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Building on Diverse Hiring Practices That Work

By: Dianne Malley and Susan Schonfeld 

Posted on October 30, 2023

Giovanni packing uniforms at Cintas.

As we reflect on National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) in October, we need to think about the theme for this year chosen by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy. This year’s theme is Advancing Equity and Access.

 

NDEAM is a celebration of people with disabilities in the workforce and the tremendous contributions they make at their jobs and a time to reflect on how we can do even better in building diverse and equitable workspaces where everyone is seen and supported.

 

Our experience has shown that people with autism are talented, ready, and willing employees, just like the rest of the workforce. It’s also a win-win, good for businesses that need talent and the talent pool looking for job opportunities.   

 

Our work at the Drexel Business Inclusion Center (Drexel BIC) focuses on connecting employers to a talent pipeline of individuals with a disability. Research shows that most adults with autism are not receiving the employment they need to support themselves and live a well-balanced life.    

 

“Employment is a key social determinant of health and well-being for the estimated 5.4 million autistic adults in the United States – just as it is for citizens without disabilities,” said Anne Roux, the Research Scientist and Director of the Policy Impact Program at the A.J. Drexel Autism Institute.    

 

At the Drexel BIC, we have a team of experts who have practical, real-world experience developing programs, providing training for small businesses and large corporations, and identifying techniques to increase access to the talent pipeline of individuals with a disability who are ready to work in fully integrated jobs on a full-time basis.   

 

We know that nearly all adults work full-time to support themselves and their families. It shouldn’t be any different for individuals with a disability.   

 

Likewise, we know that businesses directly hiring workers with disabilities not only work but make good business sense.   

 

In virtually every industry, diversity improves financial results. According to McKinsey and Company, that includes racial and gender diversity while additional research shows that the same is true for neurodiversity.   

 

Professors Gary P. Pisano and Robert D. Austin, of the Harvard Business School and Ivey Business School, respectively, discuss this topic in even greater detail in their article: Neurodiversity as a Competitive Advantage. The article talks about how neurodiverse people “may bring new perspectives to a company’s efforts to create or recognize value” and how the “neurodiverse population remains a largely untapped talent pool,” citing both unemployment and underemployment. Our own work at the Drexel BIC has led us to the same conclusion.    

 

Success for job seekers with disabilities in a fully integrated employment setting is not just possible, it’s happening every day.  

 

Each year we place around 260 Philadelphians with disabilities in a variety of jobs and roles with local employers and provide employment support and other supportive services to 1,000 more.  

 

We help job seekers with disabilities find employment in whatever kind of job they’re looking for and have placed individuals at local businesses including Cintas, Aramark, The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Home Depot, Weavers Way Co-Op, and many more.   

 

These are not low-skill or second-string jobs either. One of our largest employer partners is the School District of Philadelphia, where we’ve placed over 140 individuals with disabilities in a variety of good-wage, full-time-sustaining jobs. This includes jobs such as Teaching Assistants, Education staff, Administrative Assistants, as well as clerical positions.   

 

For a more in-depth example, take our work on job placements with Cintas. Cintas is a great illustration of what can happen when employees with disabilities are given the same opportunities as everyone else.    

 

Take the placement of Peter and Giovanni as an example. Both were hired on the Production team, where they work side-by-side with their co-workers to help intake, clean, and repackage work uniforms from businesses around the city. Both work full-time and earn living wages.  

 

Both have a disability and nevertheless, they have both seen their roles expand as Cintas’s business needs increased. Peter now leads the Production floor in the daily Stretch and Flex, which helps prevent employee injuries and Gio leads the scrub-folding after a new account increased production needs.    

 

These two employees, by way of example, are a seamless part of the company team, where – just like everyone else – they’re valued for their contributions as employees, not set apart by the fact that they have a disability.   

 

Cintas is just an example, as discussed above many of our placements are at the School District of Philadelphia and other employers, and as we know from our work, people with disabilities can work in any industry.    

 

Advancing Equity and Access is an important theme for National Disability Employment Awareness Month that we should all be working towards.   

 

As your company continues to think about hiring and job opportunities, make sure you are doing your part to increase access to sustainable fully integrated jobs for individuals with a disability.   

 

If you need assistance creating or expanding your hiring efforts for individuals with a disability, we can be reached at the Drexel BIC by email at businessinclusion@drexel.edu.   

 

Dianne Malley and Susan Schonfeld are Senior Consultants at the Drexel Business Inclusion Center, a program operated by Transition Pathways of the A.J. Drexel Autism Institute in collaboration with Community Integrated Services.