This scenario is among the many stories told about the positive domino effect of inclusive hiring practices in a study published by the Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp) in partnership with Best Buddies International.
A featured case study in The Inclusive Talent Pool: Employing People with Disabilities, is that of KellyConnect, which found that hiring workers with disabilities to staff their virtual customer service call center sparked its talent pipeline to the extent that there’s no need to create a specific disability recruitment initiative.
“We have a great referral base of our current employees and I think it's because the word has spread through word of mouth that we hire and are able to really support people who have disabilities,” Melissa Turansky, PHR Senior Director at KellyConnect told us.
This is the theme of a new jobs campaign rolled out in observance of World Down Syndrome Day (March 21, 2021) featuring Sting singing The Hiring Chain, which is a story about inclusive hiring.
The core message of the Hiring Chain is that by hiring someone with Down syndrome, “a virtuous chain is started—the more that people with Down syndrome are seen at work, the more they’ll be recognized as valuable employees, and the more they’ll be hired.” And everyone benefits—employer, employee, customers, and ultimately the community.
The i4cp and Best Buddies study found that among employers that hire workers with disabilities, the top two benefits by far that were cited were the addition of highly motivated employees (59%) and that resulting inclusive culture is attractive to their talent pools (59%). But we also found that the diversity, equity, and inclusion conversation in some organizations often overlooks some dimensions of diversity, most significantly, disability inclusion.
“When we talk about disability, it’s natural to talk—and think—in terms of limitations rather than possibilities,” says Madeline Borkin, i4cp’s Vice President of Member Development.
Madeline’s son, Jacob, was born with Down syndrome 15 years ago.
“When we shared that news with others, the first thing everyone always said was ‘I’m sorry.’ For a few months I accepted this, but then we were introduced to Best Buddies and I got involved in advocacy and this became my life’s purpose—both personally and professionally, because I’ve always worked in and around HR.
Through my advocacy work, I met people with many different types of disabilities—including intellectual and developmental disabilities and people on the Autism spectrum. I met people with Down syndrome who were in college or holding jobs, getting married, starting their own businesses. They were doing public speaking on huge stages in front of thousands of people, educating others and advocating for themselves.
I realized that through these experiences, my thinking had changed. I was thinking about possibilities instead of limitations. And that my hopes and dreams for Jacob are about what he wants versus what I as his mom want.”
Madeline carried her dedication to disability advocacy into her role at i4cp, introducing us all to the work of Best Buddies as well as a deeper understanding of the power of inclusive hiring.
“As a person born with a physical birth defect, my own experiences growing up definitely influence how I think and talk about inclusion. My parents did the total opposite of what was recommended at the time—they included me in absolutely everything. I wasn’t treated differently—I was always front-and-center, and this made me very confident. I thrived, and I’m where I am today as a result of that,” says Madeline.
Organizations may be slow to explore inclusive hiring practices because they’re unsure of how to start. And as Madeline points out, some organizations don’t know what to do with people who have different abilities because they simply haven’t experienced it yet.
The good news is that there are nonprofit supportive jobs programs in most communities, such as the Best Buddies Jobs Program, which matches skilled and qualified individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities with businesses seeking enthusiastic and dedicated employees. Through the program, Best Buddies develops partnerships with employers, assists with the hiring process, and provides training and ongoing support to the employee and employer.
Madeline says that hiring people with Down syndrome helps organizations start the positive hiring chain that results in a win-win for everyone.
“Down syndrome is a very visibly obvious disability. And we make assumptions when we see someone with a disability—those assumptions are about limits rather than opportunities. But given a chance and the proper support, the possibilities are as endless for a person with a disability as they are for anyone else.”
March 21st is World Down Syndrome Day (WDSD), a global awareness day that has been officially observed by the United Nations since 2012. There’s significance in the date—it was chosen to denote the triplication (trisomy) of the 21st chromosome, which causes Down syndrome.
The Best Buddies Jobs Program represents one of the Best Buddies organization’s four key mission pillars, Integrated Employment. This program secures jobs for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD), allowing them to earn an income, pay taxes, and continuously and independently support themselves. The program places focus beyond the typical jobs in which a person with IDD might be placed. Best Buddies focuses on finding work that matches the job seeker’s interests and talents.
Lorrie Lykins is i4cp's Vice President of Research