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December 2017

Strategies for a more diverse workplace

Experts gathered in October to discuss effective strategies to boost diversity and inclusion in the workplace during the ABA’s observation of National Disability Employment Awareness Month. 

The panel of experts – from the legal offices of Accenture LLP, Ernst & Young LLP and AT&T Services, Inc. – were featured at the program, “Persons with Disabilities Driving Innovation in the Workplace,” sponsored by the ABA Commission on Disability Rights and ABA Diversity Council.

The panel included:

  • Moderator Deepinder (Deepa) K. Gorava, staff attorney, Disability Rights Project, Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs;

  • Dan Ellerman, senior manager, Global Persons with Disabilities Program, lead, Accenture LLP;

  • Lori Golden, abilities strategy leader, Ernst & Young LLP; and

  • Eric Mitchell, assistant vice president, diversity & inclusion, AT&T Services, Inc.

Gorava, who is blind, said she has been able to attract a more diverse client base and teach her coworkers about best practices in accessibility issues.  She emphasized that people with diverse abilities bring important and unique perspectives that can greatly benefit the workplace.

So how do organizations attract – and retain – more people with disabilities? The panel shared their knowledge.

It starts with recruitment

Mitchell said that AT&T has made it a priority to seek diverse individuals.

One way the company attracts diversity is through the application process, he said. On its application website, Careers without Limits, AT&T features diverse employee stories and pictures of employees with visible disabilities. It also includes a message to potential candidates that if they need assistance with the application process, they can email and request accommodations.

According to Mitchell, AT&T also has a very inclusive hiring process. “We create a connection very early on,” he said.

Recently, the company had a pilot internship program in Dallas where it brought in a group of freshman interns with autism.

“We try to have a relationship with people we would eventually want to bring into the company,” Mitchell added.  “We’re already looking to see how we can expand the program for the next intern cycle.”

Mitchell said that the company’s video, “We Speak Inclusion,” further explains AT&T’s commitment to diversity and inclusion.

The right kind of workplace

Ellerman outlined what organizations can do to become more inclusive and engaging, starting with these:

  • Inclusive leadership, including providing candid feedback and an environment that says it’s OK to take risks.  Accenture provides programs that explore emotional intelligence and bias training, among other efforts, he said.

  • Disclosure training: Make resources available within the company to ensure employees become top performers.

  • Signals of support: Ensure employees know you are going to support them if they disclose a disability.

Ellerman also emphasized that employees should have role models with disabilities who are executives or senior team members. He said employees in leadership at Accenture are “open about their disability.”

“They’ll say, 'it’s OK, you can get to a senior-level executive [position] being someone with a disability within Accenture',” Ellerman said.

He said that it’s vital for employees to see people in positions of leadership because it provides a visible “pathway” to success.

Also, establishing community resource groups for employees can be impactful. Ellerman said globally Accenture has about 7,000 allies in its autism support group and about 6,000 mental health allies.

Fostering advancement

Golden rounded out the discussion by highlighting ways to retain employees with disabilities. She said her organization is not “satisfied” with just retaining employees with disabilities, but “we want people to move up and grow.”

At Ernst & Young, Golden said everyone is assigned a counselor, a personal career coach who is trained to give honest and critical feedback that they will be held accountable for in the process. The counselor is a level above you, but is your “ally” to help you navigate your career goals, she said.

“We take a pause and meet with our counselor and map out where it is we think we want to go next, and what skills, experiences and connections we’ll need to get there,” Golden said, noting that the duos meet every 60 days.

And everyone is trained to provide “gold-standard” feedback,” she emphasized.  “It’s really meaningful, impactful and brave – rather than ‘safe’ feedback.”

Golden said there is a tendency to be “overly kind” to people with a disability and not give them the “critical feedback they need to know where they need to improve.”

According to Golden, everyone at Ernst is rated on how they give feedback and how they develop peers.

“Hire the best people and then be purposeful in how you help them develop and grow so that they can reach their fullest potential — that’s how you leverage your investment in your people,” Golden said.

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