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  • Kristine Foss

Five Observations Over Five Years

Changing Minds and Changing Lives through Disability Inclusion Celebrations give us a chance to recognize accomplishments, individually and as a team, and to have some fun after hard work. Celebrations also give us another big opportunity: to reflect back in order to move forward. As we celebrate our five year anniversary at Disability Solutions, I took that opportunity. Many things have changed for the better, yet a lot of work is still ahead of us. There are continued challenges, new challenges, and the need to hold tight, never allowing backward movement. I find myself with five observations over the five years since we launched and began our journey as a team committed to Changing Minds and Changing lives through diversity and inclusion.

1. A New Frontier for Some, a Continued Journey for Others Three years ago, I contributed to an article in Forbes focused on a large, growing talent and customer market – people with disabilities. We referred to both markets as the next frontier. Since that time we have worked with companies such as PepsiCo and Synchrony Financial who have taken effective action and are achieving results. They have effectively hired hundreds of employees across the country, in a variety of roles, and are experiencing positive results in key workforce indicators, including:

  • Increased retention

  • Lower interview to hire ratios

  • Increased diversity

  • Higher engagement with increased rates of self-disclosure of a disability or veteran status

Workforce Value: Outcomes our Clients have Realized

For others, attracting and hiring talent, along with engaging customers with disabilities, is still the next frontier. It is a journey, and there is much work to be done in order to change minds and correct misperceptions.

2. Yes, You Need a Strategy… Over the past few years, many employers have received advice to “just start and not worry about a strategy.” While “analysis paralysis” should not stop a company from getting started, I can tell you from experience that you DO need a strategy, and getting help from subject matter experts is important to success. Should you only listen to consultants? No, but we can help you look across your business to leverage your existing assets, including your employees, your customers, your communities, and even your processes and systems. Taking time up front to assess and understand what works and what might need a new approach, is an important part of developing a strategy and taking effective action for results.

3. “We’ve tried this before” Will Not Get You Anywhere. Try Again. Employers: Sometimes employers cannot find the right pipeline, or have not had the best experience in the past, resulting in a hesitancy to try again.

  • Don’t let “we have tried this before” be a reason to not try anything in business, because your competitors won’t hesitate. As a former HR leader, I realize we are taught to mitigate risk, and be the “voice of reason and consistency” in the room. We are there when things don’t go the way they should, so we can lose sight of all of the times it goes right.

  • Do it anyway! Support innovative approaches that can further your business by bringing diverse experiences and thought leadership into your workforce.

Community Partners: I have been part of the disability provider community. We are often operating based on insufficient funding models and policies, which can hinder innovation. Don’t let it burn you out!

  • Don’t rush to refer without an understanding of the business needs.

  • Communicate people’s value. Don’t take the “charitable” approach with employers. When we focus on charity, provide “free work”, or refer every job seeker without regard to qualifications, interests, or skills we contribute to the barriers.

4. There is Diversity within Disability

With 1 in 5 people in the US having some type of disability, talent with disabilities represents a wide range of experiences, education levels, and skills. As a community, we have found our voice, which has grown louder over the past five years and represents a diverse slate of issues:

  • Politics and policy making thanks to the work of individuals and organizations like RespectAbility and National ADAPT.

  • Through advertising and marketing, across television and movies, and certainly across social media. We are voting with our wallets and influencing customer and employee experiences, product and service accessibility and more.

  • Thought leaders like Emily Ladau, and Britany Déjean are challenging the status quo, pushing people to see in others, and in themselves, intersectionality and highlighting accessibility barriers – both physical and attitudinal.

As this understanding of intersectionality grows, we gain a larger understanding of who we are and how we “fit”, within and across many communities and many issues. The result? The disability community grows along with our impact.

5. The Time is Now

Our workforce needs are changing, due to both globalization and advances in technology and automation. As consultants, providers, and employers we need to stop catching up by filling yesterday’s jobs. We need to prepare our emerging workforce to fill the jobs of tomorrow. We are not alone; everyone needs to make this shift. Think of the movie “Hidden Figures”: being prepared for NASA’s future needs tore through barriers!

  • Industries such as supply chain, finance, retail, and food service are meeting workforce and profit margin needs through automation and technology.

  • The skills focus is shifting from physical work to thought work, creating need for employees who can interpret data, form recommendations based on trends, and operate and support technology.

Therefore, we celebrate!

Today we celebrate the past five years. No longer exploring a new frontier nor gaining proof of concept, we innovate based on real outcomes supported by data, real people, and business results. We celebrate the past, while moving forward with new approaches, Changing Minds and Changing Lives for our global workforce.

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