November 19, 2018
Ringing the bell for disability inclusion
By: Laurie A. Henneborn

October 29, 2018: Stocks were down but spirits were high at the New York Stock Exchange, as a ground-breaking research study was launched at a Voya-sponsored event. The study, Getting to Equal: The Disability Inclusion Advantage, was conducted by Accenture Research in partnership with Disability:IN and the American Association for People with Disabilities (AAPD). After many inspiring sessions and panel discussions including an introduction by Senator Ted Kennedy, Jr., and a review of the research by Accenture’s Persons with Disabilities lead sponsor Chad Jerdee, a group of executives participating in disability inclusion conducted the closing bell ceremony.

Event photo from the Oct 29 Getting to Equal research launch at the New York Stock Exchange including Chad Jerdee, General Counsel and Chief Compliance Officer at Accenture, Jenny Lay Flurrie - Chief Accessibility Officer at MSFT; Sen. Ted Kennedy Jr and Jill Houghton, CEO of Disability:IN

What was all the excitement about?

To say that companies in the United States are having a difficult time finding qualified workers to fill jobs is an understatement.

There is one definitive step that U.S. companies can take now to improve their situations. That is to tap the talents of the ~11 million productive, employable persons with disabilities of working age (between 16 and 64). Many studies and examples cite broad business benefits for hiring persons with disabilities, including enhanced innovation, increased productivity and a better work environment. Yet, only about 29 percent of these individuals are participating in the workforce today, compared with 75 percent of those without a disability.

What will it take to see real, impactful action?

Early discussions between me, Accenture’s enablement lead, Dan Ellerman, and our partners at Disability:IN and AAPD yielded a critical gap that must be filled for most CEOs or board members to take notice: the data-led business case. Accenture Research welcomed the challenge and the results are being called “epic” and “groundbreaking.”

Bottom-Line: It pays to be inclusive!

According to our analysis of 140 companies participating in the Disability Equality Index (DEI) over the past four years, best-in-class companies seeking to raise the bar for recruiting, hiring, retaining and advancing persons with disabilities are outperforming their peers on profitability, value creation and total shareholder return. I will never forget the excitement that data scientist Vincenzo Palermo and I felt when early results were surfacing. Specifically, we found that leading companies are, on average, achieving 28 percent higher net revenue, two times higher net income and 30 percent higher economic profit margin. Moreover, they are, on average, 2 times more likely to have higher total shareholder returns than their peers (For definitions, approach and more information, see the “About This Research” section of the full report here.)

What must companies do to be more inclusive and reap these benefits?

The report goes on to provide four key actions that companies must take to begin or continue along their disability inclusion journey: employ, engage, enable and empower. These specific actions were unearthed after several interviews were conducted with executives at leading companies for disability inclusion. Doing so, can yield even greater results when considering that companies that have improved their inclusion of persons with disabilities over time were four times more likely than others to have total shareholder returns that outperformed their peer group.

The bell has been rung loud and clear and executives must take action or risk being left behind. By participating in studies like the DEI, taking the pulse of current employee engagement and awareness, and encouraging self-identification, companies can unleash the trapped value of their persons-with-disability community.

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