Busting the myths around disability inclusive workplaces

EBN-050416-DisabilityAwareness-P1-Afternoon.png
Register now

Employees with disabilities often struggle to combat old stereotypes concerning their ability to perform the same work tasks as their non-disabled counterparts, or that they would be an economic hardship on the business.

However, these stereotypes are unfounded. In addition to improving employee retention and engagement, disability inclusive companies can gain as much as 28% higher revenue, according to data from Accenture. Inclusive companies can double their net income and yield 30% higher economic profit margins than their peers.

Voya Financial is advocating for disability inclusive workplaces. As part of this initiative, CEO Rod Martin joined CEOs from Accenture, CVS Health, Intel, Microsoft and Walmart in a letter urging 1,000 Fortune CEOs to make disability inclusion a business priority in their 2020 strategic planning.

“We have experienced first-hand the potential for innovation, sustainability, and profit of disability inclusion,” the letter states. “Only 33% of working age people with disabilities are participating in the labor force – as compared to the 63% workforce participation rate for people without disabilities. We are failing to build sustainable futures that empower all.”

Heather Lavallee, president of tax exempt markets and leader of the Voya Cares team, connected with Employee Benefit News to discuss Voya’s commitment to disability inclusion and why employers should be more open to hiring from this talent pool.

What does a company gain from being more inclusive of employees with disabilities?
It’s this old notion that doing good can also lead to really good business. The National Business and Disability Council found that 66% of consumers will purchase goods and service from a business that features people with disabilities in their advertising. And 78% of consumers will purchase goods and service from a business that is taking steps to ensure easy access for individuals with disabilities at their physical location.

Since we started our Voya Cares program, in 2018 and 2019, 20% of our new plan sale wins in our retirement business can be attributed to our Voya Cares program.

How did Voya begin its journey to become more disability inclusive?
We started this journey in 2017 when we first completed the Disability Equality Index and it really helped us understand where we had a few gaps and we quickly took action. Some of those areas that we looked at were things like our culture. Our Voya Cares program is really focused on helping people with special needs address some of their unmet financial planning needs. We started our own disability and special needs employee resource group to help provide better support and advocacy for individuals with disabilities and their family members.

Then we looked at our own benefits offerings to make sure that if we’re going to be doing a better job at inclusive hiring, knowing what our benefits are offering to individuals who have a disability or might be caring for a loved one with a disability. We offer things like being able to add an Optimum special needs navigator who helps employees find access to clinicians as well as incorporating Wellthy into our benefits offering, [for example.]

We also looked at our hiring practices to really make sure our recruiters and managers were trained in how to do a skills assessment when somebody might have an invisible disability. Or if somebody is on the autism spectrum and might have a difficult time answering very open ended questions around their skills, asking a closed-ended question or giving them the chance to demonstrate those skills.

The final thing we did was look at where we were doing our recruiting. We did a lot of outreach with some of our not-for-profit partners on how to better refine our talent and recruitment practices to get more of a broader reach of candidates, which would include individuals with disabilities.

How many employees with disabilities work at Voya?
About 3.1% of our Voya population has self identified as being disabled. When you compare that against the benchmark from Disability:IN of about 2.3%, it’s still on the lower side. But we see this as not just a question of trying to hire more employees with disabilities but as a significant untapped market. We think there is a huge potential for all companies across the United States to really boost GDP and boost their performance by tapping into this large population of underemployed and talented individuals.

Do you think archaic stereotypes are keeping employers from improving their disability inclusivity?
The good news is I think a lot of companies are coming around. I think there’s a couple different things going on in the underemployment of people with disabilities. One is people underestimating the skills they may have or how to go about accessing their skills, particularly for those with intellectual disabilities. . Employers certainly need to make some effort within their hiring and recruiting practices to be able to incorporate these individuals into the workforce.

Other things employers can do and that Voya has done is partner with nonprofit organizations who are doing job training and internships with potential candidates. We have done some work with an organization called Project Search that will partner with different employers and they have programs all over the U.S. where they will bring in a team of individuals to learn specific skills and then they will do internships. The hope of those programs is training them to have specific skills that can be applied in the workplace, but it also helps to teach social skills.

Some employers may believe that they don’t have jobs that fit that population of employees, but that isn’t the way to think about it. To me, you’re looking at a candidate and it's like hiring any other individual. Look at their interests, their capabilities and if they align with the positions you have available and broaden your recruitment reach into that untapped market.

For reprint and licensing requests for this article, click here.