Lunch & Learn at the MN Epilepsy Foundation

We were privileged to be hosted by the MN Epilepsy Foundation yesterday! Many staff members attended to hear from two amazing people with non-apparent disabilities. Rich Mester and Katherine Berthiaume shared their personal stories about growing up, overcoming barriers, and accomplishing what many thought was simply impossible. The room was filled with strength, curiosity, love, and support. It was an honor to be part of this high-impact and motivating event!

Workshop: Hiring College Grads with Disabilities

Hiring College Grads with Disabilities

Ten percent of college students have a disability. This workshop aims to help companies recruit and retain college graduates with disabilities. Attendees will hear from four professionals with disabilities and have the opportunity to ask the awkward and challenging questions. FREE and RSVP is required. Lunch will be provided!

Huge thanks to Impact Hub for sponsoring!


Change your network

I often hear "I want to diversify my workforce, but I don't know how. Where do I start?" A lot of companies hire people from within their networks (e.g. employee referral programs). Take a look at your current network. Notice anything? Do most of your connections look like you and have similar interests? This is pretty common, we are drawn to people who are like us. So as we try to diversify, we need to change our networks. Here are a few places to get started in the Twin Cities!

-Make It. MSP

-MSP Mingles (St. Paul Area Chamber of Commerce)

-MN Tech Diversity Pledge

-Impact HUB


-Minnesota Business Leadership Network


Disrupt HR Fargo

I attended the Disrupt HR Fargo event last night - it was fantastic! Discovery Benefits and all of the other sponsors did a great job in hosting. Neal Maggard explained the importance of supporting a people-first culture at work. Greg Roche finished the night by giving audience members permission to engage in Idea Sex in order to conceive the next big HR idea (instead of waiting for someone else to come up with it). Awesome event.

MN Tech Diversity Pledge

MN Tech Diversity Pledge kicked off this week at Clockwork. Penumbra and The Brand Lab facilitated the workshop, opening the door for all of us to engage in "fearless conversations." This means creating safe spaces to discuss awkward and difficult topics about race, culture, implicit biases, etc. For me the "a-ha moment" was when someone shared that their company looks diverse, but still doesn't feel inclusive. So what does diversity feel like? And how do we evolve to be more inclusive? We can start by exploring our current culture - think about our actions, policies (written and unwritten), practices, behaviors, attitudes, and communications. What signals and messages are we sending? What do all of these things say about our companies and our brands? Do these messages reflect our core values? Let's start by auditing our company culture to identify strengths and areas of improvement!

Thanks to all who attended - I know we all took something very important away from the event.

From Shame to Pride

The New York Times published the first article in a weekly series about people who live with disabilities. Approximately 1 in 5 people in the U.S. live with a disability. The author reflects on her own personal experience and helps to frame ways to think about disability as a common part of being human. She invites everyone to act - people with disabilities must learn how to effectively live and people without disabilities must seek to understand the challenges that can accompany a disability.  

Here is the link to the article:

State of Technology

The "tech" community in North Dakota is impressive. ND is number 1 in the country for "agricultural tech" and has ambitions for being number 1 in "autonomous technology" (e.g. self-driving cars). Brad Smith, President of Microsoft, gave an outstanding Keynote presentation. He emphasized the need for businesses to harness a diverse workforce, and he noted specifically that there are 1.2 billion people who have disabilities, globally. So, in summary - accessing and leveraging the talents and perspectives of people with disabilities is critical for future success.

Diversity and Inclusion Workshop

COCO Coworking and Collaborative Space hosted a Diversity and Inclusion Workshop called "Diversity and Inclusion Workshop: Create an Action Plan for Your Organization." Caroline Karanja, Founder and CEO, of 26 Letters facilitated an interactive discussion and guided attendees as they honed their Diversity Statements.

Many of the companies were concerned about creating Diversity and Inclusion Statements that weren't inclusive enough. Caroline's message was strong - don't wait for everything to be perfect, just get started and evolve over time. She said that Apple usually updates its Diversity Statement once per year based on feedback and new aspirations.

Here is the Diversity Statement that Caroline likes best:

And here is the link to the 26 Letters website for more info:

D&I and the Tech Industry

The Forum on Workplace Inclusion hosted an event recently around Diversity and Inclusion in the Tech Industry - titled "D&I and the Tech Industry: A Look at the Current State and the Road Ahead." Speakers Isa Notermans (Spotify), Jason Gong (Pinterest), and Adam Quinton (Lucas Point Ventures) shared their stories about best practices.

Here are some of the key takeaways:

1. Leaders need confidence in talking about Diversity and Inclusion.

2. Identifying key partnerships is critical.

3. Developing an internship/mentoring/or apprenticeship program for attracting and hiring diverse candidates is one approach that is showing promise.

4. Hold your organization accountable by tying performance evaluations to diversity and inclusion and sharing information publicly about goals and progress.

You can watch the recording by visiting and clicking "Special Events" and then "Webinars."


5 Signs Your Doors are Open to Employees with Disabilities

I recently attended a webinar co-hosted by The Sierra Group Foundation and the Pennsylvania Developmental Disabilities Council. It was titled "5 Signs Your Doors are Open to Employees with Disabilities - Keys to Inclusive Cultures."

Here is a snapshot of the conversation:

1. Make sure your building and technology are accessible.

2. Foster a culture of inclusion - especially language.

3. Express your commitment to inclusion through PR and Marketing materials.

4. Leverage national and local resources to communicate inclusion.

5. Develop inclusive policies and practices within your organization.

I recommend watching the webinar, which is available online. Click on the link below - the webinar is half way down the page.

Diversity in Business

I attended the Diversity in Business event hosted by the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal last week. Bev Brown (Xcel Energy), Tasha Byers (St. Paul Area Chamber of Commerce), David Hough (Hennepin County), Tonya Jackman Hampton (HealthPartners), Philomena Morrissey Satre (Wells Fargo), and Ravi Norman (Thor Construction) spoke on a panel about their successes related to Diversity & Inclusion.

I liked the "three things" that Ravi Norman (CEO of Thor Construction) shared regarding best practices - these are true for disability inclusion too:

1. Intentionality - moving from a "diversity and inclusion program" to "the way we do business." WHY should you spend time and energy on building an inclusive organization? For many reasons, but here is one. Organizations thrive on attracting top talent and appealing to customers. Talented people want to work for organizations that value diverse perspectives - as these perspectives help to improve your products and services. And better products and services lead to more sales. So HOW do you leverage diversity and inclusion? Diversity and inclusion can be woven into the fabric of your organization. It takes effort - and good leadership. Leaders can start by listening to employees to find ways to build a more inclusive organization. 

2. Sustainable investment - holding yourself accountable is key. Organizations can use metrics and other accountability strategies to ensure change is happening. Some organizations tie performance bonuses to diversity and inclusion efforts. It is also important to track how diversity and inclusion efforts are impacting your bottom line.

3. Open infrastructure - this is all about trying new things. Organizations that seek to continuously listen, learn, and take risks will have a better chance of reaping the benefits of an inclusive organization. For example, building a pipeline of future employees through a variety of internship or mentoring programs. Or establishing an Employee Resource Group dedicated to disability inclusion.

No matter what path you take - share your story. Diversity and inclusion is an area that we can all collaborate on.

What can state legislators do to promote career pathways for people with disabilities?

The Women in Government Midwest Conference was hosted in Minneapolis, MN on June 23rd-25th. One of the sessions focused on Employing People with Disabilities. Representative Jacqueline Sly (SD), Anne-Marie Kuiper (Summit Academy), Alyssa Klein (DEED), and Hannah Carney (BetterWorkforce) served on the panel. A good discussion followed the presentations. 

Things state legislators can do to promote career pathways for people with disabilities (from the employer perspective):

1. Support "train-to-place" models that are driven by employer/industry needs. In other words, start with the business need and train people with disabilities to fill those needs.

2. Fund transportation - people with disabilities need to be able to get to work and transportation impacts all of us.

3. Connect with the US Business Leadership Network (USBLN) and its local affiliates. The local chapter in Minnesota is called the MN Business Leadership Network (MNBLN). These organizations are focused on best practices related to disability inclusion and can be a great place to learn more.

When it comes to Tax Incentives for employers who hire individuals with disabilities, make sure the process for receiving the incentive is easy. Businesses will not be attracted to an incentive that is labor intensive. Also note that tax incentives alone do not provide employers with information around best practices related to recruiting and retaining people with disabilities. So employers may be motivated by the tax incentive, but lack the knowledge and skills to earn it.

From left to right: Anne-Marie Kuiper, Representative Jacqueline Sly, Hannah Carney

From left to right: Anne-Marie Kuiper, Representative Jacqueline Sly, Hannah Carney

Why recruit and retain people with disabilities?

People with disabilities are qualified employees who provide value at all levels of an organization. Employers who proactively recruit and retain these talented people have experienced the following benefits:

  • Expanded market reach (people with disabilities represent $2 Trillion in buying power)
  • Lower turnover
  • Increased productivity and morale
  • Ability to meet compliance standards (Sections 503 and 4212)
  • Eligibility for tax incentives