“To Promote An Economy That Serves All,” All Must Be Included in the Solution

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Attendees at our annual accessibility and inclusion Hackathon explore a device that makes tactile representations of code for 3D printed objects
Attendees at the DIAGRAM Center's annual accessibility and inclusion hackathon explore a device that makes tactile representations of code for 3D printed objects.

Corporations can and should play a role in driving forward social good, and to truly “promote an economy that serves all,” as the Business Roundtable aims to do in redefining the purpose of a corporation, business strategy needs to take into account all people. For this reason, I would have liked to have seen diversity and inclusion play a greater role in this announcement. More than a goal for hiring and corporate culture, diversity and inclusion is a driving force that will bring positive returns for all other stakeholders.

As a nonprofit software company dedicated to advancing inclusion, equity, and justice, this social good approach is embedded in Benetech’s DNA, and I’ve found that diversity and inclusion is not just a priority, it’s an imperative for the company’s success. Our staff and our executive team are 60% female, 23% of our employees are nonwhite, and 8% of our staff identifies as having a disability. Additionally, many of our supplier partners prioritize diversity, including WORTH Trust, an organization that almost entirely employs people with disabilities, and Daproim, which creates job opportunities for underprivileged youth in Kenya. This rich diversity across our staff and partners impacts all aspects of our work.

For employees, inclusion makes for an optimal workplace, with a diversity of perspectives, ideas, and experiences brought to the table. For customers, this diversity of experience directly translates to products and services that take into account their own experiences and better fit their needs. A culture of inclusion, and the related brand image ripples out towards relationships with suppliers, and the communities where businesses operate. And shareholders gain value from this stronger ecosystem as well.

Don’t believe me? One example that is often overlooked in D&I initiatives, is the inclusion of people with disabilities. Nearly 1 in 7 people worldwide have a disability. That’s about 1 billion people. And yet, this is a group whose needs and expertise are routinely ignored by global corporations.

Inclusion for People with Disabilities: An Opportunity for Impact

People with disabilities are under-employed. Only forty percent of working-age adults with disabilities are employed, half the employment rate for non-disabled working-age adults. This disparity is reflected, even when we control for higher levels of education. The inequity and injustice reflected in these statistics is glaring, but a policy of inclusion isn’t just about corporate social responsibility – it’s good business. People with disabilities make amazing employees. Studies by Workplace Initiative have shown lower turnover rates, higher productivity, and better safety records among employees with disabilities.  

How many skilled candidates are you losing out on because your hiring process doesn’t offer adequate accommodations? What’s more, if you are using artificial intelligence platforms for your recruiting and hiring processes, you may be unintentionally discriminating against qualified candidates with disabilities as well. Once workers with disabilities are hired, are they given the accommodations that they need to be successful?

Failure to address these issues will exclude people with disabilities from achievement in the workplace, but oftentimes these accommodations are easy fixes. The Job Accommodation Network found that nearly sixty percent of accommodations for people with disabilities cost nothing to make, and the remaining forty percent have a typical cost around $500. Making your business inclusive to people with disabilities is a small investment that generates big returns.

Returns for All Stakeholders

 Inclusion of people with disabilities is not only good for business, it’s good for the economy. This lower employment rate of people with disabilities translates to a huge untapped employment resource for American businesses. A recent Accenture report estimates that US GDP could get a boost of up to $25 Billion if just  an additional one percent of people with disabilities joined the workforce, and companies that are leaders in disability inclusion, have reaped the benefits.

This same Accenture study found that the 45 companies that are already leading the way in disability inclusion have seen a positive effect on their bottom line. They achieved an average 28 percent higher revenue, two times the net income, and 30 percent higher economic profit margins than other corporations in their peer group. These organizations were also twice as likely to have higher total shareholder returns.

Resources for Developing Intentional D&I Initiatives

Ready to join their ranks? Getting involved in disability employment initiatives such as Disability:IN is a great place to start. The organization works with nearly 200 partner organizations to create customized Diversity and Inclusion programs for hiring people with disabilities. They have resources for making your hiring process and workplace inclusive, and even to diversify your supply chain, with certified disability-owned businesses to meet your needs.

Taking a more global look at diversity and inclusion efforts, the International Labour Organization (ILO), provides practical guides for diversity and inclusion efforts around disability and employment, gender parity, and equality in the workplace.

It’s time to take action and align corporate strategy with this new definition of purpose. The private sector plays a vital role in fostering innovation, economic growth, and opportunity. By prioritizing a comprehensive D&I initiative that truly builds an inclusive company, all corporate stakeholders will benefit.