In this second blog in a series focusing on breaking barriers and influencing social change, we celebrate International Day of Persons with Disabilities and offer ideas for promoting disability inclusion in your organization and in our communities.
December 3rd is International Day of Persons with Disabilities. The annual observance was proclaimed in 1992 by the United Nations General Assembly. It aims to promote the rights and well-being of persons with disabilities in all spheres of society and development, and to increase awareness and disability inclusion in every aspect of political, social, economic and cultural life.
This year also marks the 30th anniversary of the passing of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The ADA prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life, including jobs, schools, transportation and places that are open to the general public to ensure that people with disabilities have the same rights and opportunities as everyone else.
You are no doubt familiar with the need to comply with the ADA in all areas of your business, but disability inclusion reaches far beyond compliance with the law. Proactively supporting inclusivity in your organization can have important and meaningful impact for your employees, customers and communities. CEB, now part of Gartner, found that highly diverse and inclusive organizations had a 26% increase in team collaboration and an 18% increase in team commitment. A study by Harvard Business Review showed that companies with higher-than-average diversity had 19% higher innovation revenues. So, how can you effectively and respectfully promote disability inclusion in your organization?
These are our clients, prospects, coworkers, and employees. How can your organization think about greater equity and inclusivity, especially during these times?
– Giselle Mota, board member of the ADP BRG, Thrive
Be sure that your staff and leadership includes a diverse a range of employees and perspectives. When developing anything from internal policies to new products to client-facing marketing campaigns, getting input from employees and clients with disabilities helps ensure that you are addressing their needs rather than operating on assumptions. Martha Bird, Chief Business Anthropologist at ADP says, “It is important to design WITH excluded and diverse communities, not FOR them. Seek their expert input in the process.”
Representation is key to meaningful and genuine inclusion. If you have Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) or Business Resource Groups (BRGs) in your organization, you can partner with them on inclusivity initiatives to get valuable firsthand perspectives. At ADP, the Thrive BRG has a mission to understand the diverse impact of disabilities, end the stigma, and bring awareness and education to ADP associates about people living with disabilities. Susan Lodge, a Thrive board member and mother to a son with a genetic disease says, “This BRG has given me a new appreciation for the company I work for and the people that I work with. I no longer feel like I am the only one who faces the challenges that disabilities can bring. We are all in this together.”
Work to overcome bias
Inclusivity isn’t an “issue” just for people with disabilities; it’s important for everyone in your organization. Once you set the goal and expectation for a diverse and inclusive organizational culture, follow up with education aimed at promoting understanding and awareness of unique challenges of people with disabilities as well as the importance of inclusion. For example, adopt a policy of using people first language (PFL). People first language is a way of communicating that shows respect for people with disabilities by focusing on the individual and not their disability. For example, if you were discussing modification to your retail space for your clients, instead of saying “disabled customers”, you would use “customers with disabilities.” This recognizes that they have disabilities and allows you to be inclusive and respectful in your planning but doesn’t use their disabilities to define them entirely.
Disability inclusion in post-COVID business
Inclusion is particularly important right now. The global health crisis has highlighted inequities for people with disabilities. Routine healthcare needs like diagnostic testing and therapies are no longer as easy to access. Virtual and masked communications also present challenges that disproportionately affect people with disabilities. As Giselle Mota, board member of ADP’s Thrive BRG, Principal Consultant at ADP on the Future of Work and moderator of an ADP webcast on disability inclusion said, “These are our clients, prospects, coworkers, and employees. How can your organization think about greater equity and inclusivity, especially during these times?”
Register for or replay this webcast for more discussion of this question and tips from ADP experts: Disability Inclusion in the Workplace: Best Practices for Engaging and Supporting ALL of Your People.
To learn more about ADP’s commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion, please visit our Corporate Social Responsibility site.
Caron Cone, DVP of HR for ADP’s National Account Services and Chairperson of the Cultivate BRG at ADP tells what began as an internal-only video to encourage Black employees’ candid expression of frustration toward racial injustice, became a torch that further fueled the flames for ADP’s Diversity & Inclusion philosophy.
It started as a needed call to “check in” with members of Cultivate, ADP’s African American business resource group (BRG), amid the unrest gripping the country over racism and police brutality. Almost immediately, the discussion ignited intense emotions from Cultivate members sharing their own stories and perspectives.
“What we heard during the call is that discussions about systemic racism can no longer be muted, and that includes inside the workplace,” said Debbie Dyson, President of ADP National Account Services and Cultivate’s co-founder.
Debbie and I took the feedback to heart and especially liked one suggestion to create a video that takes an honest look at the everyday realities of Black associates – in their own words. We wanted those associates to speak from their hearts, so why not let the world hear directly from them? It’s their story to tell, not ADP’s.
While creating a safe and supportive environment for people of color has always been a key tenet of ADP’s strong stance on diversity and inclusion, the reality for many Black associates is that it’s impossible to separate the toll systemic racism takes on their personal lives and how it can also impact them professionally.
The goal of the video is to ignite a companywide conversation about race and how ADP can unite. That position of unity is driven home by Dyson in perhaps one of the most powerful statements in the video: “When this becomes not just us, it becomes real justice.”
Associates submitted their own footage, straightforward without any fancy bells or whistles, and through the magic of editing, we successfully captured a united, powerful human story featuring Black associates sharing who they are and what they experience every day. The video was released internally to all global ADP associates during a time when race relations, racism and the plight of the Black male continued to generate headlines. The internal response was so moving that ADP executives decided to share the video message externally.
“I look forward with hope to the day when racism, bias and injustice are things of the past. We need change now, said ADP associate Scott Bohn after watching the video.
“Count me among your allies and know you are seen,” said ADP associate Heather Heiberg.
ADP associate Terri Hoover said she was filled with emotion after hearing Cultivate members talk so candidly. “Your video was very heartfelt and brought tears to my eyes. Thank you for doing this. It makes me sad and confused that we live in a world where any life is judged to be less or more valuable based on appearance. I stand with this movement,” said Hoover.
The unrest has forced many companies to take a hard look and examine their own track records of diversity, inclusion and fostering an environment in which employees of color feel like their voice, presence and ideas matter, too. That also extends to recruiting, promotions and compensation.
Encourage Black and brown employees to find their voice. Real understanding occurs when people of color are courageous and willing to share their experiences, and when non-minorities are open, curious and willing to listen without being defensive. Organizations must invite their Black associates to use their voices to express clearly and specifically what changes they need and what a positive shift would look like to them. The environment must be safe and supportive for this exchange to occur.
Develop active allyship. We know that an ally is a friend who is sympathetic to the cause. But active allyship means using the privilege you have to support someone without that privilege. For example, if you make hiring decisions, active allyship means considering a diverse slate of candidates from a variety of schools, businesses and locations to ensure your candidate pool is truly representative of your market. The key word in all of this is “active” — what can you actually do to serve someone who may be marginalized with less opportunity to influence change in the same way you can?
Show an authentic willingness to change. For leaders, making the necessary changes requires more than simply being willing to say the right thing or communicate the right message to associates, clients and the external market. As the head of your organization, department or team, this change will require you to stand on the front line. And as you stand there, you must hold yourself and your leaders accountable for delivering on the promise of a more diverse and inclusive organization.
Beyond the moral and ethical reasons driving culture change, there are business drivers, too. For instance, when you have a diverse and inclusive team, you can better represent and meet the needs of your constituency. Multiple research sources point to empirical evidence that organizations with diverse teams perform at a higher level, are more innovative and exhibit stronger financial performance.
Examine your organization at every level and stage. It’s not just about bringing diverse candidates in; it’s also about how you treat your employees once you hire them. It’s time to ask the tough questions, such as: “As we go up the chain of leadership, do we maintain the same degree of representation at all levels? Are we promoting a diverse group of individuals to our board?” If these questions don’t yield responses that demonstrate support for a diverse and inclusive culture, then there is still work to be done, and that work can’t wait.
Make the change sustainable. While the topic of race relations and lack of diversity and inclusion has gotten well-earned publicity, we must make sure the outrage we feel toward these long-standing injustices doesn’t fade when our attention is drawn to a different crisis. Instead, this moment must serve as the spark for revolutionary and lasting change. We must be honest with ourselves about whether we are achieving the changes we have committed to making, and we must hold each other accountable.
Act with a sense of urgency. Expectations about meaningful change are high, and businesses must capitalize on the urgency of this moment to improve their organizational culture to the greatest possible extent. If change doesn’t occur or isn’t sustained, the step back will be significant. There will be a greater level of disappointment and more dissatisfaction with the status quo, and the resulting impact on race relations could be substantial, so we must follow through.
The same courage and honesty displayed through the lens of Black associates is the same courage and self-reflection organizations must undertake to create a monumental shift. It’s the right thing to do for humanity, for society and for business.