Meeting of the Federal Exchange on Employment & Disability (FEED)
September 19, 2019
U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
Michael Murray, Director, Employer Policy Team, U.S. Department of Labor Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP): Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to EEOC and welcome to the collaboration between the Department of Labor, Office of Personnel Management and EEOC – the Federal Exchange on Employment and Disability (FEED). This is our last meeting of fiscal year 2019, so this is an opportunity for us to present information to everyone at once. I know you have recently gathered in a lot of teams to meet as well. And there will be an opportunity at the end of the meeting to network. There’s a huge cake out there — Anupa has been baking all night (Laughter). We welcome you and thank you for this great fiscal year. We have had four great meetings this year, and we’ll continue our efforts next year. I also want to take the time to introduce our key partner in the FEED initiative, from the Department of Labor Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP), Jennifer Sheehy. Everybody, please welcome her. (Applause).
Jennifer Sheehy, Deputy Assistant Secretary, ODEP: Hello everyone, welcome. And I’m sorry I can’t do the shout outs like Michael Murray (Laughter), as you guys all get to hear him every time we meet. So, first, thank you. Michael is not just a wonderful work partner, but a colleague and a friend. We are grateful for everyone we’ve met in this amazing collaboration. We love the friends that we’ve made, and it just makes our work more fun because — is our work hard? Sometimes it can be pretty hard. And we really appreciate you all being here and those on the phone who are listening in. We want to know what you’re hearing, what you’re seeing, what you’re experiencing, what your successes are, what your changes are, what your challenges are, so we can work with our partners, EEOC and OPM, to really help you and help people with disabilities that want to be successful as employees in the Federal Government.
I’m also super excited that we’re just on the verge of National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM). The “Right Talent, Right Now” is the theme – it’s the theme that came out a few months ago, so we can all prepare. And what that really reflects is the good economy, the technology that’s available, the people that want to work and are ready to work now in the federal sector, work in the private sector and the jobs that are available in our community. We want to connect the dots for people who really want to work. I’m also excited because our private sector colleagues are here that we work with, JPMorgan Chase and EY, and we’ll hear from them a little bit later. The thing I love about them being here is they tell you what it’s like to run a Disability Inclusion Program for fast-paced private sector businesses, big businesses, super successful businesses. And we want to replicate that in the Federal Government when it works for us, too.
I mean, I know we have different regulations and requirements, but we still have super smart, dedicated people with great work ethic, I work with them every single day, and there’s no reason that we can’t hold the standard high and incorporate disability practices like the most successful businesses in the private sector. I’m so excited that we’ll be able to hear from our wonderful colleagues in the private sector today. I’ll turn it back over the Dexter and we’ll get started. (Applause).
Dexter Brooks, Associate Director, Office of Federal Operations, U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC): Thank you, Jennifer! So, as it says on the agenda, I want to provide an update on the FEED work groups that we’ve established. Over the summer we actually did what we promised to do — to really make this a community of practice. A lot of the work should be done by the folks that are out there every day with the experience, learning different ways in which to manage disability programs. So, this year we started work groups to call out best practices in a variety of areas. We have a work group on Hiring Processes, including outreach and recruitment, championed by Natalie (Veeney) from OPM, who’s right here. Akinyemi Banjo from ODEP is the contact for the Reasonable Accommodations and Personal Assistant Services work group, and Anupa (Iyer) from EEOC is the champion/liaison for the Accessible Technology work group. We also have a work group on Workforce Assessment and Barrier Analysis, and Michael Murray and I are the champions of that workgroup. Then the last one is the Partnership with External Organizations work group, which I am the liaison for as well. Now I will turn it back over to Michael.
Michael Murray: Thank you once again, everyone, for coming and thank you to the EARN team. They’ve helped make us successful and supported us through all of this, which is a really big deal. Cornell will be taking over the next iteration of the EARN grant, so you’ll see some people that will stay the same and some leaving. Let’s clap for Brett. (Applause).
Our first speaker is Lori Golden. She’s the Abilities Strategy Leader at EY. She’s a Harvard graduate who has sat on the board of Disability:IN. She’s a huge thought leader in this space. You’re a veteran in this field, Lori. Pretty much if it is being done in the disability space, Lori has either started it or thought it was a good idea and is now trying it. Or she has tried it and said, “Not for us, it doesn’t work for us.” So, it is a real honor to have Lori up here. We’re honored that she could be a part of the conversation today.
Our other speaker today will be Beth Daly-Torres, who is with JPMorgan Chase. She is the Vice President and Program Manager of the Office of Disability Inclusion there. She consults with various lines of business and stakeholders globally on diversity strategies. I always love that we see in our partners that they work all over the globe to increase the employment of people with disabilities. Beth has a Masters in Comparative Political Science with a focus on public policy and social movement, and that says something about what we can learn from her as well today. And on top of that, JPMorgan is a leader in this space. They’re not just looking at things like how to have employees with disabilities and comply with the law, but they’re saying, “Let’s go above and beyond” and saying things like, “Every ATM should be accessible to everybody.” Can I hear a clap on that? (Applause). That’s the kind of thought leadership that leads the industry to do the best thing. We are honored to have you guys here today so we can talk about and learn from the private sector.
We’ve (FEED) led the way in the federal sector, such as with personal assistance programs, centralized accommodation programs, etc. — we’ve led the way with those things, and we’ve seen them be picked up (in the Federal Government). But, I also think on the flipside of that, we have learned a lot from you guys (Lori and Beth). So, today is all about you all. I’ve got four questions that I’m going to ask, and it’s going to feel kind of like an interview. Then I’ll open it up to questions from the audience.
So, my first question is, what is your role and how was it created?
Lori Golden, Abilities Strategy Leader, EY: Wow, that’s a tough one. (Laughter). So, as Michael told you, I work in global strategies. My role is to develop strategies to build an environment that enables people of all abilities. We know that we want people of all physical, cognitive, sensory, motor, psychological, emotional and neurological abilities to feel comfortable and to do the best work they can, and also to build a culture that feels inclusive of everybody so that all our people feel a real sense of belonging. I work, like Beth, across lines of business and business development, but spend a lot of my time with our infrastructure groups. So, things like location and facilities management, marketing and communications, recruiting, learning organizations, and on and on, not only to ensure that we recruit a diverse slate of people with diverse abilities, but also that we’re creating environments and policies and processes that enable everybody to feel good and to thrive.
A good part of my time I happily spend sharing and learning from others and collaborating with clients like JPMorgan Chase, Beth and I have known each other for years and we see each other as “partners in crime.” That’s a good part of what I deal with and a big part of my work. You know, the value of this work for my organization is that we get to collaborate with other organizations, not just enterprise, but also the Federal Government and federal agencies. We’ve worked with ODEP for quite a bit, years and years, and a lot of other agencies, to exchange and build that relationship, and that makes everybody better.
Over the past few years, I’ve increasingly spent my time on innovative ways to recruit talented people of all abilities. I do this with our recruiting organization, but also aligned with groups working outside of our recruiting organization. And I am finding areas of opportunity to better support our people. I’ll talk about it later, but this resulted in a pretty comprehensive and very effective mental health education and awareness program. So, I spend a lot of my time on client collaboration, on innovation, particularly in the recruiting area, and constantly identifying opportunities to do better for our people and make an impact. Our strategic purpose as an organization is to build a better world for people. Not just to be as good as we can, but to be as good as we can be in concert with clients, other employers, with the government, nonprofits, etc., so we all get better together and create more opportunities for everybody who wants to work, whatever ability. I feel like I need to define that. (Laughter).
Michael Murray: That’s great. Really quickly, how was the role created? Because I think that’s really vital for all of us as we’re creating these programs and figuring out how to elevate our positions within federal agencies.
Lori Golden: Thank you, that’s a great question. My role began about 12 years ago and was originally a project to see whether people with disabilities may be an underleveraged talent pool for infrastructure roles, like mine. And what we found very, very quickly, is lots of people with disabilities try out all kinds of roles and all kinds of functions, but there were gaps in what we were doing to support them. The first one was, we didn’t have a formal accommodations policy — that was 12 years ago. Now we weren’t running into problems, but our HR people in the field were kind of handling it each time and going to our legal department and saying, “How do I handle this?” And that’s not effective.
And it certainly involved some risk of unequal treatment. So, we quickly addressed that. Then it was really about finding out how we were serving our people and if there were opportunities to do better. After that, for about six years, I became the go-to. So, unlike a lot of people in my role, I actually had the experience, like some of you, of being the expert, and I wasn’t the expert, but I felt like the expert, playing the accommodations expert and consulting HR people on accommodations across America, about 350 times a year.
Michael Murray: And now I have that same question for Beth – what is your role and how did it get created? And if you forget either one, I will remind you. (Laughter).
Beth Daly-Torres, Vice President and Program Manager, Office for Disability Inclusion, JPMorgan Chase: So, I think I’ve been with JPMorgan Chase probably about 20 years, and the last 9 years of my career I have been in the diversity and inclusion group. A few years ago, I think it was 2013 or 2014, I was given this project. We had an Employee Resource Group (ERG) for employees with disabilities. I was the liaison for several ERGs, and this one was called “Ability for Our People with Disabilities.” So, two things were happening at the same time; as liaison I was to consult, detect problems, and try to solve them. I very quickly figured out that I was consistently hearing things like “We have problems, I think we need this,” etc., and that these things were not being resolved. People were told, “You’re talking to the wrong person” or “There’s no policy.” I would find employees playing HR roles oftentimes, and they really helped their colleagues get a problem through the system. But, I thought, that’s not right, that’s putting everyone in the wrong position.
I was finally asked to step in and do my own general assessment of the organization and see if I could figure out how we should approach disability. And one thing was really enlightening; I was getting insight into people trying to get accommodations requests resolved and how they were getting stuck. I found that oftentimes there were things that were across departments, so it was not a vertical, but a horizontal issue, trying to get support. I asked, “What happens if we just pull together a bunch of volunteers in all these different functions, put some shoulder into it, really expect results and see how much we could resolve? Could we actually resolve some of these issues?” I did that for two reasons; one, I really wanted to see how much could we actually resolve. My gut already told me, as all of you know, that you can’t just put shoulder into it, right? So, you can’t really just get buy-in or money or resources, although I’m thrilled to get resources and the dedication from people, and especially the technology.
So, we did this for a year. And we basically figured out that if you’re not actually part of goals and objectives that are written or on a calendar, they won’t get done. People are interested, they really want to do it, but if it’s not a priority, work doesn’t get done because it needs to be prioritized, and it might be prioritized at different levels by different functions. So, it was just not getting the attention it needed to build the horizontal bridge.
After about a year, I got the answer to this issue: we needed dedicated resources and a dedicated office, not just real resources, but real focus. We do nothing else but this. And, as was mentioned earlier, this is employee work. We also have a customer-facing group that does very similar work to what I’m talking about now. And we have a whole other group that deals with nonprofits. So, we work with nonprofits, for instance, on things like grantmaking, the actual managing of the organizations, the business tools, etc., and they engage the employees. That’s really how my role was, because I knew we had to have dedicated resources. The good thing is, we wanted to get someone at a fairly senior level. When it ultimately came about, we had someone who was managing recruiting, too, so it was one person and two program managers. There’s my role, and my colleague who primarily focuses on recruiting.
And I’m coming out of the diversity and inclusion world and a lot of my focus is on pipelines. “What about career development?”– that’s still my question. We brought on 4,000 people, what happens now? That’s not as much detail as Lori gave you in terms of what I do day-to-day, but my job is really working on strategy. We’re still figuring out some other things, there were some big projects last year where we actually set up a centralized accommodations group. We figured out it takes three hours to do this (the accommodations process) every time there’s a new issue. We would get someone on the phone who had never done this before, so we’d figure out how to do it. Six months later, they would call again and it was like, “You’ve never done this before?” So, we really figured out we need to get people who do nothing but this. But this was a shift, and we’ll talk about this a little bit later. The role really came about because the company embraced this concept of “moments that matter.” There are certain moments you just can’t leave up to the employee. There are certain types of things and experiences in the employee’s life where we can’t say, “Okay, this is self-service, you go figure it out.” You need a centralized group and funding, whatever that might be, and then you work on it.
Michael Murray: I love that. I want to point out three things really quickly that could be translated to the federal space that I want to make sure you heard. The first one is you’ve got a focus on internal employees, which is what a lot of us do here. But also, the programs that you guys provide, you’re focusing on people with disabilities to make sure they can engage with them. It is very similar in the federal space — we want to make sure that, you know, whatever service we’re offering and whatever the purpose is, people with disabilities can engage. And then the third thing is, you’re engaging with nonprofits and, as the former COO of a nonprofit who got a lot of money from JPMorgan, thank you. (Laughter). But when we’re thinking about how to engage and expand, how do we ensure that the grantees and contractors we’re working with also have all of that same commitment to disabilities that you guys have internally? So, I really appreciate your thoughts. We have best practices related to what you guys just said.
So, I think what makes sense now is, let’s look at what are the one or two successes that you’re the most proud of and why?
Lori Golden: One of the initiatives that began about three years ago that’s really blossomed, really made a difference, is what we call our “Neurodiversity Center of Excellence.” Those are centers, almost like shared services centers, but they’re at a high-level, where we bring in folks with autism or other neurodiverse conditions. And they may not even have relevant work experience, but we train them. So, we have an individual working in complex data analytics, robotics, cyber security, artificial intelligence, etc. — some of the hard science, demanding technology areas that are out there today where we have very strong internal demand by everyone, including the Federal Government. So, we’re not only providing opportunities for people, almost all of whom were unemployed or underemployed, and changing lives, but what we’ve created for our organization, in essence, a driver of agility.
Markets are changing because of technology, and we’re growing by the day. There aren’t enough people to go around, and the content is shifting. So, we are taking people who have the ability and very strong desire, not necessarily the experience and the skill, and concentrating in a very focused way on giving them the skills and creating environments in which they can be successful. And we’re constantly refining that. We really have a heavy appetite and excitement for continual learning and picking up these things.
So, we find this is a group of people who have a real need. They have a skill and constantly keep up with our clients demand and with our own internal demand. They’ve also changed the culture. There’s much greater awareness, not just of neurodiversity, but of the continuum of abilities which is something that people talk about, something that resonates with so many of our people because almost everybody has a neighbor, family member or friend who’s impacted by some neurodiverse condition. It also created significant value that works across all our lines of business, including our internal operations. These employees are doing projects much more quickly and at a potentially much higher quality level than neurotypical employees, and it really shows how they’ve exceeded expectations. And what’s really strong is the recognition that we don’t always need to look at traditional boxes, to look for experience in relevant fields or a college education, which as a professional services firm, we felt we should require. So, this really opened us up in a significant way, changed people’s lives, our employees are proud, and it builds for the future and for significantly engaged leaders. We’re doing an event next month on “Neurodiversity at Home and Work” for our people, we are inviting clients and the Global Chairman is speaking at that event. That’s a real big deal to have our Global Chairman come to speak at an internal event. I don’t know, I could go on and on. You may not have too much time, Beth. Let me turn it over to you.
Beth Daly-Torres: It’s okay. Actual though, I’m probably going to throw us off too instead of answering the question.
Michael Murray: I support that, go on. (Laughter).
Beth Daly-Torres: You were just talking about it as well, Lori – incorporating people with different abilities into the workplaces where you’re starting to see a paradigm shift. You were talking about neurodiversity, shifting the way we’re thinking about recruiting and how we hire talent. As we think about how to bring different types of people into our workplace, the biggest paradigm shift that I can think of was working with our nonprofit partners and really shifting the thinking around, I think. We’ve had conversations with them before concerning agencies that actually place people with disabilities in jobs, and oftentimes the conversation goes something like, “How many slots do you have open? How many people are you hiring? I have ten people for you!” So, we say, “What are they interested in? What are they looking for? Would you like to know about the job?” (Laughter). Right? It’s a paradigm shift because it’s not like, “Hey, we have this person, you have ten slots!” It comes down to, like Lori is saying, a lot more than just fulfillment. It’s a paradigm shift of me having more conversations with them and thinking differently, and asking about what these people with disabilities want to do and what their skillsets are. And that wasn’t happening before, so that wasn’t a common conversation. On our side, it wasn’t a common conversation to say, “Let’s step back and really look at the types of jobs we have.” To Lori’s point, we ask things like, “Do we need this employee to have a college education? Can people only come from Harvard and Princeton?” It’s a disruption of thought.
Lori Golden: I think that’s one of the successes I would note, that shifting of the paradigm. One important thing I want to add is that our organizations collaborate really closely together. We were on what’s called the Autism @ Work Employer Roundtable, which you don’t pay anything to be part of. When a company joins this roundtable, we make a pledge that we’re going to basically open the doors to what we do and how we do it so that other employers of any kind, in any sector, including our own competitors, can learn. We’re teaching them what we do. And we’ve done that because we share our commitment to moving the needle on employment and opening up opportunities and opening up the way organizations think about access, and we’ve had that kind of collaboration for about three years now. There were four founders, and there are now 17 members and some 25 companies who have joined. And we have companies waiting to join because we require that they have a program successfully in operation for a year or more before they can join because we want it to be a proven thing. I just wanted to add that because I think that’s an important practice in the private sector, that’s exactly what you’re doing here in the government, sharing with one another. And it’s one of the coolest things we get to do.
Beth Daly Torres: Yes, it’s not something that you come and you can just join. (Laughter). Something like this doesn’t happen often, but it is happening in this space, which I think is really good and productive.
Michael Murray: That’s great. I realize we actually have a Q&A after this. So, we actually are doing fairly well on time. And so, if you guys wanted to talk about your other successes, you definitely can, because I’m excited about this. (Laughter).
Lori Golden: So, another initiative that we’ve done which is interesting is something we (EY and JPMorgan) both call our Resource Network on Accessibility, we came to it independently — great minds think alike.
Michael Murray: This is your employer resource group?
Lori Golden: We call them “professional networks,” but it’s our employee resource group, yes. One of the opportunities this group identified was to do a better job helping employees who are struggling with their own, or friends or family members, mental health issues. This is a huge issue today. This is something that we hit on three or four years ago, and sadly we had a few tragedies in some of our offices, and realized that those tragedies not only impacted people who worked closely with these individuals, but also the whole office was grief stricken and felt a sense of responsibility.
Everybody felt like “Would I, could I, should I have done something differently? Should I have known?” We said, “Wait a minute, people want to help one another. They want to do the right thing, they just don’t know how.” Some people may think there’s nothing scarier than mental health and substance abuse, some people are really afraid of it. So how do we take on this real, complex, scary topic with a lot of legal implications? That’s also scary. How do we break it down and demystify it and give people something they can do to help one another? We began a program piloted in different offices and it was very successful. That grew into really a great three-part, very comprehensive initiative called “We Care,” which is all about educating colleagues on how to support colleagues (with mental health or substance abuse issues).
Now we’re careful, we put a lot of parameters around it. We don’t want our people to diagnose, we don’t want them to problem solve, as they are not mental health experts. So, what we do is educate them on leaving room for having a conversation, a conversation that can start with them saying to a colleague, “Hey, I noticed this, is everything okay?” and listening and then educating them on resources that are available to them, about reaching out to external resources or community resources. And we’ve made a huge, huge difference. We’ve run events in 26 different offices, these are all volunteer run, and about 1,300 people have participated. Now, we’re a professional services firm, we usually bill for our time. When people show up for a non-mandatory event, it’s a really big commitment, and these are 90-minute events.
But our conversations are a lot more open now. People are asking, “Are you okay?” They want to know what’s going on with one another, and more people are getting help. We’ve had a 48 percent increase in mental health related call to our Employee Assistance Program since running this program. So, it’s had a tremendous impact on a range of emotional help programs. We also appoint full-time “mindfulness leaders” and do mindfulness training, in addition to having our people that continue to help develop better apps for health and hygiene, nutrition and fitness and mental health care as well.
Beth Daly-Torres: That was really impressive. (Laughter).
Michael Murray: Both of you guys are impressive.
Beth Daly-Torres: So, I’ll be quick. One of the things that I’m really impressed with right now is that we are receiving a lot of reach-outs from clients that have an interest in becoming more disability inclusive; clients who want to focus on disability products and how they can make their workplaces more disability inclusive. We recently had someone form the UN who asked, “How can we be more disability inclusive?” We had a series of conversations about how to structure their office, lessons learned, how to do things differently, etc. and they’ve actually launched their disability inclusion initiative. It was a great partnership to have the conversations and plant the seed.
Michael Murray: That’s great. And I’ll just spell out two things. One, based off of some of the comments that you had about around skills and experiences, and two, realizing that some folks may need a little bit more time or support to get to a particular place, but then can contribute fully, how many of us in the room are utilizing the ability within Schedule A to have some flexibility with your qualification standards? That can be a big tool and learning opportunity, as we (federal agencies) don’t have as much flexibility as you guys (the private sector) have, and we never will on that particular piece. But when it comes to some of the qualification standards that are required when you hire someone through Schedule A, some of those have flexibility in them. So for example, if the qualification standards say three years of experience in XYZ is required, and someone has two years or one year of experience, but they’re being hired through Schedule A, there’s an opportunity to still bring them in. So, we can utilize that flexibility. And I know I’d love to see that throughout government, and I think that it’s something that can be a really powerful tool.
The other thing I’m so excited about is mental health, because I also have a psychiatric disability. And learning from Lori, from EY, from JPMorgan Chase, we have developed a toolkit through EARN that I want everybody to go check out, we’re calling it the Mental Health Toolkit and it includes the “Four A’s of a Mental Health-Friendly Workplace,” which are awareness, accommodations, assistance and access. Awareness, doing those kind of awareness programs. Accommodations, we are already engaging in this in the Federal Government and I think we’re doing a good job. Assistance, engaging people in employee assistance programs, and having folks engaged in them. Access, ensuring access to health care and other services that are essential. We base this off of the research and off of the great practices that you guys do. So, thank you.
Beth Daly-Torres: Can I add something? One of the things that we found that we had to do was a little bit of a listening tour with our services. Initially, we were looking to review (the services), and we asked things like, “How do you respond to a question about finding a doctor?” and they said, “We provide a list of names.” And at first when we started doing this, we found out that we didn’t like the answers we were hearing. It’s really important that you’re listening, and to check on people. That’s not the time you want someone in desperate need of help to just call a number, right? We ended up going to all new vendors. And secondly, one of the things that we focus on is the stories, right? We had to have a big campaign, we had people share their stories in a supportive way. And it’s really taken off — we’ve had people raising their hands all over the place to tell their stories.
Michael Murray: That’s a huge help. In the little bit of time we have left, I want to open it up because folks will have questions. So, let’s do this in maybe three minute as piece. What are the two to three key takeaways that you want to share with this group?
Lori Golden: We both have a lot, I’m sure. (Laughter). No surprise, storytelling is the most powerful way to get people to care, we do that in our own mental health initiative as well. That’s the most powerful way to get people to respond, to get people to understand. But one thing that we find is important is to have leaders telling stories, and those stories don’t have to be around their own disability. Sometimes they will be, but sometimes they’ll be around a friend, family member or colleague. It can be a reaction to (their own) disability because not everybody is ready to tell their story. And one of the things we did was for a very, very large client, we had a chairman speaking. We asked him to start out with personal story, we didn’t know what he was going to say, we didn’t know he had one (connected to disability). It turned out that his father had an apparent disability, and he told this incredibly poignant story from when he was a child and he first realized that the world viewed his dad as someone who was “handicapped,” and he was really encouraging about his dad. And not only about the story, but also in telling the story, recalling it, that was enough for him. He became a very passionate champion for our efforts, which started a whole cycle. So, you never really know. One thing we do in our We Care program is they are always led by the office managing partner, the highest-level leader in that office. That’s a requirement because we want to make that statement. And we also require that the office managing partners start out with a personal story. We think it poises them to think, or them to command and poise themselves to model and create a reaction for the audience.
The other thing about storytelling is that it’s really important to be diverse in your story. So, if people tend to focus on leaders, it’s important to have those stories, but the absolute best story, we didn’t know anything about it. We had a summer intern who posted a story on LinkedIn, and I found out about it from my colleague who asked, “Did you see this?” This is a guy who has a disability, a non-native English speaker, Hispanic, a wheelchair user. He told an incredibly poignant story out of nowhere on LinkedIn about the wonderful experience he had (as an intern) and the job he had accepted. His is one of the stories we want to tell, not just the Chairman’s.
The other thing I will say is to integrate and embed disability in all processes. People want to focus a lot on training, and training is a piece of it. But we look at everything we do, and we figure out where do I get a disability connection and where we can model the inclusive behavior? So, we developed protocols, for example, for how to lead inclusive conference calls and inclusive meetings, things that all of you know, like avoiding the use of acronyms, introducing yourself before you speak, because someone may not see you or may be on the phone or may not place the voice. Easy, quick things that people don’t always think about. We created guidelines for how we plan more inclusive events, including our own activities, to make sure that they are activities that everybody, every kind of activity and ability level, can comfortably participate in. So, we look throughout our processes and find pockets of opportunity, I guess what you call memorable moments, where we can model our We Care live education event, and they are all captioned. Sometimes we only have 40 people in a room. We don’t know who needs the captioning, but we want people to see it. We want people to know that this is important to us and something you should do. And also, that is really pretty easy and pretty inexpensive when you’re doing it remotely. We demonstrate with a whole toolkit on how to do the process, so we’re educating people in the office on how they can do it, too.
Beth Daly-Torres: So here are two or three key takeaways, things I can share that I learned along the way. One is, if you have the opportunity, because this is hard work, tie into a similar initiative, even if it has nothing to do with what you’re doing, but there’s a similar pattern. So, a good example would be, Lori – we think you guys probably have some sort of horizonal process for cyber security? It’s probably like the last thing you do when you develop a program, you buy a program, whatever it is, it’s probably all the way across the lifecycle.
So that’s a good example, where you find an initiative that looks sort of like what you’re trying to establish. In that case, it would be something that you’re doing across every piece of your organizational model. So, for example, because we had so many technologies for the ordering system, like when we order business cards, I couldn’t figure out how to get into the system to order a pencil, forget about ordering an accommodation. There is actually a program going on where someone in supplier services saw what was happening, and now they’re working on streamlining the accessibility request process. So, you see what they’re doing, think “his problem is my problem,” even if it’s not your problem, exactly. That’s one of the number one things.
Number two would be the whole idea of partnering together, leveraging scale and scope. I don’t know if you guys have had this experience with vendors, but it happens all the time, although not as much now, thank goodness. But it happens where you go to a vendor, someone who sells to everyone, they’re big vendors, with a big piece of software, and you say, “Let me make this accessible” and they ask “What does that mean?” of they say, “Wow, no one’s ever asked me that before!” And I would ask, “How is that possible? You’re a Fortune 500 company!” I know there’s some subcontractors in there, so I can’t be the only person asking this question, some of the people in this room are asking as well. So, this is one of the things we need time to do with all big companies we work with, and there are a lot of people who know what I mean. So, there’s got to be a way for certain types of issues to bond together and have scale. Tell them, “You can’t do it that way anymore, it’s just the way we’re working now.”
So lastly, along those lines, in terms of partnering, I think EARN is really, really spectacular at this. A challenge for many of us has to do with bringing people with disabilities through the door. We’re required to track. But then what? We keep losing the data. Then, the same way we might be able to track people who are in the work programs, we need to be asking, “How are people doing? Are they leaving? Are they staying? What does retention or development look like?” So, I think there’s a really good opportunity in those types of partnerships.
Michael Murray: Can I just thank you for the shout-out? (Laughter). Can I just say that we feel like we’re learning from you? So, if you feel like you’re learning from us, that’s great, because we built a resource we developed based off of your desire to push forward an initiative that was based off of the Schedule A hiring initiative. This resource would help companies use pre-employment disability related inquiries, in order to build that into their system for every applicant so that they can elevate folks, as we’ve been doing for a while.
So we’re going to open it up for some questions, both from online and out in the audience. I just have to highlight one thing really quickly. Challenge your leaders by asking, “What’s your story?” and getting them to connect. I love leveraging scale and scope. You guys have been so great and so I’m very excited to see the other questions that come out of this discussion. I will start calling on you, because I know you guys have questions.
But before the questions in the audience, I want to quickly bring up question that came in online. In terms of the question revolving around sustainability, in terms of building a program in the Federal Government, and the private sector, you have leadership changes, you have economic changes, etc., so how do you maintain a program in light of those types of challenges? Because I think across sectors, we see that challenge.
Lori Golden: I’ll take the first crack. I think the first thing I say is, it can’t be a program. It has to be a function and it has to be embedded within your culture. So, there are discrete functions – there is a digital accessibility initiative going on, that is a functional area that I engage with and there are always these functional specialists who are saying that they need constant testing and constant assessments, as new technologies are coming out all the time. So, it has to be embedded in how you view your business, but it also needs to be embedded in your processes. So, the obvious thing — and again, I’m just using digital accessibility as an example — is to have this live within a technology organization. We have a web page where anybody producing any materials for our organization — be it a PowerPoint or an official brochure or an ad — can go to see what we call our “visual identity system.” As I’m sure you do, we have rules and regulations for how we represent ourselves.
Just this week we had a whole accessibility section debut on the branding zone with an accessible PowerPoint template, with a whole page of do’s and don’ts for the general users, not for technology professionals, but for the people like me, reminding me that if I have a graphic, we can alt tag it, and if I can’t do that for some reason, I can add a caption underneath. I need to have meaningful headings, and logical progression. You all know this, you don’t need me to tell you. That is one of the ways we have embedded accessibility into our instructional design strategies, we have trained all our instructional designers, not just the website developers, in accessibility and the procurement standards that we expect from all our vendors for any digitally enabled product, to bring us something accessible. And if they can’t, and sometimes they can’t for a period of time, it’s just not expedient, that’s the reality, then we hold their feet to the fire by the stuff we’re talking about. We ask them, “What’s your plan to make it accessible? How long is it going to take? Tell us.” And then meanwhile, we’ll work on some proactive work arounds and communicate those work arounds to everybody, not just those who raise their hands.
Beth Daly-Torres: I think everything she said is really important. Like, actually modifying policies, and having standards to do that, it really important. You have to have roles, not people, because there are a lot of people with very vibrant personalities in an organization, but if the culture shifts, someone leaves, then everything is like, “What just happened? (Laughter). And so, you can’t focus on people, you need to modify roles. One of the other things I have to say, because it happens in corporations as well, is that heads of HR can be really important, but you can still rebel if need be. You can do things like work with a university to get the technology, get the IT programs to actually include accessibility. Like an accessibility certificate, add this to the degree for digital accessibility, all of a sudden we start bringing in technologists and they have much more background, and they start asking questions, and then you start to get a ground swell from within. So, we can do things like that as well, including things at a more granular level. Other than that, I do agree with Lori, you have to embed whatever you’re doing, you have to embed it in you culture, because some people are on autopilot in the way they do things, asking “Why would we do that?” and that’s why this is very important.
Audience Question: Can you give us some examples of how you have gotten the stories, when you tell the stories, the way you got people to tell them? Maybe anonymously for people who are not comfortable telling them out in the open? What’s one of the examples of this, because when they share those stories, that’s a valuable tool.
Beth Daly-Torres: So, we actually do vet the questions we ask, and we ask people to raise their hands. There is natural communication first and it goes through filters. We’ve had complications, like we actually have a conversation and ask, “Are you comfortable with this going live?” We have a dedicated website with the Office of Disabilities, and there are anonymous stories, but for us we think it’s important for people to tell their stories as long as they’re comfortable doing so, and you’re asking people to do so.
Lori Golden: We do a lot of what Beth said, but when we initially introduced the idea, like when we came out with the We Care Program, we wanted stories and we were not sure about exposure, what people were ready for. We did not want to put our people necessarily in the position of “outing” themselves in a room full of colleagues. So, we had the stories submitted through an email mailbox. We did it anonymously, and we didn’t want any identifying information, not even years with the firm or anything like that, and then we went through and we cleaned them up and generalized them a little bit. I reviewed them and the General Counsel’s office reviewed them. The stories were then told in front of people from that office, in front of their actual peers, but they were read by people from the planning committee without knowing whose stories they were. So, it was like a play reading, and the stories were shared anonymously. So, we had all the power of them being their actual colleagues’ stories, but they didn’t know who the colleague was, who was telling the story. It opened up conversations, because you could say, “That’s my story.” It opened up conversations, but it gave them a choice. That is one approach that may be used to start the dialogue.
Vance Wilkerson, Disability Program Manager, U.S. Department of Labor: You kind of answered some of the questions I had about the importance of having a diverse and inclusive workforce. We also understand the importance of getting leadership buy-in from the top. My question is more about how you’re breaking in those leaders that don’t necessarily automatically see the importance of this. When there’s resistance, how do you engage them and get buy-in? You kind of addressed it a bit, but can you talk a little more about that?
Beth Daly-Torres: So, that’s a complex question. We are actually going with my manager, Jim, to the Midwest because we have our leadership meetings for each region across the United States, which help organize the leadership of a particular region. We rolled out a version of Cornell’s etiquette training, and we made it ADA compliant. We think about it a little bit differently. What we’ve done is we translate that to in-person training, and we are now going to take diversity and inclusion on the road to the middle slice of management. (Laughter). I mean, we did a number of different things, we made sure we removed some things, you don’t want editors being like, “I would love to hire this person, but I think they’re this or that” – we didn’t want that. So, we looked at how can we remove all the different types of disincentives that we think might exist. And then try to have them start doing like a road show of sorts, to bring the training to community managers individually, encouraged by their local management. And so that is one of the things that we started to identify by geographical location. We’re going to hit all of the local managers with the in-person training, then train the trainer. I think there’s a lot of interest that we’re building with this. In some cases, we won’t get all the managers until they have a candidate that has a disability and they don’t know what to do. We also have to make it available online, and that’s why we’re doing these “Just In Time” trainings.
Lori Golden: I have a few more things to add, sorry, I always have more to add. (Laugher). Another strategy is to use influencers, and sometimes those influencers are peers, and sometimes those influencers are leaders. Also, you can’t just go to a leader with a couple of asks. I went to one leader and I was met with soft no’s, passive resistance, that kind of thing, you know, the person pretty much did everything but say no, the answer was, “I don’t buy it.” I’m engaging another leader who is friends with him, who’s very on board, and they’re developing him through strategy, and we do that sometimes.
Last year, we formed something called our Partner Advisory Council. We have the partners at the highest level of leadership in the firm and we are in a partnership, and over time, we kept in touch with partners who were really energized around sometimes just specific disability issues, like they had a child with autism, for example, or they may have had mental health issues. And we have contact with them and formed an advisory council of partners. And we use those partners to go to their groups and exert influence. Sometimes it’s formal. Sometimes they say, “Our team will operate in such-and-such way.” And sometimes it’s informal, and it’s through modeling, and it’s through setting expectations. But we find pockets of influence, and sometimes the pockets of influence — we all know they’re informal influencer who has no formal authority or power, but they’re people that you know, kind of everybody looks at as a leader, and we engage those people. So, in addition to formal processes and formal policies and leadership, an influence strategy is a very effective way to do this.
Dexter Brooks: That’s great. We have a couple more questions. We have about 50 folks online and I have combined a couple of questions they are asking. One question is do your firms and companies address contractors, and do you have any specific relationships with Voc Rehab in terms of identifying candidates?
Lori Golden: We hire contractors all the time. I think the question was do we influence our contractors? Yeah. It’s absolutely within our regular code of conduct to do this. You know, it is an explicit expectation for all our vendors that they will create opportunities for a number of different groups, we list a number of diverse groups, including people with disabilities. And in terms of working with Voc Rehab, yes, we do this all the time. In fact, many of the candidates for our Neurodiversity Centers of Excellence come through Voc Rehab. And we use all different sources as well.
Beth Daly-Torres: My answer is basically the same. We also have done a lot of work to tighten the language, because we find that sometimes for a variety of reasons this is need for the contract. We really put some enforcement around language in our contracts for vendors. We also had to make sure on the backend that if we were asking a vendor to do something, that all our contracts say that if they deliver something that’s digital, they need to make sure it’s accessibility. They better make sure they have some way on their end to actually meet the code in the contract, because I think that’s not always what we find. What we find is sometimes we initially did not have the right tests done. We get the data application they delivered, they told us that it was accessible, so it better be accessible. We always ask, “Does anyone know if it’s accessible? Have we seen it work?” So we structure this for the vendors as well.
Michael Murray: I love that. Something else that you guys do is engage disability-owned businesses as vendors. And we didn’t get this question specifically, but maybe let’s have a quick discussion about that.
Lori Golden: So, gosh, what is it, five or six years ago, we worked with the American Association of People with Disabilities and Disability:IN to develop the Disability Certification Program. One of our senior managers chaired the Certification Committee, and we were proactively involved in the process every year, where we did a series of education sessions for vendors from underrepresented minorities, like disability-owned businesses. And they participated in the education sessions which certainly kind of teaches them what our other big company processes are and how to prepare for those processes. We hope to add scholarships, three or four a year, to business schools and to the proprietors of disability-owned businesses as well. And we work with them very closely in a number of ways and very aggressively try to track our progress. For the disability conference we wore t-shirts that talked about our digital accessibility effort, and they were created by a disability-owned business, sorry, not a disability-owned business, but a business whose employees are almost all people with autism. And frankly, I’m trying not to mention the name. But we were very pleased to be at the disability conference wearing shirts we had especially created with what we call our “open doors” message, our message around what we call “everyday accessibility” and that were created by a business that employed, or was started specifically to employ, people with disabilities.
Beth Daly-Torres: We do the same thing. At our conference, I had the wonderful opportunity of delivering a $100,000 check. They do a big thing where it’s like “Ahh!” We delivered the check, but we also spend a lot of time and energy managing resources and trying to nurture vendors that are disability-owned businesses.
Michael Murray: Can I ask a quick 30-second response question? So, one of the things that we do in government as well, this will be the last question, is engage different kinds of tools to analyze how we’re doing disability employment, including our self-ID numbers. But we also engage with the Federal Employment Viewpoint Survey. I would be interested to hear about some of the tools, very quickly, that you engage with, such as the Disability Equality Index (DEI). Tell us about the internal survey tools you use and the self-ID numbers at your organization.
Beth Daly-Torres: So, we do the DEI — we had at one point also partnered with Cornell on their survey. Our biggest data source for self-ID data would be our EOS, we were asking demographic questions which allowed us to build programs from the data. Lori, that’s a good point, I noted I didn’t want to use acronyms. EOS is the employee opinion survey. That is a rich, rich source of data. Today if you have anything like that, I don’t know if you can ask them or you’re allowed to do that. That’s an amazing source of data, so we have that data, and that’s a really important source. So, get that data. I’ve seen a little bit of data as of now, and then we figure out how to track and monitor those programs and that data.
Lori Golden: We have the same story. We do surveys every year and a deep dive every other year. Those are global. We ask demographic questions, which are optional, there’s a catch to them. So, we correlate the demographic responses to those employee engagement measures. We’re also a founding partner for the Disability Equality Index and we also do the Disability Employment Tracker, which the National Organization on Disability (NOD) produces. I think Lori’s organization uses that as well. And we also monitor a number of other measures related to awareness and engagement. I’m sure you have membership in our network. Now we have people who show up at events with stories gathered and we’re constantly building out the list of what I will call “softer” metrics, and those data points. So, it’s a constant process, and it’s good to take a look at different kinds of quantitative and qualitative sources of information.
Beth Daly-Torres: I didn’t mention that we, I, actually keep track on a daily basis of the number of accommodations that happen, the types of accommodations and which ones take longer, which take a shorter amount of time, the money we’re spending, etc., just to figure out like where our particular pain points are, to paint the real picture. We actually doubled this from last year. We set up a centralized accommodation fund in response to last year. So, it was set up in October of last year, it hasn’t even been a full year quite yet, and we’re at a little over a 100 percent increase from all of last year. We’ll probably end up at 150 percent increase.
Michael Murray: That is awesome! I’m going to read back some of the things that you guys said. You said:
- Build programs on quantitative and qualitative data.
- Engage disability-owned businesses.
- Create a vendor code of conduct and opportunities for people with disabilities.
- Develop an influencer strategy.
- Do a road show to remove disincentives.
- Own your stories.
- It’s about roles, not about people.
- It’s not about programs, it’s about function.
And that’s just one page, I have like 15 pages. Can we give these guys as big round of applause? (Applause).
Thank you for the partnership. So, we want to turn it over to one of our key partners. He’s closing for me, Brett Sheats.
Brett Sheats: I want to thank everyone for coming, those on the phone who were not able to join in person, but the ability for you to join us from all across the country and the world wherever you may be, we’re glad that we can have you join us and be a part of this event.
I want to mention a couple of things. First off, when we talked about what we we’re going to do for the FEED meeting, Michael and I asked each other, “Who do we invite for this?” Actually we did a moonshot — Lori and Beth were the first two people we reached out to in the entire country. (Applause). And yeah, we were doing something right. We can’t thank you both enough for coming. And the number of programs and ideas that were shared today, that’s what the whole point, for all of us here and all of joining us remotely to spark some ideas and say, “Hey, I think we can do that. I think we can do something like that.” Or if you’re having a problem, we can help you by providing a little bit of a different insight and perspective from the sort of speakers we normally have. But I think that makes it all the more valuable. I hope it’s something that people continue to do on an every once in a while basis. There are so many issues within the Federal Government that we concentrate on. They will always be there. We’ll always be recruiting. But this private sector perspective and ideas can only help what we do in the Federal Government, the largest employer in the nation. So, I think it’s extremely valuable. And I hope everybody appreciates it. I know I absolutely did.
As Michael said, I just wanted to quickly reflect, just for a moment on FEED. The first FEED meeting, tell me if I get this right, was December 5, 2016. This makes this our eighth or ninth session, as we do this quarterly. The first one was held at the Access Board here in DC, in a big room, and we were so happy and so grateful that we continuously were able to keep this going, that we’ve had so much participation from all the different federal agencies and offices. We have had questions and participation panelists from all across the federal sector, and we’re very appreciative of that. I remember when the idea for creating FEED first came up, during our workgroup meetings, Dexter, Natalie and everyone there. I thought “Boy, I’m surprised the doesn’t already exist,” because this is one of the first times I interacted with the federal sector. My experience was in the private sector. So, I’m really glad it exists now.
I think it’s important that we share the stories of EARN. The Viscardi Center is very proud, as the stewards of EARN, to be an integral part of what EARN does for the federal sector and the public sector. One incredibly important part of this group, she does stuff 95 percent of the time behind the scenes, and I’d really like to recognize her, is Diana Zeitzer. Thank you, Diana. She keeps it going. She keeps our heads on straight, and this group would not run as seamlessly and flawlessly without her. So, thank you, Diana, for all you’ve done, we really appreciate it. I hope you continue to keep working on it.
I’m going to end with this. Some of you know, Mike mentioned it very quickly at the beginning of the meeting, I am a veteran. I retired from the military on May 21, 2005. I planned to enlist for four years, I got there in May of 2001. They asked, “Where do you want to go?” I said, “I’m going to Alaska.” I wanted to fish and ski for four years, I thought that sounded great. (Laughter). It kind of worked out, but after September 2001, my idea of what the military looked like changed drastically. And a lot of my friends and I went to different units. I certainly made many friends from my time in Afghanistan and Iraq. We spent a year on the Afghanistan/Pakistan border in a place called Post, which is beautiful, it’s in the mountains, and we did what we needed to do.
A lot of my friends came back with injuries and illnesses that were service-related. They developed them while they were in the military, and they run the gamut of what folks are dealing with now. A lot of the folks that I was in Afghanistan with came back with things you deal with in terms of post-traumatic stress or traumatic brain injury, it could be chronic pain in the neck or back, or it could be anxiety, trouble sleeping, depression, those sorts of things, everything I just listed. And you’ll think of some of the wounds you would see from stories on the news of IEDs, amputees or burns or things like that, mobility issues, and those things are obviously apparent. But what I think we all have talked about, my friends who are veterans and have an injury or illness, is that when it happens to you, when you realize you’re going to be dealing with these issues, is you think about a new way of being, a new perception of yourself or a new perception of what you’re capable of doing, what’s possible for you in the world. You think back to how veterans in the previous conflicts were treated, how did they integrate back into the workplace? And that’s a checkered past.
Never in a million years would I ever have thought that there would be a group in the Federal Government, many who are doing this as a secondary duty, volunteers, who come together to make sure that their workplace in the Federal Government is open to not just veterans, but all people with disabilities. And never in a million years, because I certainly didn’t know, it wasn’t something I ever really thought of, did I think that these companies, banks, consulting companies, etc., that are big, big, they make money (laughter), would be looking at bringing in people with disabilities as part of a diverse group that makes better decisions and helps the bottom line. And that still kind of blows my mind in the most wonderful way.
And what Lori and Beth do, what their teams do, the commitment that they’ve made to a diverse workplace that includes people with disabilities, and the commitment that you all have also made, the commitment that Anupa, Natalie and Dexter have made to include people with disabilities in the Federal Government to create roles, rules and laws to ensure that that inclusiveness happens, is incredible.
And it’s something that I know that made my colleagues from the military and many of the people that I’ve worked with over the last four and a half years appreciate it. So, I just want to thank you for coming. I want to encourage you guys to please keep coming. You know, there will be a “new me” here next time, but that’s the least of all, this is all about the people that sit out in those chairs. It’s not about the people not in those chairs, it’s about you guys. This group will continue to be successful if you come, and tell your colleagues about FEED. Thank you very much. (Applause).
Michael Murray: Before we go, I want to say again, Brett you’ve done a phenomenal job as EARN’s national project director, you’ve done so much for us, so many of our initiatives are successful because you were there, engaged as the center of the putting all the different pieces together, dealing with us when we’re not so easy. And again, when we’re really great, you are coming with expertise and a willingness to roll up your sleeves and do whatever needs to be done. You would always come in and say, “Just tell me what needs to be done, because I’m going to do everything I can to make it happen.” And so, we’ve been very lucky to have you, a warrior with an incredible pedigree, maybe not in Alaska, (laughter), as the national project director for EARN. What he will do next will continue to blow the roof off of things. He will continue to do really amazing things and have a positive impact.
Dexter Brooks: Thank you, everyone, this concludes our meeting. We still have time, a few minutes, to have an open time for networking or whatever you want to call it. There’s food and refreshments out there for folks who are here. Folks that are remote, we will ship you your snack. (Laughter). Just wait, it will get there by 5:00. (Laughter). But we really appreciate all the work that’s been done in the community this year. We look forward to the most successful year of full employment, because we are engaged, folks are working on fabulous projects, and we look forward to the next meeting in the first quarter of the new fiscal year. Thank you, take care. (Applause).
(End of Meeting)