Meeting of the Federal Exchange on Employment & Disability (FEED)
September 19, 2019
U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
Michael Murray, Director of the Employer Policy Team for the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP), opened the meeting and welcomed all participants. He noted that this would be the last FEED meeting of fiscal year 2019. Mr. Murray then introduced Jennifer Sheehy, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor for Disability Employment Policy.
Ms. Sheehy also welcomed all participants to the meeting and thanked Mr. Murray for his leadership. She stated that she and the FEED partners want to know what FEED members are hearing, seeing and experiencing and to learn about their agency’s successes and challenges so they can determine how to help participants ensure people with disabilities are fully included in the Federal Government.
Ms. Sheehy noted that National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) would be starting soon, and that the theme for this year is “The Right Talent, Right Now,” which reflects the good economy, technology that is available and the people with disabilities that want to and are ready to work in the federal and private sectors, as well as in other jobs that are available in communities throughout the country. Ms. Sheehy expressed excitement that representatives from JPMorgan Chase and EY would be sharing their experiences running disability inclusion programs in the private sector and best practices that could be translated to the federal space.
Ms. Sheehy ended her remarks by introducing Dexter Brooks, Associate Director of the Office of Federal Operations at the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
Mr. Brooks provided a brief update on the FEED work groups, which were established to determine best practices in areas outlined in the Inclusion@Work Federal Framework. Mr. Brooks stated that six work groups have been set up, each with a liaison from one or more of FEED’s managing partners, on the topics of: Hiring Processes, (including outreach and recruitment), Reasonable Accommodations and Personal Assistant Services, Accessible Technology, Workforce Assessment and Barrier Analysis, and Partnership with External Organizations.
Mr. Murray then mentioned that Cornell University would be taking over the next iteration of the EARN grant, and applauded Brett Sheats, EARN’s national project director under the previous grant, for his work on the project. Mr. Murray then introduced Lori Golden, Abilities Strategy Leader at EY, and Beth Daly-Torres, Vice President and Program Manager of the Office of Disability Inclusion for JPMorgan Chase. He said that he would be conducting an interview style presentation with them to ask about their experiences championing disability inclusion in the private sector. He then began the presentation by asking Ms. Golden and Ms. Daly-Torres about their roles at their respective companies and how they were created.
Ms. Golden began by saying her role as Abilities Strategy Leader at EY mainly involves developing strategies to build an environment that enables people of all abilities to feel welcome and comfortable so they are able to do their best work. She said these efforts help build a culture that is inclusive of everybody so that employees feel a real sense of belonging. She stated that she works across all lines of business, including business development, and also spends time with EY’s infrastructure groups, not only to ensure that people with diverse abilities are recruited, but also to create environments, policies and processes that enable everybody to thrive at work.
Ms. Golden continued her explanation and said that over the past few years, she has focused on innovative ways to recruit talented people of all abilities to better support EY, including helping to create EY’s “We Care” mental health education and awareness program. She mentioned that these efforts include not only working with EY’s recruiting organization, but also sharing information with and learning from her peers, including Ms. Daly-Torres, and collaborating with other organizations, such as federal agencies.
Ms. Golden explained that her role began 12 years ago as a project to see if people with disabilities could be an under-leveraged talent pool for infrastructure roles like hers. She said what EY quickly learned was that people with disabilities were working in a variety of roles throughout the company, but there were gaps in what was being done to support them, for example in relation to reasonable accommodations. Ms. Golden worked to address these gaps and became the expert on accommodations within the company.
Ms. Daly-Torres then spoke about her career progression. She stated that she has been with JPMorgan Chase for 20 years, and for the past nine years has been in the diversity and inclusion (D&I) group. She mentioned that when she first stared with the D&I group, she was the liaison for the Ability Employee Resource Group (ERG), among others. She stated that in this rule, she consulted with fellow employees to try to identify problems and try to solve them. She continued that she figured out that some problems weren’t getting resolved because of lack of formal policies or the employee not knowing the appropriate person to ask for accommodations. She mentioned that this sometimes resulted in employees, in an effort to try to help their coworkers address an issue, handling things as volunteers that should have been handled by other staff members at the company.
Ms. Daly-Torres stated that while working with the ERG, she was asked to conduct a general assessment of the organization and determine how JPMorgan Chase could better approach accessibility, including requests for accommodations. She said that this assessment was enlightening as she was able to gain insight into how the organization handled requests for accommodations and realized that process could be improved. She said this assessment lasted for about a year, and from the results, it was determined that accessibility had to be included as part of the organization’s written goals and objectives. She said that accommodations requests were not seen as a priority for the organization, so they weren’t being handled as efficiently or effectively as they could have been.
Ms. Daly-Torres continued by saying that the company determined that accessibility needed to be prioritized at different levels and by different functions within the organization, and this included creating a dedicated office to handle accessibility requests. She said that currently her work focuses on building recruitment pipelines, including with nonprofit organizations, and assisting with career development of employees with disabilities. She said JPMorgan Chase is continuing to work on their disability inclusion strategy and embrace the concept of “moments that matter,” which she defined as “… certain types of things and experiences in an employee’s life where we can’t say, ‘Okay, this is self-service, you go figure it out.’” She mentioned that part of this effort included creating a centralized group and dedicated funding for accommodations requests.
Mr. Murray then pointed out three lessons mentioned by Ms. Golden and Ms. Daly-Torres that could be translation into the federal space: 1) focusing on internal employees; 2) making sure that people with disabilities can engage in all aspects of the workplace; and 3) engaging with nonprofit organizations, including ensuring that grantees and nonprofits are also committed to disability inclusion.
Mr. Murray then asked Ms. Golden and Ms. Daly-Torres what successes they are most proud of and why.
Ms. Golden began by discussing an initiative that EY started three years ago called the “Neurodiversity Centers of Excellence,” which are high-level centers through which the company hires and trains people with neurodiverse conditions. She said these centers have not only made a significant difference in organizational culture, but also allowed the company to be more responsive to client needs, especially those related to technology. She continued that this program focuses on hiring people who have the abilities the company is looking for and the desire to work, but who may not have the previous experience and skills for the position. She clarified that goal of these centers is to provide opportunities for people with neurodiverse conditions to develop the skills and experience they need to be successful. She added that there is now a greater awareness at EY of the continuum of abilities that people with disabilities can offer, which has created significant value across all lines of business, and that projects are now being completed more quickly and with higher quality results. Ms. Golden said that through this program, EY has learned to look beyond traditional candidates in order to expand their talent pool, and that leadership is supportive of the program.
Ms. Daly-Torres then discussed how JPMorgan Chase is working to shift the way the organization thinks about recruiting and hiring, and that incorporating people with different abilities into the workplace is part of that shift. She said this has extended to the nonprofit partners the company works with, and trying to change their thinking about the skills and experiences people with disabilities bring to the workplace.
Ms. Golden agreed that changing the conversation around people with disabilities in the workplace is a measure of success. She added that EY and JPMorgan Chase work closely together and both companies are members of the Autism @ Work Employer Roundtable, which asks employers to pledge to share information about their company’s programs and policies related to employment of people with autism, so that other members can learn from each other. She said that EY joined the Roundtable because they are committed to “moving the needle” in relation to employment of people with disabilities and creating opportunities for other organizations to change the way they think about disability inclusion. She stated that there are currently 17 members and 25 companies in the Roundtable, with a wait list of others looking to join, because a membership requirement is to have an employment program for people with autism in operation for at least a year.
Ms. Golden then mentioned that EY’s disability-focused ERG (which the organization calls a “professional network”) helped to identify mental health as a leading issue for the company. She said as a result, EY decided to create an initiative focused on addressing mental health and substance abuse issues in order to demystifying these topics and give employees tools to support each other. She added that the company realized that mental health issues impact not only the individual, but also those around them. She explained that EY began a pilot program in several offices that developed into the company’s “We Care,” initiative, which educates colleagues on ways to support their coworkers who may be dealing with mental health or substance abuse issues. Ms. Golden cautioned that this program isn’t meant for people to diagnose or problem-solve, but to provide space for open conversations and for colleagues to check in with each other. She noted the success and impact of the program, which now includes 26 offices and 1,300 participants and has resulted in a 48 percent increase in mental health-related calls to EY’s Employee Assistance Program.
Ms. Daly-Torres then shared information about JPMorgan Chase’s work with clients who have an interest in making their workplaces more disability inclusive, including a representative from the UN who had a series of conversations with the company, which resulted in the creation of the UN’s disability inclusion initiative.
Mr. Murray then summarized some of the points that Ms. Golden and Ms. Daly-Torres had made. He also noted that both presenters had discussed working with employees who may have needed more time and support when they began their jobs, but once that was provided, could fully contribute to the workplace. He asked how many meeting participants were currently utilizing the ability within Schedule A to have some flexibility on qualification standards. He acknowledged that the Federal Government is often not as flexible as the private sector when it comes to qualifications standards, but that using Schedule A may be an opportunity to hire people who may not at first fully meet the criteria.
Mr. Murray also expressed excitement over the mental health initiative Ms. Golden discussed. He reminded participants of EARN’s Mental Health Toolkit, which outlines the four A’s of a mental-health friendly workplace, which are awareness, accommodations, assistance and access.
Ms. Daly-Torres added that once of the things that JPMorgan Chase learned while developing its mental health initiative was the importance of conducting a review of the mental health services the company offers. She said when doing so, it was discovered that some of the services weren’t meeting the company’s needs, which resulted in changing vendors. She also added that offering opportunities for employees to tell their personal stories related to mental health is a critical part of the success of the program.
Mr. Murray then asked Ms. Golden and Ms. Daly-Torres to provide some takeaways from their presentations with the group.
Ms. Golden stated that storytelling is the most powerful way to get people to care, to respond and to understand an issue. She stated that it’s also important to have leaders telling their personal stories. She shared the example of one of the company’s chairmen who, during a client meeting, told a poignant story about his father, who had a disability. She said as a result of sharing his story, the chairman became a passionate champion for EY’s disability inclusion efforts. Ms. Golden noted that it’s important to be diverse in storytelling, and include the voices of employees at all levels.
Ms. Golden continued that in addition to providing training on disability inclusion, EY looks at best practices for inclusion that are easy to implement, such as introducing yourself before speaking on a conference call so others on the call can understand who is talking at any given moment. She said as part of this effort, EY created guidelines to help employees plan inclusive events so that all employees can fully participate. She called these opportunities for inclusion “memorable moments” that help people understand that inclusion is important, easy, inexpensive and something everyone should be doing.
Ms. Daly-Torres shared her key takeaways, the first of which was that organizations should try to tie into existing disability inclusion initiatives, if the opportunity presents itself. She used the example of company ordering systems. She said, for example, if the company makes it difficult to do something very simple, like order basic supplies such as pencils, that it would probably be very difficult for employees to use this system to request accommodations. She mentioned that at EY, issues with supplier services were identified, which resulted in the accessibility request process being streamlined.
Ms. Daly-Torres stated that her second takeaway was that partnering leverages scale and scope. For example, large companies can bond together on issues and teach each other best practices. Ms. Daly-Torres then stated that her third takeaway was the importance of tracking data related to employment of people with disabilities. She continued that this data can help keep track of how employees with disabilities are doing at the company, if they’re staying or if they’re leaving, and what retention and professional development efforts are in place.
Mr. Murray stated that he would like to challenge corporate and agency leaders to share their stories and connect with their colleagues around disability issues. He then opened the discussion to questions from the audience. An audience member asked the panelists about how to build sustainability of disability inclusion programs, for example, how to maintain support for a program if there are changes in staff or leadership.
Ms. Golden replied that disability inclusion shouldn’t be a program, but rather a function of the company that’s embedded in the organization’s culture. She mentioned EY’s digital accessibility initiative, which includes functional specialists who are continually testing for accessibility and re-assessing as new technologies come out. She said accessibility is embedded into company processes and is an important part of how EY does business. As an example, she provide information about how EY created a section with information about accessibility as part of EY’s “branding zone,” where anyone producing materials for EY can go to find information about the company’s “visual identity system” and access accessible templates for company branded digital productions. She continued that EY also recently debuted an accessible PowerPoint template with do’s and don’ts for all users, reminders to alt-tag graphics, include captions, use meaningful headings, etc. so that accessibility is embedded into EY’s instructional design strategies for everyone, from internal employees to vendors. She said EY has trained all of its instructional designers, not just the website developers, in accessibility and the procurement standards that are expected for any digitally enabled product.
Ms. Daly-Torres agreed that modifying policies and standards to embed disability inclusion into corporate culture is key. She noted that instead of relying solely on specific individuals, because staffing can change, companies should have create specific roles, which can be modified as needed, that are designated as responsible for managing these efforts. She used the example of working with universities to encourage them to add accessibility certificates to their digital accessibility degree programs, so that companies can hire technologists who have a background in accessibility and know the right questions to ask, which can have a big impact on corporate culture.
Another audience member asked Ms. Golden and Ms. Daly-Torres to provide examples of how they encouraged their colleagues with disabilities to share their stories, including if they asked those who were not comfortable sharing them openly to share them anonymously.
Ms. Daly-Torres explained that employees at her organization volunteered to share their stories, and then there was a conversation to ask if they were comfortable sharing them openly. She said organizations implementing disability inclusion campaigns may want to consider using anonymous stories, because it’s important to be respectful to those who aren’t comfortable having their name used.
Ms. Golden said that when EY initially introduced its “We Care” program, the company wanted to include personal stories, but weren’t sure if people would be comfortable sharing them openly. She continued that the company decided to set up an email inbox for people to submit their stories anonymously, and then the stories were reviewed, identifying details were removed, and they were shared with other employees by being read aloud by members of the planning committee, so employees wouldn’t know whose stories they were.
Vance Wilkerson, Disability Program Manager at the U.S. Department of Labor, asked about the panelists experiences engaging with and getting buy-in from leaders who may be resistant to change or not see the value of diversity and inclusive efforts.
Ms. Daly-Torres shared that JPMorgan Chase hosts leadership meetings for each region of the U.S., which includes Cornell’s disability etiquette training. She continued that these leadership trainings have been translated into in-person training geared toward middle management, in order to try to remove any barriers or disincentives to implementing disability inclusion efforts at the regional or local level. She added that the regional managers then train community managers, and that company is also working to make the trainings available online.
Ms. Golden noted that another strategy is to use influencers in the form of peers and other leaders. She stated that EY created a “Partner Advisory Council” that includes the highest levels of leadership within the firm. She mentioned that she has kept in touch with the partners who were supportive of disability inclusion and occasionally uses them to champion disability inclusion efforts within their groups, both formally through meetings and informally through modeling and setting expectations. Ms. Golden stated that used in conjunction with formal processes and policies, an influencer strategy can be an effective way of helping embed disability inclusion into corporate culture.
Mr. Brooks then asked a question brought up by an online participant regarding how EY and JPMorgan Chase address disability inclusion with their contactors, and if they have built relationships with vocational rehabilitation offices in order to identify potential job candidates with disabilities.
Ms. Golden said that EY often hires contractors and she believes influences them when it comes to disability inclusion. She continued that EY sets clear expectations for their vendors to create opportunities for diverse groups of people, including those with disabilities. She stated that the company also regularly works with vocational rehabilitation offices, including to identify candidates for its Neurodiversity Centers of Excellence.
Ms. Daly-Torres added that JPMorgan Chase has done a lot of work to enforce language in the company’s contracts related to accessibility of products provided by vendors, in order to ensure that all digital deliverables are accessible.
Mr. Murray then noted that both companies often use disability-owned businesses as their vendors.
Ms. Golden described EY’s work with the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD) and Disability:IN to develop the “Disability Certification Program.” She said EY was proactively involved in the process, including conducting a series of education sessions for vendors from underrepresented minorities. She continued that the company hopes to create scholarships to business schools and to the proprietors of disability-owned businesses in the future. She mentioned that EY also worked with a company that, although is not disability-owned, employs almost entirely people with autism, to have t-shirts made promoting its digital accessibility efforts that employees wore at the recent Disability:IN conference.
Ms. Daly-Torres noted that JPMorgan Chase is involved with similar activities and spends a good deal of time and energy to manage resources and nurture relationships with vendors that are disability-owned businesses.
Mr. Murray then mentioned that the government uses a variety of tools to analyze disability employment and self-identification data, including the Federal Employment Viewpoint Survey. He asked what tools EY and JPMorgan Chase engage with, such as the Disability Equality Index (DEI).
Ms. Daly-Torres said that JPMorgan Chase does use the DEI and also partnered with Cornell University on a survey they did. She stated that the company’s biggest data source related to disability inclusion is its employee opinion survey (EOS), which includes demographic questions about disability status, and this allowed the company to build disability inclusion programs using the data generated from the survey.
Ms. Golden reiterated the importance of capturing data related to disability employment. She said EY does an employee survey each year and a more in-depth look at disability employment at the company every other year. She continued that the company’s survey is global and asks demographic questions, which are optional. She stated that the company correlates the demographic responses to employee engagement and other measures. She mentioned that EY is also a founding partner for the DEI and use the National Organization on Disability’s Disability Tracker as well. She said the company also uses other methods to build awareness and increase engagement around disability inclusion. She continued that because of these efforts, employees will now come to company events with stories they’ve gathered about disability inclusion, so EY is able to constantly build upon its list of what Ms. Golden calls “softer” metrics. She clarified that for the company, measuring its disability inclusion efforts it is an ongoing process of looking at various quantitative and qualitative sources of information.
Ms. Daly-Torres added that she keeps track on a daily basis of the number and types of accommodations requests her office receives, how long they take, how much they cost, etc. in order to identify what she calls “pain points” and generate an accurate picture of the company’s needs in this area. She said that the company set up a centralized accommodation fund about a year ago in response to the increase in accommodations requests that were received. She mentioned that the company has had about a 100 percent increase in accommodations requests over the last year and she expects that number to grow even larger.
Mr. Murray then summarized some of the panelists key points, including the importance of:
- Tracking quantitative and qualitative data,
- Engaging with disability-owned businesses,
- Creating a vendor code of conduct to increase opportunities for people with disabilities,
- Developing an influencer strategy,
- Conducting trainings (including a “road show”) to help remove barriers and disincentives,
- Sharing personal stories,
- Creating specific roles and functions within a company instead of focusing on a specific program or individual to lead disability inclusion efforts, and
- Building disability inclusion into organizational culture.
He then thanked the presenters and introduced Brett Sheats, who provided closing remarks.
Mr. Sheats thanked everyone for attending, either in person or via webcast. He said that when he and Mr. Murray were planning the meeting and discussing who they should invite to be panelists, the first two people they thought of as leaders in the community related to the topic were Ms. Golden and Ms. Daly-Torres. He thanked them again for presenting, and providing their insights and the private sector perspective, in order to explore ideas that could be implemented in the Federal Government.
He continued that the first FEED meeting took place on December 5, 2016 at the U.S. Access Board, and since then there has been participation in FEED from all different federal agencies and offices, and FEED meetings have addressed questions and heard from panelists from all across the federal sector. He stated that when he first heard about FEED, he was surprised that something like it didn’t already exist, because his previous experience was in the private sector. He added that The Viscardi Center was proud to be the lead contractor for EARN for the past five years, and an integral part of FEED. He then thanked EARN team member Diana Zeitzer for her work on the project.
Mr. Sheats then shared some background about his military service. He stated that he retired from the military on May 21, 2005. He explained that he enlisted in May 2001 with a plan to stay for four years and go to Alaska, but that after September 11th, his idea of what the military looked like changed drastically. He continued that he spent a year on the Afghanistan/Pakistan border, and that a lot of his friends and fellow service members came back with injuries and illnesses that were service-related, including post-traumatic stress, traumatic brain injury, chronic pain, etc. He also mentioned injuries inflicted by IEDs, including limb loss, burns and mobility disabilities. He said that when a person experiences these disabilities, they may have a different perception of themselves or a new perception of what they’re capable of doing. He said his experience and those of his friends made him think about how veterans of previous conflicts were treated and integrated back into the workplace.
Mr. Sheats stated that he never imagined that a group like FEED would exist in the Federal Government. He acknowledged that many FEED members handle disability inclusion issues as secondary/collateral duty or as volunteers. He also mentioned that he never imagined that large corporations would be actively developing programs to hire people with disabilities as part of a diverse group that makes better decisions and helps the bottom line. He thanked the presenters and their companies for their commitment to creating a diverse workplace that includes people with disabilities, and FEED’s partner agencies for their commitment to creating roles, rules and laws to ensure that disability inclusion is championed in the Federal Government as well.
He concluded by encouraging FEED members to keep attending meetings and to tell others about the group. He then mentioned that because of the transition of the contract to Cornell University, that there will be a new person in his role at the next meeting, and that he knows that FEED will continue to be successful because of the dedication of its members.
Mr. Murray thanked Brett for his hard work and said many of FEED’s initiatives have been successful because of him.
Mr. Brooks then concluded the meeting.