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Creating business advantage with workforce diversity and inclusion

Yves Veulliet, IBM Workforce Diversity, Canada & Europe

For many people, accessibility and disability are philanthropic efforts that represent requisite components of every company's Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) portfolio.

Well, that is one point of view.

At IBM, we've traditionally viewed these issues from a more out-of-the-box perspective that asked: What if accessibility was a REAL business? How could including people with disabilities in the workforce create an additional business advantage for companies?

As an IBM workforce diversity leader I am often invited by other companies and business partners to present IBM's policies that facilitate the inclusion of people with disabilities into our workforce. HR directors and CEOs politely listen to me, but, I feel as though they are always silently wondering, "Why should I bother hiring a person with a disability to do a job that a person without a disability can perform as well? How can I win in the marketplace with people who have disabilities on my team?"

As long as these questions remain unanswered, no message, no innovative program, no flashy chart will convince or persuade business leaders to rethink the possible advantages of inclusion.

For IBM, the answers are simple:

To help enable diversity initiatives for our own workforce and for those of our clients, IBM invests heavily in accessibility innovation to provide inclusive products, services and technology.

Disability and diversity are part of IBM's DNA. I think this anecdote about one of the company's founders helps illustrate why:

"In 1873, Herman Hollerith, a student with a cognitive processing disability, started jumping out of his schoolroom's second-story window to avoid spelling lessons. In 1886, he devised a punch-card system to record, transport, and tabulate information, the earliest computer. By 1896 he had founded the Tabulating Machine Company, which in 1924 was renamed, you guessed it, International Business Machines..." 1

In the span of a century, IBM has evolved from a small business that made scales, time clocks and tabulating machines to a globally integrated enterprise with 400,000 employees and a strong vision for the future. None of this could have been achieved without men and women with different abilities, education and cultural background. Ultimately, diversity isn't about philanthropy, it's about recognizing and capitalizing on the unique skills and abilities that every person can bring to the table.

1 Source: Title : Disability And Business: Best Practices And Strategies for Inclusion
  Author : Charles A., II Riley
  Editor : University Press of New England (15 October 2006)
  ISBN-10: 1584655224

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