Building Resilience, Innovation and Commitment: How to Cultivate a Disability Inclusive Workplace
People with disabilities account for almost 10 percent of the Chicago region’s population (that’s 800,000 residents), yet prior to the pandemic, disability employment rates remained at 20 percent. That’s 33 percent lower than the employment rate for those without disabilities. However, research continues to reveal that disability inclusive hiring practices give companies a competitive advantage.
When it comes to hiring, retaining and promoting employees with disabilities, many companies are either unsure where to begin or unclear about the benefits of cultivating disability inclusive work environments. We talked with Ben Lumicao, Senior Counsel in the Law & Regulation Department at Allstate Insurance Company and president of Allstate’s disability-focused employee resource group, ABLE (Abilities Beyond Limitations and Expectations) about his experience.
Disability Hiring Misconceptions
Q: What is the most common misunderstanding employers have regarding hiring people with disabilities?
There’s so much to unpack there. Let me answer it this way: I think the biggest obstacle to inclusion of people with disabilities in the workplace can be found in a space about this big (I’m holding my hands about 7 inches apart). You know what that is? It’s the space between our ears. Because that’s where the attitudes and mindsets that fuel these misunderstandings come from.
For some, it may be a concern that the performance of people with disabilities will not be on a par with those of people without disabilities. DePaul University did a study for the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce that found the performance ratings of employees with disabilities was virtually identical to those without disabilities.
Another misconception is that workplace accommodations will be prohibitively expensive. Again, that’s not so. On average the cost of accommodations for an employee with a disability is less than $500.
I think the most pernicious misconception, though, might be the idea that people with disabilities can only fill certain roles in an organization. There are highly qualified people with disabilities who are capable of performing at the highest levels in every role in any organization, from top to bottom. Suppose a young Steven Hawking were coming out of school and rolled into your offices looking for a job in data science or AI. Would people in your organization looking at him view him as a candidate for a role in the mail room? Or would he be viewed as potentially one of the most brilliant minds in the organization?
Benefits of Disability Inclusive Hiring
Q: How do companies and organizations benefit from having disability inclusive workplaces and practices?
Companies and organizations benefit from hiring employees with disabilities in the same ways they benefit from hiring any qualified employee — they benefit from our talents! They also benefit from our diverse perspectives!
There are other things, too. I believe people with disabilities are resilient, because living with a disability will often teach you to persist in the face of disappointment. I believe people with disabilities learn to be innovative. We often find ourselves in the position of trying to do something no one thought we could do, and so we have to find a way to do it; or facing a barrier because we’re somewhere no one thought we were going to be, we have to find a way around or through. Finally, there are a number of studies showing that employees with disabilities have a lower turnover ratio than their peers without a disability.
If I told you that I had a qualified candidate for a position who was resilient, innovative and more likely to stay with your organization if hired, wouldn’t you consider them a leading candidate?
Disability Employee Resource Groups (ERGs)
Q: What are the advantages of forming a disability employee resource group?
I’ve served as President of ABLE for the past two years. I joined because I believed it was critical that the ABLE employee resource group be led by people with disabilities. We believe our support of these individuals will foster an inclusive culture of career development, leading to improved commerce for Allstate’s business, employees and customers. ABLE’s ranks have grown quickly, and right now we have several hundred members among Allstate employees located throughout the country, and soon we will be expanding ABLE globally as well.
The response to our efforts to inform and educate on issues important to our members has shown the need the organization had for our group and its work. Having colleagues who have been willing to share stories of how they live with visible and invisible disabilities and contribute to the goals Allstate has as a company has been powerful, and we can see that hundreds of other employees engage in and learn from our stories. Just like other inclusive diversity groups, it’s important for people with disabilities to know that there are others like them in the organization. When 1 out of 4 people in the country has a disability, and 70% of those who have a disability have an invisible disability, it’s even more powerful when people are willing to identify as a person with a disability.
Having an employee or business resource group like ABLE for people with disabilities, caregivers, and their allies is something every organization should encourage. It’s important that people with disabilities play a key role in leading those groups, because “Nothing about us, without us” has to be the leading principle within such a group. Providing a perspective of people with disabilities to help shape policies, rather than just react to them, can be a huge advantage. I’m proud of the fact that ABLE has worked with multiple areas of responsibility throughout the enterprise to help Allstate earn a 100 on the Disability Equality Index from Disability:IN this year at its national convention. We still have a lot of work to do, and I am confident that as a proponent of continuous improvement, ABLE and Allstate will keep trying to raise the bar for themselves.
ABOUT BEN LUMICAO
Ben Lumicao, a member of The Disabilities Fund of The Chicago Community Trust’s (CCT) advisory board, serves as Senior Counsel in the Law & Regulation Department at Allstate Insurance Company. In addition he is president of Allstate’s disability-focused employee resource group, ABLE (Abilities Beyond Limitations and Expectations). ABLE works to improve disability inclusion through education and engagement of the Allstate community.
Want to know more about how to improve access to employment and markets for people with disabilities in the Chicago region? Follow the Accelerate Disability Inclusion campaign of the Chicago Community Trust’s Disabilities Fund on LinkedIn and on Instagram and Twitter @accelerate_ada.