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How Disability Inclusion Builds Sustainable Companies

By Jill Houghton, President & CEO, Disability:IN

As the country grapples with a pandemic, a racial equality movement and now, civil unrest, business leaders yearn to get back on the road to stability—and fast. This year, CEOs and investors are expected to intensify their focus on the “S” of ESG activities (environmental, social and governance investing), according to the latest Edelman Trust Barometer report.

In particular, leading companies want to accelerate a culture of inclusion across race, gender, sexual orientation and other identities so they can lead sustainable and resilient businesses. And their leaders are taking action—from diversifying board composition to expanding targeted talent acquisition.

People with disabilities are included in these efforts. After all, disability inclusion in the workplace isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s also good for business.

First, companies that champion disability inclusion significantly outperform their peers, earning as much as 28 percent higher revenue, double the net income and 30 percent higher economic profit margins, according to a 2018 report from Accenture, in partnership with Disability:IN and the American Association of People with Disabilities.

Second, people with disabilities are customers, too. They comprise 60 million Americans—and anyone can join this group at any time. As a segment, they represent the third-largest market in the U.S., after Hispanics and African Americans. The discretionary income for working age persons with disabilities is $21 billion—greater than that of the African American and Hispanic segments combined. 

Third, says Julie Sweet, CEO of Accenture, disability inclusion is great for a company’s culture, innovation and growth.  “Disability inclusion makes us better as a company and I think the most talented people in the world want to be at companies that are inclusive,” Sweet said during an interview at the 2020 Disability:IN conference.

Sweet joins 47 other CEOs and a growing investor coalition representing $2.8 billion in assets that are calling on companies to advance disability inclusion, and for their leaders to drive companies aligned with corporate values and meaningful purpose. CEOs from Walmart, Voya Financial, Microsoft and more have joined together to reach out to other CEOs to promote the cause in a joint letter.

To be sure, disability inclusion goes beyond hiring. It includes contracting with disability-owned business enterprises, creating accessible tools and technology for all, and demonstrating to investors how they are inclusive to people with disabilities.

Rodney Martin, CEO of Voya Financial, is one of the first CEOs to join the coalition and is leveraging the company’s investment power by asking CEOs to demonstrate their commitment to inclusivity for people with disabilities. “It’s no surprise that being inclusive of people with disabilities is increasingly important to investors, legislators, regulators, and society overall,” he said. Martin and other CEOs recently participated in a video calling on action for disability inclusion.

The pandemic has brought a sense of urgency as it threatens to erase decades of job gains for this group, even as the U.S. just marked the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The labor force participation rate for people with disabilities is twice as low as people without disabilities (33.2% vs. 75.7% in December nTide report). Providing meaningful employment for this group in the face of COVID epitomizes social purpose.

One aspect of hiring a person with a disability that’s unique is their ability to adapt. “Think about it. People with disabilities conquer hurdles every day that other folks might never consider. They navigate a world that isn’t necessarily built for them, and they do so by applying a combination of creativity, agility, resilience, perseverance and willingness to experiment,” said Mike Sievert, CEO of T-Mobile on a LinkedIn post.

Building a disability inclusion roadmap isn’t as daunting as it seems. In fact, several organizations have made it easy. At Disability:IN we offer an unbiased and confidential tool, the Disability Equality Index (DEI), that helps companies benchmark their efforts and accelerate measurable, tangible actions towards disability inclusion and equality across six areas: Culture and Leadership, Enterprise-Wide Access, Employment Practices, Community Engagement, Supplier Diversity and non-U.S. Operations.

Fortune 1000s, or any company with more than 500 full-time employees, can use the DEI to analyze areas of improvement, gain industry data and analysis, connect with industry peers, and finally receive public recognition if they have earned a top score (80 or above).

Some highlights from the DEI annual report:

  • 89% of businesses have external recruitment efforts in place that are specifically geared toward hiring individuals with disabilities.
  • 60% of participating businesses are tracking accommodations metrics. This is an increase from just 53% in 2019.
  • Just 25% of businesses have company-wide disability-focused goals in place for supplier diversity and inclusion.

Over 247 corporations have utilized the DEI to benchmark their disability inclusion efforts in 2020. To get involved, register for the Disability Equality Index here.

After a challenging year for so many companies, few would argue that opportunities to deliver improved business performance are now more important than ever. Demonstrating a commitment to disability inclusion and equality to a group that includes one out of four adults would seem an obvious choice for any CEO. We believe every CEO should work towards this cause like never before.

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