Interview with Nadine Vogel, Chief Executive Officer at SpringBoard Consulting LLC- insights on support for disabled people finding employment

Since 2005 Nadine has been running Springboard Consulting LLC, working with multinational corporations around the world to mainstream disability in the global workforce, workplace and marketplace. Nadine’s LinkedIn profile can be viewed here, and Springboard Consulting’s website can be found here.

Nadine kindly gave of her time to share some insights and experiences for the blog about what she sees as the challenges and future of helping people with disabilities find and excel in employment.

Do you have any initial thoughts that you’d like to share?

Let me tell you a personal story, because I think it will illustrate just how insane this whole thing is.  Both my adult daughters have disabilities. My oldest one is 28. She is a [university] graduate but has significant disabilities. At the start, when my older daughter was first looking for university, we were looking at scholarships, and we learned that there were really no scholarships for university students with disabilities. One of the first things we did was create a Foundation, an NGO that provides scholarships to university students with disabilities. Our belief is that university students with disabilities have a lot of challenges but money shouldn’t be one of them.

The Foundation provides two types of scholarships: $1,500 General scholarships and $2,500 Named scholarships. When the named scholarships are awarded, the recipient is also introduced to the company who gave the funds’ HR Department in hopes of generating an internship and/or employment post-graduation. So, the Foundation is not just about giving away money, it’s about employment.  It’s exciting.

Fast forward, my older daughter is in [university]. She lives independently and drives and When she was entering her junior year, she realized her peers were getting internship opportunities while she was not.  So I decided to take my Springboard hat off, put my mum hat on and meet with the Director of Career Services.  When I said, ‘I don’t understand’ why my daughter is being left out of this process. He replied ‘Mrs. Vogel, we have to make sure our regular students find internships first’.  And I said, ‘I have not paid an irregular tuition!’  The problem was he was serious and had the nerve to say it straight to my face.

Although universities have Accessibility Services, what is needed is for Careers Services and Accessibility Services to liaison with each other – so it’s not just about accommodating students in an academic setting but preparing them for careers and the obstacles they may face as individuals with disabilities. We have to help students understand how to appropriately disclose their disability, how to ask for a reasonable adjustment within the workplace and how to do so focusing on the essential job functions and related performance rather than the disability.  We have to change how these conversations take place.

When my daughter graduated, she was offered an internship with a well-known large insurance company, and they said ‘we’re going to pay you but there’s no job at the other end but it’ll give you great experience’. So she took it, because it allowed her to experience independence by moving to another state and of course, getting great job experience. At the conclusion of the internship, she applied for a myriad of job across the company but never received an offer in spite of her top performance ratings.  She went on many  job interviews outside this company as well, and was greeted with things like, ‘Oh, people like you probably want to start with….?’ ‘Wow, you came two hours away for this interview. How did you get here?’ So frustrating, so frustrated and so crazy. Not long after, I was looking for a talented individual to work for Springboard’s COO and thought why not hire my daughter myself?  She’s been at the company for over four years, successfully holding a variety of different jobs and with no formal adjustments made. What’s scary is that had I not had this opportunity, she might still be unemployed.

When someone so talented has no employment options, it creates a host of other issues such as depression. The ability to be gainfully employed and live independently is a basic human right, whether the individual has a disability or not.

This is why Springboard exists. We want to ensure people with disabilities are hired, promoted and retained so they can contribute to society like anyone else and be rewarded in the same manner.  In working with companies, Springboard focuses a lot on organizational readiness to ensure that both the individual and the company are set up for long-term success.

When thinking about equality in the workplace, It’s not about treating everyone equally, it’s about providing equal access for everyone to be successful. There’s a difference.

Are there any examples or stories that you’ve done with organisations that you felt really made a difference for candidates or for employees at all?

I would say just about everything Springboard does makes a difference for candidates, employees and customers with disabilities. For instance, if a company’s careers portal (on their website) is not accessible to someone who’s blind, has a visual impairment, can’t use a mouse or a keyboard,  Springboard works with them to ensure their sites are not only accessible but usable.  We’ve heard from many beneficiaries of this work who have said things like, ‘I tried to apply to this company for years, but their site wasn’t accessible, so I couldn’t use it. And I kept going back, and now it’s accessible – six months later, I’m working here, this is amazing!’  Springboard also builds reasonable adjustment processes for companies so that they are fair, equitable and consistent across the enterprise.  We’ve had employees who, if not for that process couldn’t successfully do their job.   Springboard also builds in-house mentor programmes to ensure companies are not just hiring people with disabilities at the entry level and keeping them there. Such programs ensure career progression for employees who have disabilities, similar to their non-disabled counterparts.

Springboard also has an early stage programme called the DSO liaison programme which establishes a formal working relationship between a university’s Office that supports students with disabilities and a company. Springboard also produces Disability Mentor Days providing university students with disabilities a day of job shadowing within a company which typically yields internships that lead to full-time employment.  This initiative helps both the individuals and the company get comfortable with one another, yielding tremendous success.  There are just so many success stories across the globe, I could go on forever.

Have you seen any sort of trends or changes in the way that companies do support disabled candidates?

Definitely more awareness then when I started Springboard. Back in 2005, if I would speak with a Diversity or Human Resources conference organiser, I would say, ‘I’d love to speak about disability at your conference and they’d look at me like, ‘why would we do that?’ It just wasn’t it talked about. The good news is that Disability is addressed at just about every Diversity and HR conference today.

We still have a challenge on the marketing side, addressing people with disabilities as customers, but I’m working on that too.

Although people are more aware of disability legislation such as The Equality Act in the UK, but the really good work typically comes down to the individual company, their corporate culture, their ethos.  In spite of laws though, some companies address disability inclusion differently from country to country while others prioritize it across the enterprise. It’s these companies that will do everything in their power to mainstream people with disabilities in their workforce, workplace and marketplace just because they believe it’s the right thing to do.

In terms of how you see the near future and recruitment for people who are disabled, do you see any developments in that area – anything changing or not staying the same?

Generally speaking, it is changing and for the better. But the bar was low.  A recruiter have can a qualified job candidate staring them right in the face but because they’re sitting in a wheelchair, or because they look different, or don’t have an arm, they rationalize the candidate is not a good fit.  It’s ridiculous but it’s human nature. So, yes, it has improved dramatically, but we still have a long way to go.

We need to change minds and hearts – there’s a lot of talk about unconscious bias but in truth, there’s a lot of conscious bias. Folks are not trying to be mean, but based on their life experiences, where they grew up, maybe they’ve never met someone with a disability.  All of this informs who we are, how we act and react. We have to be willing to admit and own the fact that we all have biases. If not, behaviour will not change.  Remember, legislation only starts the conversation which is a good thing but it’s just a start – we still need to do much ore in order to change hearts and minds.

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