for communication of company policies and procedures can include:

  • Incorporating disability imagery into advertising and marketing materials.
  • Informing local disability organizations about company sponsored career days.
  • Distributing information about relevant disability policies and priorities to subcontractors, vendors, and suppliers.

Be Tech Savvy

As technology continues to shift, so does the concept of accessibility. Being able to get through the physical door is no longer enough to ensure people with disabilities can apply and interview for jobs; a company’s “virtual doors” must be open as well. Furthermore, once on the job, employees with disabilities—like all employees—must be able to access the information and communication technology (ICT) they need to maximize their productivity. Examples of best practices for ensuring accessible ICT include using accessible online recruiting platforms, adopting a formal ICT policy, appointing a chief accessibility officer, and establishing clear procurement policies related to accessibility.

Measure Success

While policies and procedures are necessary to enhance employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities, the ultimate objective should be to ensure effective implementation. Companies can take steps to ensure disability becomes part of their overall diversity goals and can encourage self-identification of disability by their employees to benchmark the impact of disability inclusion efforts. Examples of best practices for accountability and self-identification include providing training on disability-related issues, establishing accountability measures and processes for self-identification, and incorporating disability inclusion goals in appropriate personnel’s performance plans.

 

Visit AskEARN.org to learn more about creating a disability-inclusive workplace.

Creating a Culture of Belonging

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A woman in a wheelchair leading a business meeting

By Jennifer Brown

Each time I sit down with an executive who has decided to lead their company through the process of being more inclusive, I hear that executive articulate the same problem: They don’t know where to begin.

This feeling is common in positions of leadership. While diversity used to be seen as a “problem to solve” that lived in HR, it is now broadly understood as a core component of business practice that creates quantifiable value firm-wide. Creating cultures of belonging where everyone can succeed seems like something we all want to believe we’re doing already, which makes the leadership aspect all the more critical here: As leaders, we have to do a lot of individual work ourselves to become more inclusive thinkers before we can become more inclusive leaders.

As the responsibility for making progress in this arena has shifted from HR departments to core business operations, so too has the conversation shifted from one about diversity—which is about representation—to one about inclusion—which is about ensuring people are welcomed, valued, respected and heard. As we do a better job of being inclusive in our own actions and words, we have a better shot at creating more inclusive workplaces where people can bring their whole selves to work, be more creative problem solvers, and contribute to a generally healthier workplace culture.

I often remind folks that everyone has a diversity story; not all forms of diversity are visible. This is also true when it comes to disability— a facet of the diversity conversation that we don’t talk about enough. A common misconception when it comes to this topic is that making space for employees with disabilities in the workplace is not just costly, but disproportionately so, relative to making space for other kinds of diversity in the workplace. Yet recent research by Accenture exists to the contrary: 59 percent of the accommodations needed by employees with disabilities cost a company $0, while other non-zero accommodations cost, on average, $500 per employee.

Not monthly—in total. The pay-off is huge: people with disabilities have to be creative to find solutions that allow them to accomplish the same tasks as their able-bodied peers, which leads to greater innate problem-solving.

Combine that with giving those employees the sense that they are valued enough to have their needs met, and you’ll have one powerhouse employee on your hands. As with other forms of diversity, creating workplaces where all employees on the broad spectrum of diverse ability can succeed is deeply intertwined with fostering a workplace culture where people feel like they can bring their whole selves to work. According to a 2019 report from Deloitte, 61 percent of the workforce “covers” or makes a distinct effort to disguise a part of themselves they feel would be stigmatized hinder their professional development.

Those who engage in this behavior do not see themselves reflected in the organization around them and feel that their belonging is tenuous or contingent—a pernicious problem that extends beyond the individual to have a negative impact on workplace culture overall. By creating workplaces where people feel they don’t have to cover, we help them feel like they can contribute the full breadth of their energy and creativity.

This doesn’t just impact our internal culture and organizational health—it also impacts our bottom lines. Even simple vocabulary shifts may be of use: In my line of work, we’re speaking not in terms of accommodating a broad range of diverse abilities—both visible, and invisible—but rather in terms of enabling and empowering them.

Jennifer Brown is an award-winning entrepreneur, speaker, diversity and inclusion consultant, and author. Her work in talent management, human capital, and intersectional theory has redefined the boundaries of talent potential and company culture. Her latest book, How to Be an Inclusive Leader: Your Role in Creating Cultures of Belonging Where Everyone Can Thrive, is a simple, accessible and intuitive guide to becoming a more inclusive leader and provides a step-by step guide for anyone ready to do their part at work.

CEOs That You Never Knew Had a Disability

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Steve Jobs standing on stage talking into a microphone at a conference

By Monica Luhar and Sara Salam

CEOs with disabilities such as cerebral palsy, ADHD, or dyslexia have an impact on society through their innovative, creative, and out-of-the-box thinking. They have also led the way for promoting diversity and inclusivity in the workplace, while not letting their disabilities be the sole trait that defines their ability to lead.

Several well-known CEOs have also turned or viewed their disabilities as strengths or opportunities that help challenge society’s attitudes and misconceptions of the disability community.

Below is a list we compiled of CEOs that have shared some of their struggles, achievements, and advice throughout their leadership career:

Sir Richard Branson – Founder of Virgin Group

Sir Richard Branson is the founder of Virgin Group, a family owned growth capital investor. The corporation now controls more than 400 companies globally. Boasting more than 53 million companies worldwide, Virgin Group earns over £16.6B in annual revenue, according to its website. The company employs 69,000 people in 25 countries.

Branson established the Virgin Group in 1970 by launching a mail-order record business that developed into Virgin Records. Virgin Records was the first Virgin company to reach a billion-dollar valuation in 1992.

Branson attributes much of his success to his dyslexia and learning disabilities. According to an interview with the Washington Post, delegation played a large role in his approach to running his business. His motivations are rooted in wanting to do good in the world.

“Since starting youth culture magazine Student at age 16, I have tried to find entrepreneurial ways to drive positive change in the world,” Branson shared on his LinkedIn profile. “In 2004, we established Virgin Unite, the non-profit foundation of the Virgin Group, which unites people and entrepreneurial ideas to create opportunities for a better world.”

Source: virgin.com

J.K. Rowling – Best-Selling & Award-Winning Author

Best known for her Harry Potter series, J.K. Rowling (born Joanne Rowling) always knew she wanted to be an author. At age eleven, she wrote her first novel—about seven cursed diamonds and the people who owned them. Rowling came up with the idea for Harry Potter in 1990 while sitting on a delayed train from Manchester to London King’s Cross. Over the next five years, she began to construct a framework for each of the seven books of the series. She moved to northern Portugal to teach English as a foreign language, married, and had a child. When the marriage ended in 1993, she returned to the UK to live in Edinburgh, with her daughter and the first three chapters of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. After several rejection by literary agents, she received one yes. The book was first published by Bloomsbury Children’s Books in June 1997.

Rowling has shared the role depression played in her success; at one point she contemplated suicide and suffered chronic depression. In a Harvard University commencement speech, she stated, “Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one area where I truly belonged. I was set free, because my greatest fear had been realized, and I was still alive, and I still had a daughter whom I adored, and I had an old typewriter, and a big idea. And so rock bottom became a solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.”

Source: jkrowling.com

Paul Orfalea – Founder of Kinko’s aka FedEx Office

Businessman Paul Orfalea founded what is now known as FedEx Office (originally called Kinko’s). He built Kinko’s from a single shop in Santa Barbara to a national chain with more than 1,000 locations and 25,000 employees. FedEx bought Kinko’s in 2004. It has been reported that Orfalea never carried a pen, often allowing others to handle correspondence for him because he didn’t like to read or write. He has dyslexia and ADHD, which he credits as the blessings that allowed him to see the world differently from his peers. “Lacking the ability to learn by reading, I embraced every chance to participate in life. I started businesses, like my vegetable stand. I skipped school to watch my father’s stockbroker at work. I learned early that I would only get through school with a lot of help from a lot of people. I learned to appreciate people’s strengths and forgive their weaknesses, as I hoped they would forgive mine.”

Sources: https://cagspeakers.com/paul-orfalea/

https://latimesblogs.latimes.com/money_co/2008/06/post-2.html

Tommy Hilfiger – Fashion Designer, CEO/Entrepreneur, Tommy Hilfiger Corporation

American fashion designer Tommy Hilfiger built an extraordinary and widely distributed fashion line from the ground up. The company made strides in the disability community by recently unveiling a clothing line geared toward people with disabilities. From a very young age, Hilfiger was equipped with an entrepreneurial spirit and an iconic eye for fashion. He wasn’t diagnosed with dyslexia until much later on in life, although he shared that he often felt embarrassed to reach out to people for help.

He quit school at age 18 and went on to work in the retail industry in New York City, where he began altering clothes for resale. He and his friends from high school started selling jeans and opened a store called the People’s Place, which became an instant hit. Eventually, the People’s Place went bankrupt when Hilfiger was 25. But, he picked himself back up and continued to focus on his designs before launching what would be known as the iconic Tommy Hilfiger.

Hilfiger recently partnered with the Child Mind Institute in a PSA titled, “What I Would Tell #MyYounger Self.” In the campaign video, he said, “As a child, I was dyslexic. I didn’t realize it until later on in life. I faced many challenges along the way. If you are facing challenges, the best thing you could possibly do is reach out to an adult because adults can help you somehow. I didn’t realize it at the time; I was embarrassed to talk to my teachers and family about it. But if something is bothering you, if you think you have a challenge, reach out to an adult and allow them to help you.”

Although Hilfiger struggled to read and write, he tapped into his creative strengths in other ways and diverted his attention to the world of fashion with a highly successful brand with estimated sales of $6.7 billion.

Barbara Corcoran – Founder of the Corcoran Group and Shark on ABC’s “Shark Tank”

As a child, Barbara Corcoran often felt isolated and lonely due to her dyslexia. She struggled to read in the third grade and often found herself daydreaming about creative business ideas that were not related to the school curriculum. She struggled in high school and college, received straight Ds, and also experienced a ton of setbacks. She job hopped a total of 20 jobs, but never gave up on her quest to find her true passion and a career that she was passionate about.

One of the most life-changing moments of her career was when she decided to borrow $1,000 from her boyfriend, quit her job, and follow her dream of starting up The Corcoran Group, a small real estate company in New York City. Today, it’s known as the largest in the brokerage business.

Over the years, Corcoran—an American business woman, investor, author, and TV personality—has invested in over 80 businesses and is a highly recognized motivational and inspirational speaker. She is also the author of the bestselling book, Shark Tales: How I turned $1,000 into a Billion Dollar Business.

Today, Corcoran does not view her dyslexia as an impediment. She has learned to use her dyslexia as an opportunity to push her creative entrepreneurial spirit even further, and to help others on that journey as well.

Steve Jobs – Co-Founder & Former CEO of Apple

You can thank Apple founder Steve Jobs for some of the world’s most innovative tech products that make today’s communication and connectivity a breeze.

Although Jobs grew up with dyslexia, he never claimed or publicly shared his disability. He struggled in school and dropped out after one semester at Reed College. But instead of giving up, he decided to think outside of the box in 1976 by conceptualizing the iconic Apple Computer in what was his parents’ garage.

According to Business Insider, 10-15 percent of the U.S. population are dyslexic, but only a few individuals acknowledge and receive treatment for it. Jobs’ disability served as a creative gift that allowed him to take risks and chances with his concepts for Apple.

In his commencement speech at Stanford University in 2005, Jobs discussed the power of trusting in your abilities and believing that the hard work, setbacks, and struggles that you experience today will eventually connect the dots and help you reach your full potential down the road:

“Again, you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards,” Jobs said. “So, you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something—your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.”

Monica Luhar is a creative copywriter, content writer, and former journalist. Her bylines have appeared in NBC News, KCET, KPCC, VICE, India-West, HelloGiggles, Yahoo!, and other hyperlocal, weekly, and national news outlets. She has covered topics ranging from diverse representation in the media, entrepreneurship, disability rights, mental health, and has reported extensively on the Asian American and Pacific Islander, LGBTQ and Latino communities. You can follow her on Twitter at @monicaluhar or view her writing at monicaluhar.com.

Steve Jobs Photo: Apple CEO and co-founder Steve Jobs delivers the keynote speech to kick off the 2008 Macworld at the Moscone Center January 15, 2008 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by David Paul Morris/Getty Images)

Hiring Diverse Candidates Is Only the Begining

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A group of diverse applicants waiting to be interviewed for a job position
By Josef Scarantino

Assembling a truly comprehensive diversity and inclusion strategy requires us to take a more holistic view of our approach as employers. Instead of only considering diversity in our hiring pipeline, we shouldn’t forget employee retention and career advancement.

Effective diversity and inclusion strategies take the full lifecycle of the employee into consideration. Neglecting the full lifecycle of the employee misses real opportunities for engagement, organizational impact, and culture shifts.

Many companies go to great lengths to ensure a diverse hiring pipeline, yet they often stop short of getting the maximum impact for their diversity and inclusion efforts. From diversity job fairs to targeted advertising campaigns, the toolbox for diversity hiring is full of different methods. The reality is that diversity and inclusion doesn’t stop with hiring diverse candidates, but actually begins. It is at the moment of hiring a diverse employee where the engagement begins and the clock starts.
Here are some practical considerations for your diversity and inclusion strategy:
Engagement is essential.
You might have heard that diversity is like being invited to the party, while inclusion is being given a seat at the table. But the fact is that many people at the table still don’t have a voice. Remember the groundbreaking book, Lean In by Sheryl Sanberg, that became a bestseller? It highlighted a challenge that many people, not only women, face in the workplace despite having a seat at the table. Sanberg changed the conversation around women’s role in the workplace and at home to achieve both personal fulfillment and professional advancement. As an employer, we have a responsibility. Don’t make the mistake of forgetting engagement in your diversity and inclusion strategy. Ensure that diverse employees have a seat at the table and are given a voice with authority to enact real change within the company.
“What gets measured gets done.”
That simple quote was made famous by W. Edwards Deming, a renowned statistician and engineer who was sent to war-torn Japan after World War II to help rebuild the country’s manufacturing sector. One of the most important takeaways from Deming’s work nearly every company still uses today is the concept of Key Performance Indicators, or KPI’s. Companies that are serious about diversity and inclusion set goals and measure their progress towards them. Your diversity and inclusion goals have to be included alongside sales and revenue in your company KPI’s that are regularly measured and reported. Don’t bury your diversity goals as if they are an impact metric, but give them equal prominence with your other KPI’s.
Culture eats strategy for breakfast.
Every company has a unique culture that is defined by the shared values and practices of its employees. At the extreme, company cultures can be toxic, or they can be youthful and everything in between. As much as we try to define culture by certain bulleted values on our website or carefully worded mission statements, culture is ultimately created by our daily practices. An important, and often missed, component of our diversity and inclusion strategy is considering the health of our company culture. Do we offer a flexible work schedule for people to take time out for doctor appointments? Do we make office accommodations for people with disabilities? Do we value mental health in the workplace or expect employees to check email on Sunday nights? The way we empower employees to define a company culture that accommodates their ideal work environment is critical to a diversity and inclusion strategy where everyone feels welcome.
In conclusion, as you consider the health of your diversity and inclusion strategy, don’t forget the importance of engagement in employee retention. Diversity isn’t a vanity metric for companies to showcase to their boards, but should highlight tangible career advancement for employees. When we set out to commit to diversity and inclusion, identify realistic goals that can be measured and take ownership when those goals aren’t met. And finally, accept that culture is always going to take precedence over strategy. Be a leader in your market where diversity is a cornerstone led by a healthy employee-led culture. We can do an incredible job at hiring diverse candidates, but if we don’t create conditions for people to truly make the company their own, they simply won’t stay.
The clock starts now.

What Does it Take to Succeed? Just 3 Things.

LinkedIn
Brittany Merrill-Yeng, owner of Skrewball Whiskey, looking at the camera and smiling

By Brittany Merrill-Yeng

Being a business owner is a constant balance—and not just of your time and resources. It is a balance of being so confident in your idea and your ability bring it to fruition while recognizing how little you know.

It is staying true to your course while remaining flexible as new obstacles that appear. To successfully balance all of this, the three most important things you need to achieve success are as follows:

Persistence

Persistence is essential to being a business owner. From the outset you will be faced with a chorus of “no’s” at every turn. “You cannot do this. This is not practical. It cannot be done.” Your new job is to make it work in the face of all of this resistance because, as the owner, it always falls back on you to make sure everything gets done.

Learn to ask questions that push people to find a solution. Or, better yet, get creative and find an alternate path. Start feeling comfortable being the person with the least experience in the room. You can still be the one to make a breakthrough in the industry.

I cannot begin to describe how many times we’ve been told something is not possible. Many times, accepting “no” as an answer would mean essentially giving up on my dream and letting all the people working for us down. Given these stakes, I would work until we found a solution. While I was new to the liquor industry, I am very fortunate that my experience as a patent litigator taught me how to craft the questions to get the answers I needed and be able to quickly learn from the experts.

Faith in Yourself

Perhaps, more importantly, you need to keep faith in yourself and what you’re doing. When we started our business, the “experts” said the concept would not work, our branding did not make sense and our price was way too high. Now, those are the key things that the “experts” are pointing to as the reasons we have been successful. We all hear about the importance of confidence and staying true to what you believe, but it takes a lot of restraint to hold your ground when everyone is telling you it’s the wrong course. For me, it is more than confidence; it’s faith in yourself.

In the end, it’s these things that you did differently that will make you successful. If you want to achieve something no one else has done before, you have got to do things no one else has done before. There is nothing more gratifying than achieving success in the face of all this doubt. It gets easier when your team starts to have faith in you too. Now, when we get to these junctures, I ask those around me to have patience and trust me. I’d bet on us any day.

Humility

While you cannot compromise on the core tenants of your business, you have to be willing to accept help and be flexible on the smaller things. And, even when you achieve the impossible, you cannot rely on your past success. You have to keep moving forward and improving to get your business to the next level. This takes a bit of humility.

There are many times you have to make a less than perfect fix work. You need to face the harsh reality that you will not be prepared to handle every challenge in front of you—but you will rise to it any way. You will learn and you will be better next time. Rather than staying down, walking away or hiding these moments, we celebrate them. These are our “Skrewball” moments. As we continue to push to new limits, I look forward to many more, knowing that we’ll look back, laugh, and wonder how we “winged it.”

Brittany Merrill-Yeng is a chemist turned attorney, turned spirits brand owner as the co-founder and managing partner of Skrewball Peanut Butter Whiskey. Merrill-Yeng was one to watch in 2019 as she took her small family owned company and grew it into a Hollywood favorite and national sensation in just one short year. The award-winning 70-proof original peanut butter whiskey has been awarded several honors, including the Double Gold Medal for Best Flavored Whiskey in the New York World Wine & Spirits Competition in 2018 and 2019, and just recently secured both Disability-Owned Business Enterprise (DOBE) and Women Business Enterprise (WBE) certifications.

For more information about the Skrewball brand, visit skrewballwhiskey.com.

Disability:IN’s New VP of Supplier Diversity: Philip DeVliegher

LinkedIn
Philip DeVliegher wearing a suit outside, looking at the camera

As the new vice president of supplier diversity for Disability:IN, Philip DeVliegher develops and leads the organization’s global supply chain and supplier diversity strategy and program execution. He believes it’s Disability:IN’s responsibility to empower businesses to achieve disability inclusion and equality by delivering positive impact and outcomes for key stakeholders. Those stakeholders include corporate and government partners, certified suppliers, and Disability:IN affiliates across the country.

DIVERSEability Magazine recently spoke with DeVliegher on what his goals are in his new role, why he feels DOBEs make ideal suppliers and more:

DIVERSEability Magazine (DM): What is your background, experience?

Philip DeVliegher (DV): I bring a unique perspective to my role with more than 20 years of corporate experience in supplier diversity, human resources and talent acquisition, as well as nearly 10 years of entrepreneurship and non-profit leadership in supplier diversity.

By fully understanding the perspectives and roles of each of our stakeholders, I feel my experience has prepared me to best serve our suppliers and corporate partners in my new role at Disability:IN.

DM: What is your goal?

DV: My goal is to elevate disability-owned business enterprises on par among other diverse supplier segments within corporate and government supplier diversity programs through our certification and business development initiatives.

A significant component of this goal is to educate suppliers and corporate partners on how disability is defined and to encourage those with a disability to proudly own it and leverage it by first becoming certified.

I’ve seen the evolution of supplier diversity and recognize that disability is the newest frontier.  Disability doesn’t discriminate and reaches across ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, and veteran status. In fact, over 50 percent or our certified DOBEs hold other diverse certifications.

DM: Why do you believe DOBE’s make excellent suppliers?

DV: DOBEs are exceptional innovative problem solvers, constantly navigating a world that is not always designed to meet their own unique needs and challenges.

By overcoming everyday challenges, people with disabilities develop the creative skills and persistent strategies that translate well to becoming successful and valued business partners.

DM: What’s your biggest success story you can share with us?

DV: Of course, success is always relative. With that said, I look at the work we do every day in positively changing people’s lives, from the many DOBEs who are able to secure contract opportunities with our corporate partners and with other DOBEs to guiding supplier diversity leaders to grow and advance their respective programs by effectively including disability among their metrics.

Success is the supplier who tells us that without her DOBE certification, she would never have been able to secure a seat at the RFP table or would never have been able to grow her business into a successful and thriving global enterprise.

Success is the corporate partner who recognizes that a truly inclusive supply chain means including everyone.

DM: What advice would you give to others looking for find and work with more DOBE’s?

DV: Understand that 1 in 5 people in the U.S. live with a disability and recognize that most disabilities are not apparent. Most likely, our corporate partners are already contracting with businesses owned by individuals with disabilities.

I urge our corporate partners to reach out to their suppliers, both current and potential, to communicate that their organization’s commitment to supplier diversity and inclusion includes disability-owned businesses.

Encourage them to self-disclose as a disability-owned business and to become certified. And then follow through with policies and processes which level the procurement playing field for all suppliers up and down the supply chain.

 

 

Air Force Civilian Service

Air Force Civilian Service

Verizon

Verizon

Robert Half