Beyond the Illusion of Inclusion: Leveraging Talent of Employees with Disabilities #SHRM19


Beyond the Illusion of Inclusion is a session that goes beyond diversity and will shift your perspective on inclusion. I had a chat with Susan Brecher and Judy Young from Cornell University. Whether you are a diversity and inclusion specialist or not, I think you will find what they have to say fascinating. It is useful in all aspects of good business culture. 

See Susan and Judy speak: Beyond the Illusion of Inclusion: Leveraging the Talents of Employees with Disabilities
Room: LVCC N101-103, Wednesday, June 26 at 10 a.m.

Julie Ann: I'm here today talking with Judy Young and Susan Brecker, Directors of the Scheinman Institute at Cornell University's ILR school. Thanks for joining me today Judy and Susan.

Susan: Thank you.

Judy: Thank you.

Julie Ann:  Judy let's start with you, can you give us the four minute overview of how Judy Young got to be where you are at this moment?

Judy: Well I have focused most of my professional life on employment of people with disabilities. I've worked for a not-for-profit organization that provided training, technical assistance and consultation for employers on helping people with disabilities in their workforce. About ten years ago I transitioned to Cornell University, to direct a U.S. Department of Labor grant that provided resources for employers on employing people with disabilities. From that experience I transitioned to be working with Susan on diversity and inclusion more broadly and more generally and I felt quite confident about the transition simply because people's disabilities represent every diversity dimension imaginable. So I think that the shift over to diversity and inclusion more generally versus focusing specifically on employees with disabilities was relatively easy. I had the opportunity to present multiple times, and I learned a lot from Susan who has a legal background. We are combining my more practical background working directly with people with disabilities and Susan's legal mind, to work collectively to improve the employment opportunities for people with disabilities while training employers how to move from just thinking about diversity.

Julie Ann: Before I move on to Susan I want to ask you a question Judy. Do you think that people's mindset, when they think of workers with disabilities, that they have a bias thinking they belong in a certain stratosphere of the population?

Judy: I don't think so, not anymore. I think that people are more aware. Where the misconception may exist is that when people think about individuals with disabilities they think about physical disabilities that can be seen, while the majority of people with disabilities have non-visible disabilities. I know that learning disabilities and the autism spectrum disorders are very 'popular' now or people know more about them, but for example the largest group of people with disabilities are those with mental illness. So most of the disabilities are not visible and many employers may be hiring and working with many more individuals with disabilities but they just simply don't know about it because they can't see.

Julie Ann: Fascinating. Okay Susan, would you give us your four minute overview of how you got to this point in your life?

Susan:  I guess I'd like to start with the end.

Julie Ann: Okay.

Susan: I really think of myself much more as in the field of seeking to find an understanding of why compliance under the law is not enough to achieve an environment where all employees are valued, which ultimately results in better business for the organization. So, I can step back and say yes, I did begin my career as an attorney in the field of employment law. I did work at a law firm - I like to say, I paid my dues. Then I worked in house at two organizations, ABC and NBC, and then I joined the faculty of Cornell where I've had the most amazing opportunity to work with organizations throughout the world. Looking at the whole area of employee relations and what can we do to create a work environment that recognizes all employees.

The first step clearly has been to make sure people are educated about what are the requirements under the law related to people with disabilities. This is the understanding of what we must do. But we're not going to accomplish what really is intended, which is to create a positive work environment by only complying with the law. I think we're seeing that very clearly in the news today. Therefore, the goal here is to take what we do and make it very practical. Judy and I collaborate on the premise that it's not enough to educate you with the information, we also want to provide you with some of the ways that you can manage biases and in addition ways that you can say things at the workplace in an employee relations way that will be more inclusive.

Julie Ann: So what I hear you saying is, is instead of just focusing on John or Sally at work who has a disability, we're focusing on the whole workplace which John or Sally is a part of.

Susan & Judy: Yes.

Julie Ann: In your session on Wednesday, what type of person do you think is a great fit?  What can you share with us, without doing your whole presentation, that would hit a nerve in certain people that this session is something that would be useful for their organization?

Judy:  I think we provide practical information in all of our presentations while we provide some background information. For example, we are not focusing necessarily on the legal obligations that the organizations may have but we are giving them practical advice through case study activities or case study presentations. I think that provides a practical element that people can actually take and use it in their place of work right away.

Julie Ann: So they get some implementation ideas besides just ideas.

Judy: Correct. That's correct.

Susan: We go beyond implementation and provide them with the language necessary, which is the employee regulations piece. Often people don't know what to say or how to say it and so we add these little tidbits that people can take back and adapt and use at their own organizations.

Julie Ann: And that's where the practicality comes in.  

Susan: Yes, we would agree. I want to just step back and build on what Judy said for your question regarding who would want to come to the session. I think it would be people who really want to change their lens and say to themselves "I would like to know a little bit more about how do I, working with any employees in the organization, shift my lens from worrying about the law into thinking about how we can build an environment where we're going to get the most success out of employees." To me, this is something that can be put in the genre of people with disabilities yet it expands much further.

Julie Ann: And I really appreciate that because I think sometimes people might look at your topic and think it's really narrow but what I'm hearing you say is your presentation is really broad and can be used in any organization.

Susan: And beyond just people with disabilities.

Julie Ann: Yes, absolutely. That's right. That's what I mean, it can be used for the entire organization. I'm sure some of the phrases that you may have or practicalities that people can utilize with people with disabilities can also be used with people without disabilities.

Judy: Absolutely and people from different cultures. You mentioned that your expertise is around cultures. We bring culture into the workplace and the communication really depends on our culture and our lens as Susan said. So disability is just one part of that lens.

Julie Ann: Anything else you want to add?

Susan: One area that we have gone beyond the obvious is when we look at the concept of illusion and what really is inclusion. We've done some work on bias and understanding biases, yet often what you hear people say is you need to recognize them. You don't have them step back and say "What would I do if I recognize a bias? What are some practical ways that I can learn to be manage my biases and be successful?" We also bring is some practical advice on how to manage any biases we have as well as providing some insights into biases related to people with disabilities.

Julie Ann: That's great because I know that the first step to any kind of change is you have to recognize your own behavior. And, that's not the end, that's just the beginning and it sounds like you will be able to give us the step beyond the recognition, right? And that's some of what you'll be bringing to us on June 26.

Susan: Yes, and if you'd like to learn a little bit more about flexible opportunities and how they relate to reasonable accommodations, join us at the workshop.

Julie Ann: See you there.



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