The disability community, from grassroots advocates to powerful cross-disability organizations, devotes a lot of time and energy to proving the value of hiring disabled workers. This is a common theme for our community, and extremely necessary, as there are a number of workforce-related challenges that workers with disabilities face. The unemployment rate for workers with disabilities is twice that of workers without disabilities. It is still legal for workers with disabilities to be paid well below the minimum wage based on a law that dates back to 1936, when the talents and potential of workers with disabilities were even more horribly misunderstood. And of course, while the Americans with Disabilities Act provides vital protections to the disabled workforce, it can't solve every issue in the disabled workforce, such as the systemic problem of fewer opportunities for advancement for workers with disabilities.
One theme we commonly hear when discussing disability (or any minority) employment is that it is the right thing to do. Providing equal opportunity is providing equal rights; it's moral and ethical. However, from the perspective of businesses that perpetuate discrimination in their hiring and retention of workers with disabilities, this message doesn't seem to be enough.
What if we looked at disability employment from a business perspective instead of from an advocacy perspective? There are many businesses that are leading the way in promoting an inclusive workplace, businesses that are proud of the advancements they have made in hiring workers with disabilities. Why are they so passionate about hiring disabled workers?
With this question in mind, I reached out to companies that are not only some of the most successful businesses in the country, but are also recognized as being the most inclusive of disability in hiring, retention, and promotion. These businesses are all Fortune 1000 companies that scored 100 points on the US Business Leadership Network's (USBLN) Disability Equality Index (DEI). I asked them two questions: "How do recruiting, retaining, and promoting employees with disabilities make good business sense? How do they improve a business's productivity and profitability?" Here's who they are and what they had to say:
1. If you are one of the many consumers of Starbucks' coffee, you are also supporting one of the most advanced employers of workers with disabilities. Starbucks states that "creating a culture of belonging is one of [their] core values." The company boasts thorough accommodations for workers with disabilities (such as interpretation services and accessible software), as well as for customers with disabilities. Additionally, in 2015 they participated in events celebrating the 25th Anniversary of the ADA, and their press room frequently publishes material and stories on their inclusive environment.
Here's what they had to say:
"When we think about hiring for Starbucks, we think beyond labels. We challenge ourselves to look beyond traditional sources and typical profiles, to bring in people that share our values and our passion for service and community. There is no better example than our commitment to hiring people with disabilities. These talented professionals bring unique experiences that foster innovation and new ideas while contributing to a culture of warmth and true inclusion. We work across multiple business teams to collaborate and inspire partners (employees) to embrace accessibility as a global value of Starbucks, and we are continually inspired by the diversity and inclusion of our people."
-Scott Pitasky, Executive Vice President and Chief Partner Resources Officer, Starbucks
2. As one of the top contractors to the US government, Northrop Grumman not only supports the needs of the military, but also supports many of the millions of Americans with disabilities in the workforce who want meaningful employment. Beyond inclusive hiring for its own workforce, Northrop Grumman has a Global Supplier Diversity Program, which works to foster beneficial business relationships between the company and minority-owned businesses, including many businesses owned by persons with disabilities.
In addition to these programs, Nothrop Grumman is also particularly committed to disabled service members. Northrop Grumman created the award-winning Operation IMPACT program in 2005, a wounded warrior program designed to support the most severely injured service members or their primary caregiver. They provide career readiness and placement assistance as well as post-transition support to all eligible candidates. In 2009, Northrop Grumman established the Operation IMPACT Network of Champions, a group of more than 110 companies and partners that share job candidates, best practices, and create wider opportunities for veterans with disabilities.
Here's what they had to say:
"Northrop Grumman is committed to creating a work environment that values diversity and inclusion because it creates innovation, improves productivity and boosts profitability. People with disabilities are an important component of a diverse pool of talent and we are determined to draw from this valuable resource. We actively seek to hire disabled employees because of the tremendous value they bring to the workplace. In our continuing efforts to attract and retain employees with disabilities, we recently added new online accommodation tools for requests and case tracking; increased accessibility of our Internet website, including the Careers section; expanded accessibility at our locations; and we have adopted a more focused approach for posting job requisitions with disability-related job boards."
-Kymberlee Dwinell, Director, Global Diversity & Inclusion, Northrop Grumman Corporation
3. AT&T is not only one of the top telecommunications corporations in the world, but is also a model for programs that support the disabled workforce. They are particularly successful in their implementation of diversity programs, so that not only are they weaving accessibility and inclusion into the fabric of their business, but they also produce special opportunities for the disadvantaged disabled workforce to get ahead.
Here's what they had to say:
"AT&T is company where everyone's differences are authentically embraced, valued and vital to our business inside and out. People with disabilities are no exception. I've seen this personally, because it's part of my charge. Whether it is by ensuring an accessible environment so employees can win at work or offering the accessibility products and services to our customers, accessibility is our commitment to connect people to the world around them. In addition to our Corporate Accessibility Technology Office (CATO), our longstanding relationship with Career Opportunities for Students with Disabilities helps us find and hire college graduates with disabilities. Finally, our Employee Resource Group IDEAL (Individuals with Disabilities Enabling Advocacy Link) is 4,300 members strong and plays a big role in ensuring we continue to stay ahead of the issues that this community faces."
-Cynthia Marshall, SVP Human Resources and Chief Diversity Officer, AT&T
4. Ernst & Young, a global leader in professional services, is proud of their mission to "[embrace] all abilities." Built by a founder with a disability, Arthur Young, their commitment to disability inclusion ranges from signing on to the Business Taskforce On Accessibilities (BTAT) Charter to programs such as EY AccessAbilities and the Abilities Champion Network, which respectively give EY employees the resources they need to develop their skills and advocate for accessible policies and disability awareness in the workplace.
Here's what they had to say:
"Ernst & Young seeks the best talent- period. To find the specialized skills we need, we have to tap the broadest available talent pools, including people with a wide range of physical, cognitive and mental health abilities. We know that diverse teams produce better solutions, so there's a clear performance advantage to bringing together people with all kinds of differences - in gender, ethnicity, orientation, age, background, and abilities. Employees with disabilities have higher retention rates, so for many businesses, there can be a real cost savings through reduced turnover. Studies show that consumers prefer doing business with companies that employ people with disabilities, so there's brand value. Research has also found organizations employing people with disabilities have higher morale and employee engagement, which we know drives profitability. Finally, people with disabilities often have well-honed problem solving skills and a degree of adaptability that are especially valuable in today's fast changing business environment. At Ernst & Young, we learned this early in our history, as our co-founder, Arthur Young, was deaf and had low vision. Unable to successfully practice as a courtroom lawyer because of his disabilities, he turned to the emerging field of accounting, where he became an innovator and entrepreneur."
-Lori B. Golden, Abilities Strategy Leader, Ernst & Young, LLP
To summarize, these companies are not only extremely successful leaders in their fields but are also powerful models of disability inclusion that make compelling arguments for greater disability workforce inclusion. They not only reject the outdated ideas that disabled workers are liabilities to business, but actively promote the perspective that workers of all abilities bring different strengths to the companies' missions. There are clear capitalist benefits to inclusive hiring. As stated by Shawna Berger, Director of Marketing and Communications at the US Business Leadership Network:
"Businesses that embrace disability inclusion have found there is a positive correlation between their profitability, employee morale and engagement. These businesses report lower turnover, better safety records, innovation and higher productivity among their employees with disabilities. For customer-facing companies, there is the side benefit of customer loyalty from America's largest minority group, numbering 56.7 million Americans."