By Dr. Peter Hirst, Executive Director of MIT Sloan Executive Education
At the end of October, an important event took place in Norwood, MA--the Work Without Limits Annual Conference and Career Fair. Work Without Limits is a Massachusetts-based statewide network of engaged employers and innovative, collaborative partners that aims to increase employment among individuals with disabilities. Their goal is to position Massachusetts as the first state in the nation where the employment rate of people with disabilities is equal to that of the general population.
The conference received national attention when Assistant Secretary of Labor for Disability Employment Policy Kathy Martinez addressed the 350 attendees during her speech. "Like you, we believe the road to change is to focus on the positive, to emphasize what all people—including people with disabilities—can do," she said and encouraged "employers and workers across the country to continue to work towards more inclusive workplaces every month, and every day of the year." Full article
Unfortunately, I wasn't able to attend myself, but all the more reason to spread the word about this worthy organization.
An Untapped Talent Pool
The importance of this organization's efforts became even more poignant to me recently when I attended the Internet of Things World Forum in Chicago. One of the major topics discussed there was the talent gap in the U.S. economy between the skillsets that are currently available and what employers actually need, particularly in the high-tech industry. And yet, there exist pools of talent that are easy to overlook or to ignore and that may be excellent resources for employers. People with disabilities comprise one such pool of individuals with potential to contribute their skills and abilities and bring another dimension of human diversity to any organization.
Some disabilities may be visible, others not so obvious or even declared by people who suffer from them. In meetings of Work Without Limit's B2B Network, for example, we have heard from returning veterans and former police officers--people who may be dealing with issues that affect their behavior but not physical abilities and vice versa--about the challenges they have faced, how they have addressed them and (happily) in many cases thrived, with both good and bad work experiences that they have encountered. Employers may be missing out on a rich talent pool available for work right in their own community, or more subtly, thoughtlessly diminishing the contributions that their entire workforce can make by having an inadvertently narrow perspective on disability.
I first became aware of Work Without Limits when my friend Macy Reed invited me to attend an event there. Macy is the President of National Grid Massachusetts and a Work Without Limits "friendraiser," a concept that was new for me. Unlike fundraisers, friendraisers don’t raise money--they raise awareness and engagement in support of worthy causes.
With all the technology-focused and future-oriented work that we do at MIT, it's easy to lose sight of what’s happening in the present in our own backyard, so to speak. When Macy invited me to attend a Work Without Limits event for employers, I was grateful for the opportunity to learn about an initiative with such immediate societal importance. I was deeply moved and inspired by the organization and its accomplishments, and quickly joined as a corporate sponsor on behalf of MIT Sloan Executive Education. Soon thereafter I learned that the Human Resources department at MIT has been engaged with Work Without Limits already.
A B2B Network of Responsible Companies
MIT Sloan School of Management Executive Education is an active participant in the organization's B2B Network alongside National Grid, John Hancock, Eastern Bank, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Fidelity Investments, and many others. This network enables business peers to connect, share, inspire, and transfer best practices around disability employment and builds disability diversity confidence in organizations. In addition to becoming more mindful and inclusive in their hiring practices, participating organizations get a chance to network with and learn from other Massachusetts employers with similar values.
How to Get Involved
I encourage everyone to learn more about Work Without Limits and join its efforts. If your organization is located outside of Massachusetts, find similar resources in your state or start your own initiative. Sometimes in life, the right thing to do is also the right thing to do. This is one of those times.