Originally published in WorldatWork

Employers are continuing to expand their total rewards offerings to attract, engage and retain top-performing employees. A key element of this is the increase in diversity and inclusion initiatives, as 65 percent of employers deployed this in 2019, according to WorldatWork’s “2019 Inventory of Total Rewards Programs and Practices Survey.”

An often overlooked group in these diversity and inclusion initiatives are people with disabilities, said Mari-Anne Kehler, a partner and chief marketing and strategy officer at GHJ. Kehler noted that many organizations already have employees with disabilities at their disposal, but don’t account for them in their D&I efforts because they are unaware of their disability.

“One of the things I found most interesting, individuals with disabilities are already baked into most company’s numbers, they just don’t know it,” Kehler said. “According to the Center of Disease Control, one in four U.S. adults has a disability. But, because of some of the stigmas attached to what that could mean for people’s careers, what it could mean for employers’ concern around health-care costs and so forth, a lot of people don’t self-identify.”

A way to solve for this, Kehler said, is to foster an environment that is accommodating to people with disabilities, which will lead to more transparency during the hiring and onboarding process. Kehler said this starts with expanding your talent pool during recruiting and identifying during the interview and onboarding process ways that the organization can help someone be successful in a role based on their disability.

Technology is a crucial part of this, as it lends to a more flexible work schedule if it’s difficult for a prospective employee to commute to and from work, among other advantages.

“It gives people access to information where they may have been excluded previously,” Kehler said. “Technology allows us to leverage learning and development in more democratic ways. All kinds of learning is available to us to increase our skills so it levels the playing field.”

Ultimately, expanding your talent pool to include people with disabilities not only enhances your diversity and inclusion initiatives, Kehler said, it just makes good business sense.

“People with disabilities tend to be really strong problem solvers and innovative, because you kind of have to be,” Kehler said. “If you’ve had to problem solve and develop coping skills based on a particular disability, you will find that these are people who can usually come up with some pretty cool solutions to some pretty tough problems. So, I would advocate for when companies are defining what it means to be diverse that they make sure the disability community is right there near the top of the list with other types of categories of people they include in that definition.”

Mari Anne Kehler WEBSITE Standing

Mari-Anne Kehler

Mari-Anne Kehler, CDP, is a member of GHJ’s Executive Committee and leads firm growth strategy, especially in relation to business development and marketing. She is also Strategist for GHJ Foundation, GHJ’s vehicle for purposeful and proactive giving to the community, and Global Leader, Client…Learn More