I believe that inclusion leads to innovation, and that by fostering a work culture respectful of individual differences—including disabilities—organizations benefit from varied perspectives on how to confront challenges and achieve success. And I know I’m not alone in this belief, because many of today’s most successful companies proudly deem inclusion to be a core corporate value. They’re stronger for it.
That’s why, I particularly like this year’s National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) theme: A Strong Workforce is an Inclusive Workforce: What Can YOU Do? This theme, announced last week to help organizations plan in advance for NDEAM in October, truly encapsulates what most highly regarded business leaders have long known—diverse organizations have a strategic advantage over homogenous ones.
Speaking at the National Diversity Forum held last August as part of the Office of Disability Employment Policy’s Add Us In initiative, Eric Peterson, Diversity and Inclusion Manager at the Society for Human Resource Management, illustrated this principle very clearly. He said that if ten people are sitting around a conference table trying to solve a difficult problem, and all of those people look the same, act the same and have the same basic educational and career background, each will probably have the same idea for a solution—one that any of them could have figured out on their own. Maybe it would be the right solution, maybe not. Now, if those 10 people each brought to that table differing experiences and circumstances, they’ll likely arrive at a solution that not one of them could have determined individually. And more often than not, that solution would be stronger.
Disability is an essential perspective to have at that table. Put simply, America’s economic success requires us to capitalize on the talents of all segments of the population, and the responsibility for making that happen must be shared. There is something everyone CAN do.
Employers can foster workplaces welcoming to all qualified employees and potential employees. People with disabilities can understand the intrinsic value of work and their role in our economic success. Youth with disabilities can grow up with the expectation of employment, and parents, educators and other adults can strengthen this expectation by cultivating a clear vision of work and community participation.
As the leader of an organization, I’ll always choose the solution that represents an amalgam of opinions and insights rather than the one that approaches the problem from only one angle. That’s because an inclusive workforce is a stronger workforce. And it is an essential step toward a stronger, better America, one where every person is recognized for his or her accomplishments—that should be our goal every day of every month.
Kathy Martinez is Assistant Secretary for Disability Employment Policy.