People with disabilities are a strength and their inclusion in the fabric of the company is a strategic imperative. These are all words that you’ve heard and seen on the Accessibility Blog in recent months and years: we're becoming a bit of a scratched record on the subject! While the goal of building a diverse work culture that embraces disability is clear, the challenge remains how to make it happen. At Microsoft, we did not do it alone.
Over the years, we have partnered with several organizations to guide and help us toward our goal, the biggest of which is the US Business Leadership Network (USBLN.) “Our goal is to reduce the unemployment rate for people with disabilities, and to do that, we need to reach more businesses to provide them with the resources and tools they need to create successful Disability Inclusion programs,” said Jill Houghton, USBLN President and CEO.
This month marks the 20th year of the annual USBLN Conference, which provides companies like Microsoft that attend the unique opportunity to share best practices with one another. In addition, business leaders can learn how to create leading policies and practices for including people with disabilities in the workplace, supply chain and marketplace.
It provides not only wisdom, but tools. To help businesses advance their disability inclusion policies, the USBLN joined forces with the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD) and created the Disability Equality Index (DEI). The DEI provides a confidential opportunity to receive an objective score on disability inclusion policies and a benchmark to identify areas of improvement. It’s a comprehensive tool that assesses a wide range of criteria and is used by over a hundred companies, including Microsoft. “The DEI helped us realize we needed more measures in place, and so we created more process around how we attract and retain talent. It’s been invaluable in helping shape our Inclusive Hiring Program,” said Jenny Lay-Flurrie, Microsoft’s Chief Accessibility Officer, who also serves as the board chair of the USBLN. Lay-Flurrie works closely with Houghton, and the other amazing members of the board, to identify opportunities to broaden the impact of the USBLN.
Another USBLN program showing impact is the USBLN Rising Leadership Academy. It’s part of the USBLN Conference and connects employers with college students and recent graduates that have disabilities to help create opportunities and guidance for the next generation of business leaders. Students meet and interact with business professionals in their field of study to gain hands-on experience in their area of interest. Employers gain access to an untapped talent pool of enthusiastic students looking to enter the workforce. An average of 85% of USBLN Rising Leaders have gained employment in their field of study, including two recent hires at Microsoft, which are part of our overall inclusive hiring efforts.
Microsoft is thrilled to welcome Bryan Stromer and Ray Parker from last year’s USBLN’s Rising Leadership Academy! Stromer, a graduate of Vanderbilt University and will be a Product Marketing Manager and Parker, a graduate from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, will be working as a Data & AI Consultant. “As a student with a disability transitioning into a working professional, the USBLN and the Rising Leadership Academy have been an invaluable asset to me and my professional career,” said Parker. This year, Microsoft is co-sponsoring the Rising Leadership Academy and looks forward to meeting additional qualified candidates.
The USBLN Conference will take place in Orlando, Florida on August 21-24, 2017, and we encourage you to get involved and learn more about USBLN 20th Annual National Conference and Biz2Biz Expo. If you’re interested in attending and joining Jenny, Jill, Bryan, Ray and many more, sign up and sign up fast! They are 90% sold out and expecting a full crowd. You can register here.
Also, if attending, check out the new technology track to hear from companies like IBM, Facebook, LinkedIn and more on accessibility in the workplace from folks eager to help individuals and companies with technology that drives inclusion.
We look forward to seeing you in Orlando!