Love and Hope

An op-ed from NOD President Carol Glazer


When stepping into the role of a new manager or leader of an organization, there is always a big learning curve.

With that in mind, I want to pass along the thoughts of someone who assumed her first leadership role at age 55. That’s pretty late in a career to learn about leadership. Some of the lessons I picked up were painful because I learned them the hard way—by making mistakes and then picking myself up afterwards. Doing things wrong before I figured out how to do them right.

Let’s start with the most important challenges facing leaders today, whether in the for-profit or social sector. (My experience comes from the latter.)

We as leaders need to recognize that in many respects, America is hurting.

In these difficult times it’s easy to feel discouraged.  Disappointment, anger and disenchantment are understandable — in some cases reasonable — responses to the challenges we face.

Whether it’s the aftermath of COVID, economic uncertainty, civil unrest, a heightened sense of inequality in our society, we and our colleagues are experiencing trauma.

Today, a third of all workers will face mental health issues, double the number pre-pandemic.

Add to that the fact that 45% of people under age 40 have a negative view of democracy and capitalism.

What does all this mean for us as leaders? Quite simply, our people need us more than ever. And our empathy has never been more important.

We have to tell our staff that it’s OK to not be OK. We have to think about resilience, the capacity to sustain the blows that come with the daily experience of trauma. We have to approach our work with empathy, generosity, hope and love.

That’s right, I’m talking about leadership qualities that include hope and love. These are two small words that have enormous implications:  for our businesses, our communities and our future. This is a big lesson I have learned.

We tend to take hope for granted. We hope our favorite team will win the game. We hope for great vacation weather. We hope we get a great deal when we buy a new car.

But hope is an important steppingstone to resilience, and researchers have found that hope is associated with all kinds of positive outcomes.

Having hope in the face of adversity encourages more engagement in life and problem solving. It’s not a passive feeling but an active ingredient in our wellbeing and the way we interact with the world.

I have spent most of my career trying to build a more just society that includes and values all of us. Most recently I’ve been trying to make the world a better place for the one in four Americans that is disabled.

We are shattering fears, misconceptions and lowered expectations of people with disabilities.

In my youth in the 1960’s and 1970’s, with a strong sense that if we worked at it, we could create massive political and social change, my generation of activists won huge gains for women’s rights, civil rights, voting rights and ending a war we didn’t believe in.

We were strong, we were unified and we were resilient—filled with hope and optimism.   We learned from history that the greatest threat we face is not extreme inequities, nor bitter political divisions, nor an environmental crisis, nor the results of any one election. We understood that according to Darren Walker, one of my heroes and president of the Ford Foundation, “hope is the oxygen that fuels our democracy.”

We know that democracy requires work and when hope leaves, a democratic society will atrophy.

And then there’s love.

My generation of activists also believed in adherence to a common creed that all of us are created equal.  Insistence on the God-given dignity of every human being.  A belief that we are all part of a unified movement to make a more compassionate, kind, just and gentle world.

We believed in the value of love and caring for our fellow humans.  We showed one another empathy and compassion.  We valued personal sacrifice, and we valued one another, in common cause.

A quote comes to mind from another one of my heroes, Bobby Kennedy, as he addressed a crowd on the night of Martin Luther King’s assassination in 1968.  He said, quoting the ancient Greek playwright Aeschylus, “Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget, falls drop by drop upon the heart until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.”

Kennedy then delivered one of his best-remembered remarks: “What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence or lawlessness, but is love and wisdom, compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice towards those who still suffer within our country.”

Important words.

They make me consider how things have changed in our workplaces. When I was moving up in the business world, being a good leader meant being competitive, tough as nails and not letting down your guard around co-workers.

But those days are over. Those leadership values are no longer relevant, dog eat dog has been replaced by empathy.  In my personal experience, leading with empathy has made my organization not only more resilient and collaborative, but more productive.

But our powers for hope, love and empathy are constantly being tested.  We as leaders must affirm the conviction that love will conquer hate and hope will conquer fear.  And as change agents, we must remember that progress is not measured by a straight line. Incremental steps are important and praiseworthy. That’s what makes a good leader.

WEBINAR: 2023 NOD Employment Tracker™ | Tying Business Practices to HR Outcomes

Explore how the updated 2023 NOD Employment Tracker™ provides essential data to companies seeking to become more disability inclusive and how L’Oréal USA used this tool to advance their workplace inclusion initiatives.

Plus discover trends and correlations, derived from 200+ companies that participated in the Tracker last year, including the most important disability employment practices that lead to the strongest outcomes, insights on how corporate America is progressing along the disability employment maturity curve, and what critical gaps remain and how your company can successfully address them.


  • Nick Iadevaio, VP, Diversity & Inclusion, L’Oréal USA
  • Felicia M. Nurmsen, Managing Director, Employer Services, NOD

Why a separate Paralympics should end and a unified Olympic Games should begin

By Charles Catherine, Opinion contributor

In a pre-pandemic world we all would be talking about the joy and heartache that go with watching the world’s best athletes compete.

Many people are crushed that the Olympic Games are postponed for a year. For me, it is the Paralympic Games, originally scheduled to begin Aug. 24, that filled me with anticipation and now leaves me deflated.

I am blind and a Paralympic hopeful, training for years to qualify for the Tokyo games. I won’t know for some time if I make the team because the qualifying races were canceled because of COVID-19.

As I have time to reflect on the games, I can’t help but wonder if we really need this event. In some ways this separate competition feels like a sideshow, a reflection of a painful reality: we still think of disability as something other.

I have Paralympian friends who are world record holders and gold medalists, but they are not household names, and they often struggle even to find jobs.

The question I ask myself is whether it is time to merge the Paralympic and Olympic Games? Leading Paralympians, including six-time gold medalist David Weir, support the idea. In a time of so much discussion about equality, is it time to end the segregation of disabled athletes from their Olympic peers?

Logistics are an obstacle

There is a logistical argument against it. If we combine the two events, we would have 15,000 athletes and need a much larger Olympic village. Plus, the event would take longer to complete. Paradoxically, there would need to be a plan so that the Paralympics would not lose exposure. Otherwise, It is likely few if any disability events would enjoy prime time programming.

This would need to be a serious consideration. It makes me think of what André Malraux, activist and writer from my home country of France, said: “Without an audience, there are no heroes.”

Sponsors of the Olympics might say there is not the same interest in watching the games of  athletes with disabilities from around the world. I say they are wrong.

There is great interest in the games. The London 2012 Paralympics were a financial success. Organizers sold 2.72 million tickets, and 11.2 million people watched Channel 4 (the official broadcaster of the event in the UK) during its broadcast of the Paralympic opening ceremony. It was the channel’s biggest audience in a decade.

The Rio 2016 Paralympics numbers were not as great, but still sold 1.8 million tickets, which was slightly better than in Beijing in 2008 (1.7 million). These ticket sales show there is a market for this event, and potential sponsors know that with an estimated population of 1.3 billion worldwide, people with disabilities constitute an emerging market the size of China.

The International Olympic Committee, which represents able-bodied athletes, and the International Paralympic Committee have signed a memorandum of understanding that extends their cooperation to 2032, which could be altered if both organizations had the temerity to do so.

Let’s continue to champion inclusion

If we could find ways to overcome these obstacles, and organize an inclusive Olympic Games, it would send a powerful message.

Let’s not forget that when women joined the Olympics there needed to be changes, additional accommodations and more time allotted to the games. At the 1948 London Olympics for instance, there were only 4,104 athletes. Holding games with 11,238 athletes (as in Rio in 2016) would have seemed impossible.

When I compete in World Cup races, our event is usually right before the able-body athletes race. I get to socialize with my idols, experience them racing. In those precious moments, I feel like I am truly part of the national team, an elite athlete despite my disability. I believe that what is possible at the World Cup is also possible at the Olympics.

When we look back, we can see long historical forces leading us toward more inclusive societies; the Olympic Games are a window into this world. The inclusion of women, ethnic minorities and LGBTQ athletes teaches us something we can learn about athletes with disabilities.

Gertrude Ederle, Jesse Owens and Matthew Mitcham were all trailblazers in their own way. Tomorrow the likes of Paralympic athletes Melissa Stockwell, David Brown and Moran Samuel might have a chance to be part of this history. All they need is an opportunity.

Charles Catherine is special assistant to the president of the National Organization on Disability.

This article was originally published in USA Today.

VIDEO: Charter Communications’ Chairman and CEO Tom Rutledge Celebrates the ADA at 30

To celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, members of the NOD Corporate Leadership Council and sponsors of our Look Closer awareness campaign are sharing messages from their chief executive officers discussing why disability inclusion matters to their organizations.

To mark this historic milestone, hear from Charter Communications’ Chairman and CEO Tom Rutledge about how the ADA has helped our nation break down barriers.

Tom Rutledge, Charter Communications’ Chairman and CEO shares how disability inclusion can change lives. That’s why Charter is committed to fostering a welcoming workplace where employees with disabilities can succeed and grow, and providing accessible products and services that exceed customer expectations.

Charter Communications is a valued member of the NOD Corporate Leadership Council and a sponsor of our Look Closer awareness campaign. In April 2020, NOD welcomed Rhonda Crichlow, Senior Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer at Charter Communications, as the newest member of our board of directors.

Looking Back at NOD’s Networking Roundtable | “Driving Innovation through ERGs”

April 4th, 2019 | Hosted by L’Oréal USA

Today, 90 percent of the country’s Fortune 500 companies have ERGs. Many of these groups were founded as a response to discrimination, but in recent years, these groups have been increasingly recognized for their valuable contributions they bring to their employers, especially with regards to diversifying talent streams.

The NOD Corporate Leadership Council‘s Networking Roundtable, Driving Innovation through Employee Resource Groups, provided an in-depth look at businesses excelling at building disability inclusive cultures through their Employee Resource/Affinity Groups (ERGs/AGs).

  • The event, moderated by Karen Brown, featured opening remarks from NOD’s Carol Glazer, while L’Oréal USA’s Frédéric Rozé discussed his company’s commitment to workplace disability inclusion.
  • DiversityInc’s Shane Nelson dove into case studies from companies activating their ERGs to target new business opportunities.
  • Panelists, Cassie Liverance of L’Oréal, Laura Bailey from Capital One, John Sasso of EY, and Stephanie Magner-Tripp from New York Life, gave real life examples of how their companies’ ERGs are changing attitudes and actions from the inside.
  • Closing remarks were shared by L’Oréal USA’s Angela Guy and NOD’s Carol Glazer.


Welcome remarks by NOD President Carol Glazer

Welcome remarks by L’Oréal USA President & CEO Frédéric Rozé

Corporate Leadership Council Members: See more video and access exclusive resources in the Members’ Only Portal.

Not a member of the Council? Find out about the many benefits of joining today!



NOD Convening Discusses Activating Employee Resource Groups to Build Disability Inclusive Workplaces

L’Oréal USA Hosted the Networking Roundtable for the NOD Corporate Leadership Council, a Membership Group Promoting Best Practices in Disability Employment

NEW YORK (APRIL 5, 2019) – Last evening, the National Organization on Disability (NOD) convened its Corporate Leadership Council, a membership body comprised of 50+ companies committed to promoting disability inclusive workplaces, for a Networking Roundtable hosted by L’Oréal USA. The forward-thinking event, Driving Innovation through Employee Resource Groups, provided an in-depth look at businesses excelling at building disability inclusive cultures through their Employee Resource/Affinity Groups (ERGs/AGs). Today, 90 percent of the country’s Fortune 500 companies have ERGs. Many of these groups were founded as a response to discrimination, but in recent years, these groups have been increasingly recognized for their valuable contributions they bring to their employers, especially with regards to diversifying talent streams.

L’Oréal USA including President & CEO, Frédéric Rozé
L’Oréal USA including President & CEO, Frédéric Rozé

The evening featured speakers from L’Oréal USA including President & CEO, Frédéric Rozé, as well as Senior Vice President, Diversity and Inclusion, Angela Guy. In addition, there was a lively panel discussion featuring representatives from L’Oréal USA, Capital One, EY, and New York Life. Shane Nelson from DiversityInc also presented on best practices of ERGs.

Panelists seated on a stage, before a projected screen.
Panelists seated on stage

“I am thrilled that our Corporate Leadership Council members could come together for this exciting networking program,” said National Organization on Disability President Carol Glazer. “Disability ERGs are important for pushing employers to be more inclusive of people with disabilities, and they can also help businesses reach the $490 billion disability consumer market and the millions of unemployed people with disabilities in the communities in which we live, work and serve.”

Attendees seated in rows listening to panel
Attendees seated in rows listening to panel

“At L’Oréal, we believe that all abilities are beautiful, and while we have a lot more work to do, our results show that we are, indeed, ‘breaking the silence’ around disability 365 days a year,” said Angela Guy, Senior Vice President of Diversity & Inclusion at L’Oréal USA. “The National Organization on Disability helps to ensure that we’re all on the right path in meeting the needs of employees with disabilities, and that we’re leveraging the innovation, talent and creativity of individuals with disabilities in the workplace.”

DiversityInc's Shane Nelson + D&I Executive Karen Brown
DiversityInc’s Shane Nelson + D&I Executive Karen Brown

Glazer added, “We are grateful for the Corporate Leadership Council, the very heart of the National Organization on Disability. Our corporate partners distinguish themselves everyday as leaders in diversity and inclusion, and employers of choice for people with disabilities.”

Elaine Perez-Bell, ADP + Rachel Noiseux from Stanley Black & Decker
Elaine Perez-Bell, ADP + Rachel Noiseux from Stanley Black & Decker

Don’t Miss the next Corporate Leadership Council event! June 13, New York City | Executive Luncheon: Closing the ‘Trust Gap’. Not a member of the Corporate Leadership Council? Find out about the many benefits of joining today!

HR’s Guide to Interacting with Employees of All Abilities

“It’s a matter of becoming more aware of the people you’re with,” Felicia Nursmen of the National Organization on Disability said during a webinar.

AUTHOR Katie Clarey | PUBLISHED Feb. 13, 2019

Humans tend to form perceptions about people with disabilities based on their interactions with others who have disabilities, according to Felicia Nursmen, managing director of employer services at the National Organization on Disability. While experience can sometimes lend wisdom later on, it can also feed unconscious biases, Nursmen told attendees listening to a webinar she hosted Tuesday afternoon. Once those biases are in place, they may complicate relationships between people with and without disabilities, specifically in a professional context.

For the 96% of attendees who said they know someone who has a disability, this means they may have a little work to do in identifying their prejudices and correcting any misinformation. Most of the workforce in the U.S. will be in need of this, too, if that statistic holds up among the general population. To deal with these biases, it’s best to take a three-pronged approach, Nursmen recommended. “Recognize your own bias. Focus on people. And increase your exposure to bias,” she said. “What’s most important is that we ask the right questions and that we’re having the right conversations.”

Nursmen proposed anyone interacting with colleagues with disabilities take up an attitude of learning. “Don’t stop interacting with people because you’ve made a mistake or because you fear you’re going to make a mistake,” she said. “Learn from it.” From there, professionals can adhere to a couple key rules, add respectful language to their vocabularies and, finally, familiarize themselves with the best ways to interact with people according to the kind of disability they have.

The golden rules

There is one guideline everyone can follow when interacting with a person with a disability, regardless of what kind of disability the person may have: “Always ask before you assist and take the answer,” Nursmen said. “You do need to follow their lead and follow their wishes.” Nursmen said she was walking once with a colleague who had a mobility impairment and he tripped and fell. He said no when she asked if she could help him up, and for good reason — he knew how to get up without hurting himself, something she would have done had she grabbed his arm and tried to tug him up.

People shouldn’t assume they know how to help someone with a disability. They shouldn’t assume they understand someone’s disability, either, Nursmen cautioned attendees. “Never make assumptions,” she said. “It’s never appropriate in the workforce to ask if someone has a disability. It really isn’t our business in the workforce, in the workplace, what is happening with someone personally.”

In terms of compliance, this suggestion takes on more nuance. According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, an employer generally cannot ask someone whether they have a disability or inquire about the nature or severity of a disability. An employer can ask, however, if a person can perform the duties of a job with or without an accommodation and ask him or her to describe or how he or she would do the job.

Watch your language

When talking about about a person with a disability, it’s important not to define them by their disability. “What we tend to focus on now, and this really has been in the last five or 10 years, is using person-first language, which means the person comes before the disability in the description,” Nursmen said. Instead of calling someone a disabled person, say that he or she is a person with a disability.

There are a few exceptions to this rule. In general, people on the autism spectrum prefer identity-first language, according to Nursmen. This is true for people in the Deaf community as well. “We have a very strong and very proud Deaf culture in our country,” Nursmen said. “It is just important to be aware of that and be respectful.”

Nursmen allowed that there are some who will disagree with these guidelines. “We don’t want people to get caught up in the language of it,” she said. What’s more important is to know what not to say. “I don’t know of anyone who has ever had a positive experience being called retarded or a retard. We do not use that language any longer. It really is not acceptable.”

She noted a few more words and phrases to avoid. People have physical disabilities — they’re not “handicapped.” “This one can potentially be one of the most difficult because we still see the handicapped placard and handicapped signs,” she said. In the same vein, people are not “wheelchair-bound” — people use wheelchairs or are wheelchair users. Lastly, people have psychiatric disabilities, not mental illnesses, according to Nursmen.

Learning how to best interact with people with specific disabilities

Many people have difficulty interacting with someone with a disability because of fear, Nursmen said. Knowledge will allow people to overcome that fear. “It’s a matter of becoming more aware of the people you’re with,” Nursmen said. That said, people need to understand how to behave around people who have an array of disabilities. Here are Nursmen’s best tips to interacting with people who are deaf, who are blind, who have mobility impairments, speech impairments and cognitive disabilities or different learning styles.

  • When getting the attention of someone who is deaf or hard of hearing, tap the person on the shoulder, look them in the eye and speak clearly. Keep your hands away from your mouth as you talk. If the person is working with an interpreter, be sure to speak to the person and not the interpreter. If you’re having trouble communicating with someone and no interpreter is available, you can ask to use your phone as a temporary solution.
  • When approaching a person who is blind or visually impaired, make sure to speak as you approach. “Say your name, speaking in a normal tone,” Nursmen said. “If the person has a service dog, allow the dog to do its job.” When walking with that person, you can ask if he or she would like to take your arm. From there, that person will take the lead — follow as directed and give verbal alerts as to obstacles coming your way.
  • When working with someone who has a mobility impairment, make sure to think about accessibility when planning work outings, conference attendances and any other activities. And, Nursmen noted, if a colleague uses a wheelchair, never push it before asking or being asked to do so.
  • When interacting with someone who has a speech impairment, prioritize your own understanding. It may sound counterintuitive, but it’s respectful to the person speaking. “If you do not understand that person, make sure that you ask them to repeat themselves,” Nursmen said. This request communicates to the person that you value what he or she has to say.
  • When collaborating with someone who has a cognitive disability, have patience and be prepared to repeat information you may have already given out. “When completing forms or doing projects or working together on things, be patient, flexible and supportive,” Nursmen said. Try to think of different ways you can communicate, Nursmen suggested. Some people with cognitive disabilities will have no problem completing a task once given instructions depicted by pictures rather than written down on a piece of paper.

Bring NOD’s best-in-class Disability Etiquette and Awareness Training to your workplace. Just contact our Professional Services team at

Read on HR Dive

How To Have A Meaningful Conversation About Disability At Work

Nicole, who co-owns a salon

Nicole, who co-owns a salon in Newton, Massachusetts, says her learning disability is a strength that sets her apart. 

August 22, 2018 | Denise Brodey, Contributor

If you have a disability, you very quickly come to understand that it is an issue most people don’t open up about at work. Sure, talking about your experience with chronic fatigue syndrome, depression or a learning disability such as dyslexia might happen behind closed doors. But in a larger setting? It’s still taboo. To say the silence millions keep each day is stifling is an understatement. Many people describe it as feeling like their true self has been hijacked and replaced, at least during working hours. Hiding a disability does colleagues a disservice, too. Truth is, every time someone speaks up for people with disabilities in the workplace, particularly if they have lived experience, it has the potential to build trust, empathy, and engagement.

Advocates, role models, mentors—whatever the label, I know one thing for sure: the workplace needs many, many more to share their strengths. Unfortunately, only 3.2 percent of employees “self-identify” to their employer if they have an invisible disability, according to a National Organization on Disability study. As for people with visible disabilities advocating in the workplace? Well, you may not see as many as you should because, literally, they aren’t there. In 2017, 18.7 percent of persons with a disability were employed, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported. In contrast, the employment-population ratio for those without a disability was 65.7 percent.

Keep reading to get an idea of how organizations can start a real conversation not just about people with disabilities—but with them—in the workplace:

 — Consider The Value Of Peer Specialists.

Rob Walker, who runs the Massachusetts Department of Mental Health Office of Recovery and Empowerment, says programs that use peer specialists in addition to trained counselors and medical care, have been very successful. He’s hopeful that “younger adults, who seem to be much more accepting of their learning and mental health challenges” and have been offered curriculum on topics of mental health will help end workplace discrimination against people with disabilities. “It’s harder for older adults to admit they need help and you can see a generational divide on this issue,” says Walker. People who are open about their disabilities often become champions of workplace programs. Walker, for instance, talks openly about his diagnosis of bipolar disorder many years ago and says he shares his story often as part of his programming.

— Rethink Your Wellness Program To Make It More Visible Internally.

Some large organizations have been retooling the old ways of assisting employees with mental health issues and creating programs that go beyond telephone consultations or outside referrals for medical issues of concern in the workplace. American Express’s Healthy Minds program is one. “We have been doing this program for a long time. And from the beginning we knew it was key to reach out and educate management about the importance of our mental health programs, says Charles Lattarulo, Ph.D., director of Healthy Minds at American Express. “Through our discussions with senior leaders, they have come to understand how crucial it is that they lead the way in creating a safe, healthy space for our colleagues.” American Express offers on-site face-to-face counseling in addition to traditional services, such as telephone-based employee assistance programs. But it is the internal communication element of the program—asking key players inside the company to recognize and promote the value of destigmatizing mental health issues—that Lattarulo says is crucial. You can find case studies on workplace mental health programs, including the one at American Express, here. 

–Empower Colleagues To Help Each Other.

One way to build trust and open up a conversation is to offer courses such as Mental Health First Aid. The course is an eight-hour immersion in helping someone who may be experiencing a mental health or substance use challenge. Having taken the course, I can say, it’s a long day. But it is time very well spent. I now have it drilled into my mind how to get help for a colleague or friend who appears to be in crisis. A side benefit of taking the course? You’re walking the walk. By setting aside a day to learn about Mental Health First Aid you are showing others this is an issue that really matters to you. Getting the facts straight and sharing them is also empowering. You can learn more about the Americans with Disabilities Act here.

Sharing personal experiences, however, seem to make the most impact. Author Mandy Froehlich’s The Fire Within captures the stories of educators who have gone through trauma and taken strength from what they have learned. She says, “Organizations create a huge disconnect when they say they talk about the value of wellness but don’t show they truly value it.” In education, she told me, the newest thing is to suggest that teachers practice mindfulness.

“That’s just scratching the surface for social-emotional health for teachers who have experienced trauma,” says Froehlich, who is also the director of innovation and technology for a school district in Wisconsin. “We are often afraid of the ramifications of what we tell their colleagues. That’s not how it should be.”

— Talk Often About Your Strengths.

Audrey Bentley, a student at Michigan State University says, “People really do want to give you help if you ask for it.” Her story is one of four documented in Normal Isn’t Real, a short film that shares the experiences of successful people with learning and attention issues. Nicole Vaiani, a master colorist who owns her own salon in Massachusetts, says: “I learn differently. I learn by seeing and doing and it turns out I am better at my job than a lot of other people.” Her differences are her strength and when she talks about it, she isn’t bragging. She’s starting a crucial conversation about her ability, not her disability, which is the key to becoming an effective role model, advocate or mentor. Even if your colleagues don’t recognize it now, the evidence is clear, say economists, that a diverse workforce performs better.

Denise Brodey is a writer on mental health and disability. She is the author of The Elephant in the Playroom. 

Read on Forbes

Key Tactics to Promote Inclusion of Invisible Diversity Traits

Takeaways from the NOD Corporate Leadership Council Executive Luncheon

Harnessing the Power of Difference: Tactics to Promote Inclusion of Invisible Diversity Traits. Insights from the NOD Corporate Leadership Council’s Executive Luncheon “Bringing Our Whole Selves to Work”. 1. Set the tone from the top down; 2. Cultivate trust to boost disability self-ID rates; 3. Disclosure can reveal supportive networks; 4. Tackle stigma head on to succeed; 5. Get outside of your comfort zone; 6. Take action to advance a culture of authenticity.

On the 20th of June the National Organization on Disability held its Corporate Leadership Council executive luncheon titled “Bringing Our Whole Selves to Work:  Harnessing the Power of Difference by Uncovering Invisible Diversity Traits.”  Presented in partnership with The LGBTQ Community Center, representatives from over 45 companies attended this exclusive event that spotlighted how corporate cultures can welcome unseen diversity segments, like LGBT identities and non-apparent disabilities, such as mental illness. Sarah Mikhail, Executive Director of the LGBTQ center highlighted that “Sarah Mikhail, Executive Director of the LGBTQ center highlighted that “there is no such thing as a single because we do not live single issue lives.”  We are all a combination of many things which impact our daily living.

  • Set the tone from the top down

Panelists Nora Vele Executive Director, Global Diversity & Inclusion of Merck; Eric Mitchel Associate Vice President, Human Resources of AT&T; and James Mahoney Executive Director & Head of Autism at Work at JPMorgan Chase & Co., shared insights and leading practices to support employees with invisible diversity traits in the workplace. The panel encouraged self-identification and disclosure of disabilities by managers, supervisor and higher management as a way to inspire a safer environment for employees to also self-identify and request accommodations if necessary.  It has been proven that those whom disclose their disability to employers are more productive than employees that chose to mask their true selves.

  • Cultivate trust to boost disability self-ID rates

When asked what was being done within each organization to promote harnessing the power of difference while bringing your whole selves to work, Ms. Vele stated that in creating a culture of inclusion for people with disabilities, Merck began with their employee resource group (ERG) and focused on eight aspects—one being the importance of self-identification.  Merck found by using infographics they were able to increase the amount of employees whom chose to self-identify.  Merck also created “A Day in the Life of an Employee” to help promote awareness of a fellow employees discussing their disabilities while filming them at work and home.  Ms. Vele shares that companies become more enlightened when employees are listened to and feel cared for—and companies can reap increased productivity when employees can free up ‘emotional real estate’ by disclosing their full identities at work.

  • Disclosure can reveal supportive networks

Carol Glazer, President of the National Organization on Disability engaged in a fireside chat with Lisa Lucchese, Global Head of External Reporting Operations & Co-Executive Sponsor of Access Ability, Mid-Atlantic, JPMorgan Chase & Co.  Ms. Lucchese shared her experiences and challenges navigating understanding and disclosing her mental health diagnosis in the workplace. Ms. Lucchesse makes clear that because someone has a diagnosis it doesn’t mean it’s easier, it just means they have more information to work with [to understand the supports needed to succeed].”  It was through focusing on her career that she was able to feel normal. “The harder we work the more normal we feel,” she contends.  When asked how disclosure helped her as a worker, she shared that now she can talk to people about her own experiences and her own realizations. Emphasizing the importance of being true to yourself, she shared that when faced with hardship, an opportunity to make the biggest changes in one’s life may also presents itself.  “Having a network encourages you, and honestly, you want to do more.”  Bringing your whole self to work creates creativity, enhances ability, builds resiliency and develops empathy; it’s a winning formula.

  • Tackle stigma head on to succeed

Eric Mitchell spoke about how AT&T branded their health insurance as “Bringing Your Healthy Self to Work.”  They believe that not disclosing a disability causes a stress—that’s largely avoidable, so they’ve launched a campaign for employees to sign a pledge, take a photo and share their disability as a way to help stamp out the stigma of mental illness.  In addition, they have created a webcast entitled, “Everything is not fine:  I may look o.k. but you don’t know what is going on under the surface,” to inspire and promote authenticity around mental health. A year later a second version followed: “Everything is still not fine” took on a more pronounced stance on ensuring employees were comfortable disclosing a mental illness—which proved to be even more successful.  Sharing personal stories is a powerful tactic, so finding ways bring your organization’s stories to life can encourage employees to be authentic regarding their disability.

  • Get outside of your comfort zone

James Mahoney of JPMorgan Chase & Co. spoke about their innovative program to hire candidates with autism, which touts a high success rate in terms of productivity and integration.  Regarding their aptitude in visual detail, these new hires with autism were equal in quality to their peers and 48 percent faster.  “Today we are at 95 people in a dozen locations and in 25 different roles,” states Mr. Mahoney speaking JPMorgan Chase & Co.’s employees who are on the autism spectrum.  The firm has designed, along with their office of disability inclusion, new techniques for this cohort in terms of recruitment, onboarding, and integration well up to retirement.  Mr. Mahoney stresses the importance of thinking outside of one’s comfort zone with the understanding that it is healthy for people to challenge your perspective.

  • Take action to advance a culture of authenticity

“After all is said and done, let there be more done then said,” shared moderator Karen Brown, Global Diversity & Inclusion Executive & Advisor. This insightful quote was a rallying cry for all to take a proactive approach to improving the culture of inclusion within the workforce.  Ms. Brown spoke on the importance of being authentic, saying: “authenticity is a daily practice of letting go of who we think we should be or who we’re supposed to be.”

The executive luncheon sought to chart solutions to common corporate challenges, providing the attendees with useful tools to promote diversity, inclusion, and harness the power of difference within their own companies. Ultimately, trust and authenticity are key especially in bringing your company’s message around disability inclusion and mental wellness to life.

Don’t miss the next discussion—join the NOD Corporate Leadership Council today. Learn more at

Tips for Building Your Disability Friendly Brand: Key Takeaways from the NOD Corporate Leadership Council’s April Networking Luncheon

Representatives from over 35 companies attended the NOD Corporate Leadership Council’s April networking luncheon, “Fostering Engagement, Attracting Diverse Talent: The Value of a Disability Inclusive Brand.” EY, Charter Communications, and The Hershey Company shared some of their strategies for building disability-friendly brands, ranging from sensory-friendly events and fostering service dogs on the corporate campus, to integrating universal design principles into consumer products and embedding people with disabilities across the product design process. Each of these companies has realized returns on their investments in branding their workplaces as disability friendly, including increased rates of disability self-identification, broader appeal in the consumer marketplace, and improved employee engagement.

Tips for Building Your Disability Friendly Brand 4 Key Takeaways from Corporate Leaders 1. Engage your employees with disabilities in developing and testing products and services. 2. Look for creative opportunities to engage all of your employees in disability inclusion. 3. Share employee stories with your entire workforce. 4. Put your brand behind causes. | Discover more insights from the NOD Corporate Leadership Council’s Networking Luncheon.

We culled key takeaways from the exclusive Council event that you can use to signal that your company is committed to disability inclusion to employees, jobseekers, and consumers alike:

  • Engage your employees with disabilities in developing and testing products and services. Peter Brown, Vice President of Design for Charter Communications said, “We bake accessibility into everything you do, just like baking a blueberry muffin. It’s hard to add the blueberries after you baked the muffin.” At Charter, they are embedding people with disabilities across their design team, ensuring that products are being tested and monitored for accessibility at every step of the process. This also spurs team-wide innovation in their work to build accessible products and improve quality of life for the people with disabilities that use them.

Peter Brown, Charter Communications' Vice President of Design, speaking at NOD's Spring Networking Luncheon

  • Look for creative opportunities to engage all of your employees in disability inclusion. Alicia Petross, Vice President of Diversity, Inclusion & Engagement for The Hershey Company, found just such an opportunity when she met Hachi: a Chocolate Labrador puppy training to be a service dog. A Hershey employee was fostering Hachi, and asked if she could bring the puppy to work. Alicia saw having Hachi on the Hershey campus – and other dogs like him – as a chance to build community and enhance Hershey’s disability inclusive culture. Since implementing the program in partnership with Susquehanna Service Dogs, the company’s disability self-identification rates have risen 29%, indicating increases in employee engagement and trust in the company.Photo of panelists from left to right: David O’Brien, Partner, Americas Brand, Marketing and Communications for EY, Peter Brown, Vice President of Design for Charter Communications, Alicia Petross, Vice President of Diversity, Inclusion & Engagement for The Hershey Company, and Sheri Klein from The Ad Council
  • Share employee stories with your entire workforce. David O’Brien, Partner, Americas Brand, Marketing and Communications for EY, discussed how having employees – including senior management – share their personal stories, has created an inclusive and empowering environment where employees can feel comfortable bringing their whole selves to work. EY shared a video with Council members featuring a non-binary, transgender employee who is also on the autism spectrum relating how important acceptance at work is to her. Similarly, PwC showed a video of an employee who uses a wheelchair talking about how his unique life experiences have enabled him to be a more productive and accomplished team member. Visible storytelling, like these examples, goes a long way toward building trust and fostering pride across the workforce. O’Brien related that “…as the story [in the video] has gotten told, our own people have shown remarkable pride in this. They’re interested. And then they are so prideful of the fact they work for a company like this.”Attendees at the Council Networking Luncheon seated in the foreground in discussion.
  • Put your brand behind causes. The panel was moderated by Sheri Klein from The Ad Council. Sheri shared a case study of the Love Has No Labels anti-bias campaign, which showed that 63% of employees felt good knowing they work for a company that supports the campaign. Visibility matters, and just as employees feel proud to work for inclusive companies, consumers also care deeply about how and where they spend their money.

With this in mind, think about what a campaign highlighting your company’s commitment to hiring people with disabilities could do for your employee engagement. Find out more about the NOD Compact Awareness Campaign.

Plus, don’t miss the next NOD Corporate Leadership Council event! Join us on September 25th in the Washington, D.C. area for our Annual Forum + Leading Disability Employers Dinner: “New Frontiers in Disability Employment.