The business case for hiring people with disabilities took center stage at a recent event held in partnership between the National Disability Institute, the Kessler Foundation and the Poses Family Foundation. Giant Eagle, the event’s corporate host, was there to share its own reasons for supporting workplace inclusion.
Jeremy Shapira, special projects, diversity inclusion and spokesman for the Pittsburgh-based grocer, noted his company’s reasoning for hiring people with disabilities: They make great team members because they consistently arrive for work on time, work hard and love their jobs.
“We get endless positive feedback from our customers, as well as other team members,” he told attendees at the event, which took place May 10 in Pittsburgh. “We know our inclusion employment efforts have added to our bottom line. I hope more companies can learn from our experience and take advantage of this untapped candidate market,”
Titled “Disability at Work: A Conversation with Randy Lewis,” the event welcomed Lewis, a former SVP at Deerfield, Ill.-based drug store chain Walgreens, who shared evidence of “return on investment” when disability becomes a centerpiece of a corporation’s diversity and inclusion strategy. In his address, he emphasized the need to change perceptions about the key role people with disabilities can play in all areas of a business.
“Most of us believe that people with disabilities cannot perform as well on the job as others. At Walgreens, we found that to be untrue – and unfair,” he said. “We ended up hiring more than 1,000 people with disabilities. We didn’t lower the bar when it came to performance, but we did have to open the door wider to include those who are routinely overlooked. The results exceeded our wildest expectations.”
The previous day, Lewis met with community service providers to discuss how to create competitive, inclusive and successful employment opportunities for people with disabilities. He also shared tips on honing conversations with employers about including people with disabilities as part of their recruitment and hiring strategies to enhance their workforce productivity and bottom line.
Special guests Kathy M. Manderino, secretary, Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry, and Rich Fitzgerald, county executive, County of Allegheny, explained what state and local governments can do to support employers that want to build a more inclusive workforce. In addition, Elaine Katz, SVP of grants and communications with the Kessler Foundation, noted that people with disabilities are an untapped source of incredible talent, and that by working together, companies and organizations can close the employment gap and make diversity part of business as usual.