People with disabilities play a vital role in making any workforce more diverse, inclusive and vibrant. That’s certainly true here at Morgan Stanley. Many of our employees identify as having different abilities. In recognition of their important contributions, this month we celebrate National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM). “Of course, every day is a great day to be sensitive to the needs of our peers and friends with disabilities,” says Deepti Chhiber, Executive Director, Wealth Management Analytics, Data & Innovation. “But October is the time to spend extra time concentrating on learning more.”
That’s why the DisAbility Employee Network is hosting many events, a series of keynote speakers, and other programs this month. That includes a chance to hear from Team USA Paralympic gold medalist Oksana Masters. (Not content with mastering just one sport, Masters happens to be a Paralympian in rowing, cross-country skiing and bike.) She will talk about overcoming barriers, what it’s like to be a role model for people with disabilities, and what everyone can do to create a more inclusive workplace and a more inclusive world.
But of course, there are role models with different abilities right here at Morgan Stanley, including Deepti and Vice President, Enterprise Tech & Services, Trevor Astrope. We reached out to them for their thoughts on the work barriers people with disabilities face and why this month is important.
One of the main obstacles that I have personally encountered is bias. Some hiring managers may not even interview a candidate with a disability because the manager may think that if they had that disability, they wouldn’t be able to do the job. There have certainly been a lot of advances in technology that empowers people, but there’s still a hiring gap. Overall, people with disabilities also experience a higher unemployment rate. That’s a lot of untapped positive potential. People with disabilities offer a wide range of unique talents and skills.
I am the co-chair of the disability working group of the technological culture of inclusion working group. We are hosting a series of fireside chats with various people with disabilities to highlight how they work and what accommodations they need. Our hope is that through awareness and learning, more hiring managers will consider people with disabilities. My advice to anyone considering hiring a person with a disability for a position is to ask the candidate what they need to be productive.
Stay determined in the face of adversity. People with disabilities can be cataloged in certain professions. For example, it is common for blind people to work in a call center. Throughout my career, I often started out as a consultant. It was a great way to gain experience and prove myself, and in my case, it led to full-time positions. I am also constantly teaching myself technologies. I learned Unix and Linux on my own, and it had a big impact on my career. People with disabilities often need to think outside the box to overcome daily challenges. The same goes for your career.
In the workplace, people with disabilities often experience discrimination or differential treatment. This can make them feel disconnected or not a part of the team – not included in other words. But of course, their views and experiences are truly worth listening to and deserve respect. In fact, studies have shown that workplaces that include employees with disabilities are more inclusive and better for everyone. It is also important to understand that the word disability encompasses many, many people with different abilities and attributes, including many disabilities that are not visible.
I have gone through many challenges to get to where I am, both as a person of color and as a person with an invisible disability. Many people may be shocked reading this, thinking, “Oh, but you look good.” I started sharing more with people about my challenges, and a big priority for me as a leader is making sure everyone on my team and around me is inclusive. Nowadays, having social intelligence is so important for the leaders of an organization. We should work on training programs to increase the EQ, or emotional intelligence, of our leaders. This is how we will be able to promote a positive culture where people are comfortable talking to each other.
Be comfortable disclosing your disability at work. It can be difficult at first. It can help establish a few trusting relationships that provide space for open and honest communication. Unless your peers and employers are aware of your disability, they will not be able to take action to support you. At the same time, don’t forget to share your positive contributions and how you help drive results for the team. No one can defend you better than yourself.