This year’s National Disability Employment Awareness Month theme, “A Strong Workforce is an Inclusive Workforce: What can YOU Do?” invites us to consider what we can do to promote inclusion in our workplaces.
President Obama and Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis have made diversifying the workforce a high priority, including hiring more workers with disabilities. In 2010, the President signed an Executive Order asking federal agencies to increase the hiring of people with disabilities by 100,000 over five years. And last month, the Department of Labor pledged $20,654,352 to seven states in order to increase employment opportunities for unemployed youths and adults with disabilities.
We know women with disabilities face considerable challenges in obtaining good jobs and fair wages, and women of color face even tougher challenges, with what the Department of Health and Human Services calls “triple jeopardy” – discrimination based on gender, race, and disability. Diversity is critical to remaining competitive in the 21st century. For the past two years, the Women’s Bureau has partnered with the Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy in the common mission to promote workplace policies and flexibilities that can better meet the needs of a diverse and changing workforce. This partnership included collaborating on the development of a new online Workplace Flexibility Toolkit, which provides more than 170 resources for job seekers, employers, and researchers on topics ranging from the benefits of flexible work schedules and telecommuting to hiring disabled veterans.
Creating a welcoming environment for people with disabilities is the first step, but real progress comes when employers recognize that they need diversity of talent.
Latifa Lyles is Acting Director of the U.S. Department of Labor’s Women’s Bureau.