Cracks in ‘Talent Pipeline’ Pose Risks for Employers, College Students With Disabilities

NOD logoAs the leader of a national organization focused on employment for people with disabilities, I routinely have the privilege of visiting places that are doing some remarkable work to advance the issue. My travels of late took me to two notable college campuses: Edinboro University, just outside of Erie, Pennsylvania, which has committed to excellence in accommodations for students with disabilities; and Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) in upstate New York, which has dedicated itself to helping students with disabilities access jobs upon graduation, better ensuring their long-term economic security.

Frankly, America’s colleges and universities would do well to examine what RIT and other leaders in career services are doing right, because many, if not most, are getting it wrong. Nationally, students with disabilities take twice as long to secure a job after graduation. And of the 1.4 million college students with disabilities, about 60-percent of them can expect to not find a job when they graduate. Talk about a harsh dose of reality for young people who simply want to contribute.

Man working at a laptop with a cup of coffeeWhen I talk with employers, which is just about every day, they tell me their inability to hire new graduates with disabilities is not due to a lack of qualified candidates, but rather a lack of access. We at the National Organization on Disability decided to take a closer look at this issue recently, which resulted in a white paper titled Bridging the Employment Gap for Students with Disabilities.

Our research, along with guidance from partners such as Career Opportunities for Students with Disabilities and the National Association of Colleges and Employers, resulted in a series of recommendations that colleges and universities can take right now. Chief among them, and it’s one that RIT is executing quite well, is better coordination and communication between each school’s career services and disability offices, which respectively have access to “disability-friendly” employers and job seekers with disabilities. It may seem simple, yet so few schools get this right. At RIT, students engaged in this new model of information sharing report excellent results, with all early participants obtaining employment.

microscope lensesA closer look at this issue reveals that, while as a nation, we have become increasingly proficient at creating employment opportunities for people with disabilities in entry-level positions, employers have yet to build a robust talent pipeline for professional positions. This is a particularly pressing problem for employers looking for candidates with STEM backgrounds. One would think our institutions of higher education would be the ideal place to fill up that pipeline.

However, most professional-level jobs require not only a college degree, but frequently up to five years of work experience. This is a Catch 22 for the majority of all college-educated jobseekers, not just jobseekers with disabilities. But what we’re learning is that these experience requirements may be overly restrictive and are inadvertently screening out graduates with disabilities that could perform well in professional jobs with the right training.

This was underscored in a new study from the Association of American Colleges and Universities, in which employers evaluated students in skill areas such as being innovative, solving complex problems and working with others. Employers did not rank college grads highly in those key categories. Yet, talk with a person who has navigated the streets in a wheelchair for ten years or dealt with the medical establishment on a daily basis, and you’ll find a job candidate who excels in all three areas. Employers should reexamine requirements that might be unnecessarily restrictive – particularly federal contractors who must now seek to satisfy new federal disability employment targets – and potentially gain new sources of inventive and resourceful talent.

2017 NDEAM Poster: "Inclusion Drives Innovation"This summer, our nation will celebrate the 25th anniversary of the ADA. We have taken tremendous strides forward in improving access to employment for people with disabilities. But if we cannot solve the issue of how to connect talented young people with disabilities to meaningful employment, we will have not only wasted an historic opportunity to close this seemingly intractable employment gap, but we will yet again be wasting the talents of people who have much to contribute and deserve the opportunity to participate in the American Dream.

The Visible and Invisible Challenges that Workers with Disabilities Face

Judith Ohikuare | October 18, 2017, 2:20 PM

Last year, just 17.9% of people with a disability were employed, compared to 65.3% of people without a disability. While the overall unemployment rate for the U.S. has dropped to under 5% in recent years, it stayed pretty much the same for those with a disability, at 10.5%.

People with disabilities are more likely to be jobless, work part-time, or be self-employed than those without disabilities. To better understand what these workers face, the Center for Talent Innovation (CTI) recently released an expansive, global study analyzing this demographic — “a talent pool that many companies neglect.”

In 2016, the United States Justice Department finalized a broader, federal definition of what qualifies as having a disability. The new amendment recognizes a wider group of people who live and work with visible and, as CTI calls it, “invisible” disabilities.

The result in the U.S. is that workplaces will be tasked with responding to an influx of people who classify as having a disability — or confront the fact that many people with disabilities continue to be shut out. Here’s a snapshot of the challenges that CTI’s study participants presented.

Millennials Are More Likely To Be On Record As Having A Disability

CTI finds that under the new federal guidelines, “30% of white-collar workers actually meet the US government’s definition for having a disability.” Although nearly half of all people with a disability are age 65 and up (per BLS), CTI found that specifically among working Americans employees with disabilities were more likely to be millennials. The organization chalks this up to two key areas: greater access to education, and increased rate of diagnoses.

Graph showing employees with disability by demographic: Women: 32%; Men 28%; Boomers 29%, Gen Xers 27%; Millenials 33%.

“Thanks in part to support and accessibility of schools mandated by the ADA, more people with disabilities are completing college than ever before — an effect that is strongest among Millennials who completed their education post-ADA,” the study’s authors write. “Second, increasing diagnosis rates of certain conditions — mood disorders like depression, learning disabilities like dyslexia, developmental differences like autism, and other forms of neurodiversity — also contribute to a higher proportion of disability in the Millennial white-collar workforce.”

Many Workers Choose Not To Disclose Their Disability

CTI writes that the National Organization on Disability reports “on average that 3.2% of their workforces are employees with disabilities.” The study’s authors attribute low disclosure rates to workers not realizing they can be considered to have a disability under the new federal guidelines. And, more intentionally, many employees with disabilities “are counseled by family, friends, even employment attorneys, to avoid disclosing their disabilities—for fear of discrimination and other negative repercussions.”

People who do choose to disclose generally do so on a “need-to-know” basis, with the people they interact with most.

Image showing rate of disclosure: To HR - 37% visible disabilities, 33% sometimes visible disabilities, 13% invisible disabilities; To their Managers - 49% visible, 53% sometimes visible, 32% invisible; To their teams - 26% visible, 41% sometimes visible, 17% invisible.

Many workers who are reluctant to say anything fear alienation, especially in corporate, white-collar settings. CTI found that employees with disabilities were equally (and sometimes more) ambitious as those without. Seventy-five percent of employees with disabilities said they “have an idea they thought would drive value for their companies, [and] of these employees, 48% say this idea would serve the disability market” — which would possibly create needed solutions.

However, many employees feared that disclosing their conditions could “at worst, stall their progression.”

One-Third Of Workers With Disability Face Discrimination

Thirty-four percent of CTI’s survey respondents with disabilities said they have experienced discrimination or bias while working at their current companies. Employees with visible disabilities were more likely to encounter such bias. Aside from “outright” bias, employees with disabilities also face exclusion at work.

That exclusion generally manifested in four ways: misjudgment (underestimating their intelligence, assuming they are more junior in the organization than they actually are); insults (badmouthing, telling jokes at their expense, talking behind their backs); avoidance (avoiding looking them in the eye or talking to them); and discomfort (staring, seeming nervous).

For many in this group, the cost was feeling disengaged, frustrated, and pessimistic about their prospects. “Even though employees with disabilities are as likely to report being ambitious as employees without disabilities (80% vs. 79%), they’re more likely to feel stalled in their careers,” CTI wrote. “Even more disturbing, nearly half of employees with disabilities (47%) say they’ll never rise to positions of power at their companies, no matter how well they perform.”

Employees with disabilities face a number of challenges, but many of them also talked about having confidence in their abilities to be problem solvers and be assets to their companies, if given a fair chance. Every workplace is different, but CTI outlined some suggestions for where employers can start to make a difference, from including having disability as a measure of their “overall diversity focus,” and designing office spaces and providing tech tools “that have been designed with users with disabilities in mind.” (Not to mention, bringing up the topic of accommodations during the onboarding process.)

“When there was a conference up a flight of stairs that I couldn’t reach with my wheelchair, they moved it to the ground floor for me,” one survey respondent, a millennial manager in accounting, told CTI. Another worker, an employee at Unilever said it was a “big help” when their managers made it “very clear that you can provide value even if you don’t come into the office every day.”

Read on

The Hidden Cost of Disability Discrimination

By RACHEL LAYNE MONEYWATCH October 16, 2017, 5:45 AM

How many people in your office have a disability?

If you’re in the US, about 30 percent of college-educated employees working full time in white-collar jobs have some kind of disability under the federal definition that was expanded last year, a new study from the Center for Talent Innovation found. That’s almost one in three employees.

That’s far more than the 3.2 percent that “self-identify” to employers tracked by the National Organization on Disability, according to the study, which the CTI said is the first of its kind.

What’s more, 62 percent of employees with disabilities have the “invisible” kind, that is, people can’t tell from just looking at them.

More than one-third said they’ve experienced discrimination, or “negative bias.” That can mean assumptions like they lack skills needed for a certain assignment, or they’ll take too long to do a task, for instance. Those with visible disabilities fared worse, with 44 percent reporting discrimination, while 40 percent with some signs of disability saw discrimination.

“It’s complicated for people to be spending a lot of time to try and manage a condition working with, say, chronic migraines every day when they could easily manage that condition with different lighting at their desk, but are afraid to ask,” said Julia Taylor Kennedy, executive vice president and director of publications at CTI.

It’s no wonder just 21 percent of people with disabilities tell human resource departments they have a disability, according to the survey. About 39 percent tell their managers. That can frustrate employers that want to make adjustments so people can do their jobs well, according to the survey.

Employees with disabilities are even more ambitious than those without, the study found. About 80 percent consider themselves to be very ambitious compared to 79 percent of those without a disability. But having a disability can also get in the way of building a career. Of those surveyed, 57 percent report feeling “stalled” compared to 44 percent of those without disabilities, according to the study.

That means employers, too, are losing out on growth when they neglect to create an atmosphere that allows everyone to fully participate, Taylor Kennedy said.

“It’s costly for employers to have employees that can’t contribute to their full potential. It’s costly to have employees who are afraid of sharing their ideas because they know they might face bias or stigma from their colleagues,” she said.

Another finding: Millennials make up 33 of employees with disabilities. That compares to 27 percent among Gen-X and 29 percent for baby boomers.

The higher numbers are likely for two reasons, the study says. One, millennials are the first generation to go through school under the Americans with Disabilities Act, and that means more are making their way through college. Second, it’s likely tied to the rates of diagnosis for some conditions — like dyslexia, depression or forms of autism — that weren’t previously used.

The researchers used disclosure, defined as telling someone you have a disability of any kind, formally or informally. That’s different than to “self-identify,” which typically means checking a box when dealing with an employer survey.

For the US portion of the study, researchers asked 3,570 employees in white-collar professions between the ages of 21 and 65 the same series of questions asked by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Researchers also asked about chronic illnesses, such as cancer or Parkinson’s, and if those conditions posed challenges to career or work, along with other questions that disclosed disabilities, yielding the higher numbers.

The report included a look at  Brazil, Germany, India, Japan and the UK and how they differ from the US because multinational companies also need to know how to not only comply with the laws in their operations outside the US, but also address cultural differences, Taylor Kennedy said.

CTI also oversees something called The Task Force, a group of more than 80 global corporations and organizations representing nearly 6 million employees in 192 countries that aim to act on its study findings, according to the CTI website.

The disability report includes strategy examples from CTI members, including from companies such as Accenture (ACN), Bloomberg, and Unilever (UL). Organizations with expertise in employing people with disabilities like the US Business Leadership Network and Lime Connect also offer suggestions in the report.

Read at CBS News MoneyWatch

Five Questions with Alicia “AJ” Petross of The Hershey Company

Alicia “AJ” Petross is a leader in diversity and inclusion.  As Senior Director Global Culture, Diversity and Inclusion, and Engagement at The Hershey Company, AJ  has a track record of success in building trust throughout the organization and leading new and exciting approaches to diversity and inclusion. Because of Hershey’s exemplary employment practices for people with disabilities, the National Organization on Disability recently named the company a 2017 NOD Leading Disability Employer.

NOD recently sat down with AJ to find out what drives her passion for workplace inclusion—and how Hershey’s is leading the way.

1. What led you to choose a career in diversity & inclusion?

From a young age, I remember my father helping a relative of ours to gain employment. She suffered from narcolepsy and was plagued by psychiatric boarding even though her disability was manageable. My father removed her from facilities by finding her employment, which meant she could regain independence. Having a job meant everything. The opportunity to earn a living is vital for everyone of working age. Having a disability should not prevent people from being employed. Seeing her journey was a powerful experience, one that stayed with me and influenced my career decades later.

Gov. Tom Ridge, NOD's Chairman, awarding AJ Petross the 2017 NOD Leading Disability Employer Seal

2. What influences your commitment to diversity, as you continue to build a culture of inclusion at Hershey?

At Hershey, diversity and inclusion is a commitment that is ingrained in who we are. It’s about advancing our vision, our culture, and our environment so everyone can bring a meaningful contribution to the table. We have comprehensive strategies for diversity representation and retention and for making diversity a cornerstone of our corporate reputation.

We cannot be innovative without diversity of thought.  That’s why the diversity of our C-Suite is intentional. Changing demographics, socio-economic trends, technology and globalization are converging on our workplace and marketplace like never before – and 85 percent of consumer-packaged goods purchases are made by women. At Hershey, our gender representation in C-suite roles is peer-leading and very influential to inclusion at our company. Women are at the helm of The Hershey Company’s most profitable businesses and hold powerful C-Suite positions. Examples include: Michele Buck, who became the company’s first female CEO earlier this year, other top ranks such as our Chief Financial Officer Patricia Little and General Counsel Leslie Turner and the leaders of the Hershey’s and Reese’s brands, Melinda Lewis and Veronica Villasenor.

As important as the diverse perspectives of our C-Suite are, we’ve learned that their actions continue to improve the diversity and inclusion of our workforce. Diversity, inclusion, and culture are incorporated throughout our company strategic plans, our corporate vision and values, and our global Hershey leadership behaviors. We will continue to use this foundation as we advance our culture of inclusion at Hershey.

3. What impact has Hershey’s inclusive efforts made on the neighboring community? The company?

Hershey dedicates time and attention to civil, human rights and social justice issues. Most recently, efforts in this space resulted in a facilitated dialogue session with local business and civic leaders to discuss the marginalization some have experienced in the local community and at the national level. The dialogue focused on reaffirming our commitment to fostering a culture of respect, safety and acceptance within the greater Hershey community.

Whether hosting Former Pennsylvania Governor and National Organization on Disability Chairman Tom Ridge for a disability awareness education session with employees or signing Hershey’s commitment for the Federal Equality Act, we work to ensure we are actively committed in our attention to civil rights, human rights, and social justice issues.

Another example includes our participation in President Obama’s White House Equal Pay Pledge, First Job Compact, and Fair Chance Pledge, which highlighted Hershey’s commitment to creating a contemporary workplace. Through these initiatives, we built a commitment to equal pay for equal work, giving more people opportunities to gain experience in the workforce and eliminating unnecessary employment barriers.

Hershey’s investment in the communities where we do business is important and enduring. I am proud to work for a company that is visibly committed to inclusion.

4. Why is it important for The Hershey Company to support the National Organization on Disability? Can you share an example of any programs that support disabilities?

The Hershey Company has been a proud member of the National Organization on Disability’s Corporate Leadership Council for 5 years.  We value our partnership because NOD is a leader in disability inclusion. Hershey’s purpose is bringing goodness to one another and to the world.  As I mentioned earlier, being able to be employed regardless of ability is essential.

Another example is our partnership with Susquehanna Service Dogs, which trains service dogs on the company’s campus.  This raises awareness on our campus, which contributes to our “disability friendly” environment.

5. What’s next in Hershey’s commitment to diversity & inclusion?

Hershey is partnering with the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation on a Food Manufacturing Training Curriculum for Individuals with Disabilities. We are in discussions about developing programs that expand our pipelines for qualified candidates for potential hiring into manufacturing roles and retail positions at Chocolate World. Our hope is that our partnership will drive disability hiring in food manufacturing beyond The Hershey Company across Central Pennsylvania.

Learn more about The Hershey Company.