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How Disability Inclusion Is Making the Future of Work, Work For Everyone

State Street

December 02,2020

Across industries and geographies, companies are increasingly recognizing the value of a diverse workforce.

Differences in gender, race and ethnicity bring new perspectives when it comes to a variety of critical skills such as problem solving, creativity and decision-making. But one group has historically garnered less of the diversity spotlight: those with disabilities.

Despite the growth of disability-friendly policies, research suggests that full inclusion is still a challenge globally. The U.S. Department of Labor reports that, as of September 2020, only 32.7 percent of working-age Americans with disabilities between ages 16 and 64 participated in the workforce compared to 75.7 percent of Americans without a disability.[1] In Asia Pacific, the estimated 690 million people living with disabilities  are more likely to be engaged in vulnerable forms of employment.[2]

But optimism emerges when organizations and people unite around a common mission. In 2010, the European Commission introduced Europe 2020 – including a specific strategy for people with disabilities – to deliver high levels of employment and strengthen social cohesion through better access to education and work experience. Early reports show good progress on its goals.

The Road to Progress
As a global organization, we play an important role in creating change. Maximizing talents, building a stronger foundation of comprehensive policies to better understand abilities, and developing more inclusive infrastructure and technology will be a critical part of building the workforce of the future.

In 2019, we launched the Global Disability Taskforce, an initiative focused on generating greater disability awareness across our organization, especially when it comes to often unspoken topics such as mental health. And in November 2020, our Chairman and CEO Ron O’Hanley signed the Disability: IN pledge to advance equality and inclusion at State Street. These programs are an important step forward, but we know more needs to be done. We’ve identified three key areas where progress begins.

Optimism emerges when organizations and people unite around a common mission.

Hiring
Facilitating greater disability inclusion starts with the hiring process. While there is a growing awareness and goodwill among corporate leaders to have comprehensive hiring plans, there are multiple challenges in executing this at the ground level. “People don’t understand what disability means in many cases and often don’t know how to ask about it,” says Monika Jankowska-Rangelov, State Street’s Inclusion and Diversity head for Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

Encouraging transparent discussions about the support that applicants and existing employees require from employers are just some of the gaps to fill. From Monika’s perspective, organizations still need to learn and adjust to what inclusivity means in practice. She says that one of the best ways organizations can overcome this barrier is through educating and preparing both new and current employees.

Education and Training
Rob Surratt, who leads our Disability Inclusion for Global Inclusion and Diversity, and Workforce Development in North America, is working to expand bias training so that managers understand how to run inclusive meetings and are aware of how they allocate projects. Training includes helping managers learn how to make choices that are not based on risk-aversion or being afraid to ask teams to stretch their skills.

“Companies may have really great policies in place, but unconscious bias often transcends policy,” explains Rob. For example, a candidate may look great on their resume and ace the telephone screen. But when they come to an interview with a guide dog or displaying misplaced social cues, a hiring manager may unconsciously see the person’s disability over their qualifications. As a result, an equally qualified but physically able candidate may get the job due to this unconscious bias.

“Visible support from and exposure to senior leadership is also critical,” Rob adds. Organizations need to constantly build on opportunities such as mentorship and activities that create a conduit for career development – both inside and outside the company. Being an ally of your colleagues and other inclusion communities will only help an organization’s forward progress in creating diverse behaviors, policies, systems and practices.

Access
As Head of State Street Corporate Citizenship, Inclusion and Diversity in Asia Pacific, Meenu Bhambhani is focused on helping our organization build a holistic approach to inclusion. “Inclusion is often a piece-meal approach,” says Meenu pointing to several policies aimed at disability inclusion. Many companies have disability-friendly policies but often forget to connect the last mile. This could be as simple as providing descriptions and transcripts for webinars and videos, or more critical such as making sure employees are aware of transportation options. When you create pockets of inclusion, you create pockets of exclusion for people with disabilities, Meenu explains. Innovative, strategic investments help break the barriers of inaccessibility.

Technology is a key component. When you look at a lot of work-related technology advances, the earliest adopters are people with disabilities, Rob explained. Remote-access technology has leveled the playing field for employees who may struggle to get into the office every day.

To be effective, universal design must be accessible for everyone. That’s why organizations will want to consider things such as disability-friendly payment systems or chat support options for people with speech disability. In welcoming new hires or implementing programs to upskill employees, organizations must evaluate if training programs are suitable for everyone — taking into consideration those who may need support when it comes to vision, hearing and accessibility. Efforts such as making sure that vending machines are accessible to all can go a long way in making every employee feel valued and seen.

Inclusion is a constant endeavor. The workforce of the future is all about learning new skills and equipping employees of every ability with the tools they need for a successful career.

1. U.S. Department of Labor. Disability Employment Statistics, 2020
2. Disability at a Glance 2019: Investing in Accessibility in Asia and the Pacific, 2019

Topics: Diversity , Leadership , Talent Management


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