Why you should care
Because too many companies are writing off a valuable part of the workforce.
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The author is head of talent at JPMorgan Chase & Co. He is responsible for talent management, leadership development, succession planning and management training.
For a while, when I was a student at Cornell University, I was convinced that calculus was going to ruin my life. The subject was strangely unfathomable, yet I needed to study it. It was quite the grind. I remember talking to my brother Joe, and he assured me that I might emerge from my trials a little battle-weary, but that calculus would not consume my life as I had feared.
His five siblings never viewed that extra chromosome as a disability.
When you’re in the thick of things, it is easy to feel overwhelmed, so an external perspective is often helpful. Joe has provided that rational voice ever since I can remember. My younger brother and I grew up as part of a big Italian family in the Finger Lakes region of New York. Our grandparents were Italian immigrants and our parents never studied past high school, but they understood Joe’s gifts even though he was born with Down syndrome. His five siblings never viewed that extra chromosome as a disability, and being just two years apart, he and I have always been extra close.
Sadly, the real world is much harsher. Surveys from a 2015 report reveal that only 15,000 of the 400,000 working-age people with Down syndrome in the United States are employed; of these, only 20 percent are in paid work. Prejudice about abilities is largely to blame for such sobering statistics, but education and technology can make a distinct impact in providing meaningful employment for differently abled people in all sectors of the workforce. In turn, employers get the best talent as well as the diverse experiences these employees bring to the table.
Joe works full time as a quality assurance specialist for GW Lisk, an engineering company that manufactures solenoids, valves and sensors. He has to ensure that all parts are in working order before they are shipped to the end customers. When Joe thought that the machine he was using to check these parts was moving too slowly, he came up with a hand-drawn reconfiguration that would speed things up significantly. Equally important, his supervisor did not dismiss his suggestions, but instead saw the validity in his arguments. They modified the machine as per Joe’s recommendations, and now everyone’s a winner.
This is what it takes to integrate differently abled people in the workforce: an ability to look beyond the disability and appreciate the perspective that each employee brings to the table.
I am proud to say that I have seen how committed JPMorgan Chase is to hiring people with disabilities and to giving them opportunities to realize their full potential. The company’s AccessAbility business resource group and the Office of Disability Inclusion recognize that making the workplace accessible to all goes beyond ramps and automatic doors. JPMorgan Chase makes every effort to foster assimilation — making differently abled people full members of teams and the culture.
Together, we’re building a more cohesive workforce, one where every employee is trained for leadership no matter their background or ability. We all bring diverse strengths to the table. Even better, leveling the playing field for all will ensure that we not only have happy employees but also productive ones.