Inclusion Drives Innovation

Inclusion drives innovation. A prime example of this concept lies in the story of Internet pioneer Vinton Cerf.

Despite his hearing loss and difficulty speaking, Cerf found himself heavily involved in communications with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency in the ’70s. His frustration with verbal communication — and his colleagues’ openness to alternatives — motivated him in the development of what would become the first commercial email service.

man working at computer

This is the kind of story that National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) aims to celebrate with this year’s theme — “Inclusion Drives Innovation.”

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy “created this year’s theme with input from a wide variety of its partner organizations, including those representing employers, people with disabilities and their families, and federal, state and local agencies.”

“Smart employers know that including different perspectives in problem-solving situations leads to better solutions,” said U.S. Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta in a press release announcing the theme. “Hiring employees with diverse abilities strengthens their business, increases competition and drives innovation.”

 

Measuring Disability Equality

Rolls-Royce employee donating personal laptop to INDATA.One of the major indicators of a company’s dedication to inclusion is its score in the Disability Equality Index (DEI) — “a national, transparent, annual benchmarking tool that offers businesses an opportunity to receive an objective score, on a scale of zero (0) to 100, on their disability inclusion policies and practices.”

The health insurance provider, Anthem, was one of the top scoring companies in this year’s DEI. Headquartered in Indianapolis, it’s one of the largest health insurers in the United States.

Anthem’s 100-percent DEI score can be attributed to numerous factors: the company’s flexible work-from-home policies; its involvement in the disabled community and collaboration with such organizations as the American Association of People with Disabilities and the United States Business Leadership Network; and the organization’s emphasis on diversity training.

business hands clasped together

Anthem’s educational programs for its employees touch on a wide variety of diversity-related topics, including disability etiquette, non-visible disability awareness, assistive technology, healthcare disparities, hiring veterans and more.

In 2015 and 2016, nearly all of Anthem’s employees completed Becoming Culturally Competent, “an eLearning program designed to educate the organization on topics such as unconscious bias, self-awareness, cultural competency and inclusion in the context of Anthem’s culture, business and work environment.”

This program is now required for all new Anthem employees.

 

Standards for Employees of All Abilities

Drew Osifalujo, the diversity data analyst at Anthem’s headquarters in Indianapolis, attributes Anthem’s top score to the company’s emphasis on not defining employees by their disabilities.

man with cell phone in wheelchair“Anthem assesses every employee on the merits of their work above all else,” Osifalujo said. “The company teaches its members to look past preconceived notions and not to adjust expectations based on anyone’s ability level. If you focus on someone’s disability rather than the work they’re doing, you lose sight of what’s really important.”

In the same way Vinton Cerf’s experience as a person with a hearing impairment led to advancements in Internet communication, the experiences of Anthem’s diverse employees push the company forward.

In a statement for DiversityInc, Anthem Chairman, President and CEO Joseph Swedish said, “The diverse thinking, backgrounds and expertise of our more than 50,000 associates make us a stronger company. To truly reach consumers and grow our business, it’s imperative that we understand our diverse customers and have associates that reflect that diversity.”

 

Working with People from All Walks of Life

In addition to its top DEI score, Anthem was ranked high in DiversityInc’s Top 50 Companies for Diversity list. Issued yearly since 2001, this list recognizes the nation’s top companies for diversity and inclusion management.

office workers talking togetherDiversityInc celebrated Anthem particularly for its supplier diversity initiative. Through this program, Anthem strives to work as much as possible with businesses owned by minorities, women, veterans, service-disabled veterans, members of the LGBT community and people with disabilities. Since the inception of this initiative in 2005, spending with diverse-owned suppliers has increased more than 2,323 percent.

“By actively seeking out a diverse pool of suppliers, we create an environment where the best ideas, products and solutions rise to the top,” Swedish said. “This continued effort of committing to diversity creates more affordable products and services, strengthens our connection to the local communities we serve and empowers our members to lead healthier lives.”

 

Pushing the Inclusion Movement Forward

employee working at pet storeWant to learn more about how you and your employer can participate in National Disability Employment Awareness Month?

Visit https://www.dol.gov/odep/topics/ndeam/ for more information.

Hiring people with disabilities and shining a light on their perspectives are the major driving forces in improving workplaces all across the country and beyond.

As Osifalujo said, “It’s important to stay up to date on the best practices for making the workplace more inclusive. It’s not only helpful for people with disabilities but for employees of all abilities. It makes your whole team stronger.”