In this week’s episode of Inside your Brand, host Daniel Fellows was joined by Julie Sowash, executive director at Disability Solutions – a consulting service that helps companies navigate the process of hiring employees with disabilities – DEIB lead at Ability Stronger and co-host of the Crazy and the King podcast.
Little wonder then that Daniel Fellows introduced his star guest to listeners as someone with “more strings to her bow than Robin Hood!”
What underpins all of Sowash’s projects, however, is a drive for disability equality. Sowash talked honestly about her own hidden disabilities – “I’ve lived with mental illness for the past 20 years and have probably been really stable the last 10-12 years” – and how companies need to “build for the whole, not the few.”
Sowash said: “Companies are building inclusive hiring programmes and what they really need to be doing is building inclusive hiring brands with systems that are accessible and use data to make sure that candidates are coming through in equal measure [...]
She continued: “It’s not about playing little games and saying ‘oh hey I built this programme for people with disabilities [...] and trying to say that it’s going to be a solution that is inclusive, because it’s not.”
Throughout the episode, Sowash was at pains to point out that employers shouldn’t aim to be inclusive just to meet a quota. Rather they must engage people with disabilities in order to learn directly how to reduce unconscious bias.
“Ableism [discrimination in favour of able-bodied people] is a very real thing. It’s like unconscious bias for people with disabilities,” she revealed.
“If an able-bodied person works next to a person with a disability and they perceive that person to be broken, what does it say about them? It’s the dehumanisation of a person with a disability because it makes an able-bodied person feel less than.
“Once we get past that ableism we can think about how people with disabilities become a tangible and viable part of the talent acquisition process.”
Host, Daniel Fellows, shared the story of Sydney-based Emma Myers who landed an interview but didn’t get the job – despite being told by her potential employer that her resumé was the best the company had ever seen – because she was unable to enter the building. All because Myers uses a wheelchair. How can this still happen in 2021?
The Greater Indianapolis-based Sowash added: “There are 31 million working adults in US with disabilities. Are they worth the investment? Yes. But the truth is that most of the time Investment isn’t expensive, it isn’t an extra. You just have to think about us when you are talking and planning and doing your strategy.”
Sowash identified Pepsi as a disability confident employer. “Pepsi is 100 per cent number one on our list. They have a programme called Pepsi ACT – which stands for Achieving Change Together. They came to us and said ‘we don’t know how to do this, can you help us?’"
“We were blessed to work with an organisation that wanted to do this, that wanted to hire people with disabilities. And they have hired several thousand people with disabilities including about 20 per cent of veterans with disabilities.”
The fact of the matter is that people with disabilities are an asset for companies that want to be forward-thinking and innovative.
Happily, an ever-growing number of companies are seeing the benefits of fully inclusive hiring, but there is still a great deal of work to be done.
If your business has been avoiding targeting active disability inclusion and championing diverse talent simply because you are unsure where to start, then “I want to hear from you” said Sowash.
“I just want to hear. How do you feel about hiring people with disabilities? What are the struggles? Hey, I have no idea what I am doing. Just reach out on any platform @JulieSowash.”