Wells Fargo and other major companies have made progress toward making workplace environments more diverse and inclusive for people with disabilities, but there is still work to do, said Kathy Martinez, senior vice president and head of Disability and Accessibility Strategy at Wells Fargo.
This was the takeaway message when Martinez, Wells Fargo Chief Marketing Officer Jamie Moldafsky, and leaders from Merck and Ernst & Young spoke at the Leadership in Business Workshop panel during the No Barriers Summit this month in New York City. The workshop, held on Oct. 4, before the summit’s opening ceremony, was designed to explore challenges and solutions related to diversity and inclusion in the workplace.
“It isn’t perfect, but we’re moving in the right direction,” Martinez said. “It’s a marathon, not a sprint. The culture we’re cultivating really is about creating the capacity of the bank to include people at all levels in the organization.”
No Barriers USA has a mission to unleash the power of the human spirit through transformative experiences, tools, and inspiration. The summit, held Oct. 5 and 6, during National Disability Employment Awareness Month, is one of the nonprofit’s signature programs, providing several days of speakers, innovations, and adaptive activities for veterans, youth from various backgrounds, and families learning to manage disabilities.
Wells Fargo has been a sponsor of No Barriers USA since 2014 and has sponsored the summit since 2015. During this year’s event, Martinez and Moldafsky rang the closing bell at the New York Stock Exchange on Oct. 3. Wells Fargo also introduced its “With, Always” marketing campaign, which highlights the company’s commitment to hiring and cultivating leaders with disabilities, working with organizations led by people with disabilities, and ensuring disability programs will be done with people with disabilities.
Employing and incorporating people with disabilities and allies was one of the lessons the leaders on the panel shared.
“Certainly our journey has been a long one, but I think we hit a very rapid trajectory when we brought on Kathy,” Moldafsky said of Martinez, who was born blind. “I’d say bring in people who are passionate and have experience themselves for how to help people be more successful in the workplace. Kathy has been our single biggest — but not only — proponent, but has helped mobilize our leadership to understand the incredible potential that exists within so many people that we’re not tapping into.”
Best practices for including people of all abilities
Members of the panel shared their journeys and best practices for including people of all abilities in the workplace. The leaders talked about the importance of having advocates that speak up and hold people accountable, creating an authentic culture, assessing and addressing gaps that exist, and having people with diverse abilities share their insights.
Several of the members of the panel who have disabilities shared how they have felt comfortable at their companies. Martinez said that, even before she began working at Wells Fargo, she was a customer and recognized the company was an early adopter of accessible ATMs and hired people with disabilities. She also said that Henry Wells had a severe stutter and helped others with speech impediments.
“I did my homework before I went to work for Wells Fargo,” Martinez said. “During the interview process, I met people who I felt wanted to move in the right direction. In terms of weaving disability into the workplace, there is the energy from our leaders, but also, I want to say that I am not the only person that works on accessibility at Wells Fargo. We’re definitely moving in the right direction. It’s an amazing place to see this change. I’m very happy seeing this progress.”
Others on the panel talked about how their companies have leaders who set the framework, provide education and resources for employees, and have long-term strategies for inclusion that are put into action. They also answered questions from summit participants about ways small businesses can provide resources, how companies can develop inclusive cultures, and what kind of education or training prospective employees might need before coming into a company to make an impact.
“Our biggest barriers still are attitude and stereotype and fear,” Martinez said. “But I think it’s changing, and that’s what keeps me here, because I see the transformation at Wells and lots of other companies. Just when I was walking down New York City streets and sidewalks alone, and how people relate to me, they don’t jump out of the way anymore. Society is changing. It’s slow, but people I meet at the airport or wherever are much more comfortable talking to me as a person and not as a blind person.”
Moldafsky added companies need to make an investment to create a safe and inclusive cultural fabric. “You have to put your money where your mouth is,” she said. “That in and of itself signals to the culture that it is a priority. I think sometimes you feel like, if you just do the right thing, it’ll be okay, and you have to invest in it as you would anything else.”
Next steps for eliminating barriers
Panel members also discussed next steps for eliminating barriers for people of diverse abilities. The leaders recommended providing flexibility for where and when people can work, focusing more on mental health, having work organized around people to meet their needs and optimize their talents, and celebrating what makes people different.
Martinez and Moldafsky agreed. “It would be wonderful if people really felt they couldn’t wait to tell other people about what their unique capabilities were because they know there are opportunities where they could be more successful and open up windows,” Moldafsky said. “To be able to have an environment where truly everybody wants to bring their best self to work because they know they will be fulfilled — that would be really nice.”