Who Has a Disability?

by Andrés T. Tapia

(This article was originally published in Talent Management Magazine: http://www.talentmgt.com/articles/7235-who-has-a-disability)


At the height of the economic inequality protests that rocked Brazil before last year’s World Cup, Mila Guedes—a human resources professional at the media agency Fischer, who also has multiple sclerosis — drove her Honda. The car was retrofitted to accommodate the limited use of her left leg, and she drove it to meet me for dinner.

The streets were chaotic with stranded commuters who could not board the hundreds of buses abandoned along São Paulo’s streets as drivers walked off the job and joined the strike. But Mila would not be deterred. She made her way through horrendous traffic because she had a vision to make Brazil more accessible to people with cognitive and physical disabilities.

Brazil has one of the few laws in the world that mandates employment quotas for people with cognitive and physical disabilities — from 2 to 4 percent depending on company size — but there are no laws to provide accessibility. Basically, people have access to jobs but little access to get to them.

In contrast, the U.S. has plenty of ramps and handicapped spaces because it is illegal not to provide accommodation for new hires. However, there has been no systemwide mandate to hire people with a disability. Basically, they have access to places of employment, but little opportunity to be hired for the jobs within.

Through our networking, Mila landed an internship in Chicago at Access Living, a stellar organization that focuses on all aspects of accessibility, housing, transportation and jobs. In exchange for her marketing expertise, Mila is learning all about access policies, politics, and processes. She will take her learning home and add fuel to a nascent movement focused on access in Brazil, but it will be a steep, uphill battle. Disability is one of the most forgotten, avoided bastions of pervasive exclusion globally.

Some 15 percent of the world’s population has some form of disability. This number will rise as people everywhere live longer. Research shows that compared with people without disabilities, people with disabilities experience less legal protections, higher rates of poverty, lower educational achievements, poorer health outcomes, and less political and cultural participation, among other things. This is especially true in developing countries, where 80 percent of people with disabilities live.

Humane values should be enough to counter this extreme form of marginalization, but there are economic incentives: the global disability market controls $4 trillion in spending power. Include family and friends of people with disabilities, and the numbers double to 2 billion people controlling more than $8 trillion.

Whether human values or currencies instigate change, we also must rethink how we think about ability.

We now have athletes with no legs competing for gold in the Olympics, not the Paralympics. I met a blind proofreader who outperforms her peers in quality. I’ve interviewed leaders of a distribution warehouse employing 40 percent of people with disabilities who outperform their peers by 20 percent or more. Their disabilities are not detriments — they drive high-impact effectiveness.

Most of us need accommodation. We need chairs to give us stamina, lights to see, amplification systems to hear, climate control for comfort, weekends to unwind, and so on. Our physical and mental limitations are accommodated every day at a great deal of cost that no one questions. Yet when it comes to access and opportunity for those with disabilities around the world, we hear business leaders balk because it’s deemed too costly and too difficult.

Think about it. Who is disabled? All of us.

Reaching Latinos: Become self-aware of how corporate cultures are and are not attractive to Latino talent


By Andrés T. Tapia –

(This article was originally published on my LinkedIn page: https://www.linkedin.com/today/author/18562142)

In the last post, we started talking about the second of three strategies corporations can use to seize the opportunities offered by the growing Latin talent pools. In this post we’ll cover two more points that support this strategy. If you missed any of the previous posts in this series, click here.

How cultural assumptions get embedded in talent systems

So what is actually happening in today’s businesses? Let’s look at just one current talent management philosophy commonly adopted among highly successful and knowledgeable human resources professionals that may inadvertently have an exclusionary impact on Latino talent: “Everyone owns their career progression.”

This talent development philosophy gets operationalized through mechanisms such as career maps, online universities with “developmental maps” that employees can read, follow, and fill out as they chart their own course. Then there are conversations for them to initiate: How did I do? How will I be rewarded? What do I need to do next? It all then gets codified in the performance and development review.

This has worked quite well for many and this is not inherently a bad or good thing. It’s actually a good thing—if your workforce is homogeneously reflective of this particular worldview.

But too many have been left behind through this approach, which via unconscious bias gets codified right into the talent system and for different cultural preference reasons. Latinos are among the groups that are negatively affected disproportionately by this approach. The problem emerges with a lack of awareness of the cultural bias in this seemingly “fair” approach to development and advancement. It is premised on an individualistic, internal control, sequential, task-oriented worldview.

Latinos face additional differences with corporate America’s (European-American) archetypical worldview. When choosing between employers, many Latinos prefer companies that show cultural competency and sensitivity toward people like themselves. They value opportunities to network, grow professionally, give back to the community, and achieve work life balance. Interculturalist, Brenda Machado Koller, describes a Latino sensitive workplace as one that promotes “familia and simpatía,” one that is family-like and warm and friendly. Such an environment can be leveraged to promote greater loyalty, trust, and engagement.

With such disparate views of how to get things done, it should come as no surprise that Latinos have made very few inroads into leadership positions in corporate America.

Navigating a new worldview

When companies wake up to these differences and obstacles in their current efforts to attract Latinos, it can quickly become an exercise in futility. Conversely, organizations with the courage to truly assess where culture change is necessary and then make the changes will be well-positioned to win the Talent War by attracting their unfair greater share of Latino talent.

Yet, even as I plant a cultural flag of difference for the sake of Latino identity where corporate America needs our differences, I also plant another flag regarding European American and other cultures within the corporation: we need theirs.

With this stance, those of us who share archetypical Latino worldview also need to choose to learn the skills and ways of a linear, sequential, task-oriented, European-American-dominant culture—not only to better understand, and by that get along better, but also to add more tools to our professional toolkits.

I can thank both my Latino worldview and the exposure I’ve had to the European-American worldview through colleagues, with their individualistic task-oriented, internal-control approaches. As I adapted it has made me a better and more effective professional because I have diversified my skills toolkit.

Conversely, many colleagues have told me that they have come to more greatly value the times when a more improvisational, communal, and holistic approach has led to different and, at times, better results than had we followed the directives of a more structured worldview.

But note the phrase “adapted to it.” The line in the sand for many multicultural Latinos is right here. One can adapt without losing one’s cultural identity. “Assimilation,” on the other hand, is where the loss happens—which is to give up those things that have made us unique, to bury them alive, and to only operate within the confines, rules, and expectations of the majority culture we are in.

But what has to stop is the expectation that the full responsibility of adaption is on Latinos. We must have reciprocal adaptation or else, game over.

For Diversity to Work, Recognize Differences, Not Just Similarities

by Andrés T. Tapia —Multiracial Hands Making a Circle

There is no question that embracing diversity by finding common ground with others has been a good idea. It has been a key to transcending racism, sexism, homophobia and other prejudices. Societies that have found a way to discover or create shared values to reconcile cultural clashes have experienced much healing and prosperity.

But this approach, heavily shaped by the gospel of tolerance and sensitivity, can also have a shadowy side. Assuming sameness can mask ways in which we are different. If key gaps are not recognized by assuming differences, it can lead to a different form of bias. When we assume that everyone is the same, we are assuming that everyone is “just like me.” This, ironically, is the very essence of self-centeredness.

Tolerance is an antidote to defensiveness on the part of majorities toward those who are different. It’s manifested in statements such as: “I’m O.K., you’re O.K.” “We’ll agree to disagree.” “Live and let live.” It’s the answer to, “Why can’t we all just get along?” But tolerance does not delve into differences. It maintains a “truce,” rather than “seeking the truth” and the awkwardness that often accompanies uncompromising candor.

Sensitivity takes the cultural “cease-fire” a few steps further. It finds its voice in statements such as: “I will work at understanding that you have unique needs and preferences.” “When you say something bothers you and it doesn’t make sense to me, I accept that it is important to you.” Between the lines, it says, “I’ll let you have that, ‘gimme’.”

But sensitivity and tolerance are not enough to guarantee progress after a “culture war” ends. Ignoring or glossing over differences won’t make them go away.

Here is one example of how I made a mistake in assuming similarity, and my co-workers erred as well.

I was working on the leadership team for one of the largest human resources consulting companies in the world. Most of my colleagues were white, Midwestern and female. I was a male from Peru. We liked each other personally and professionally. We seemingly wanted the same thing, which was to serve the organization well with our best thinking while living by the company’s values of collaboration, integrity and respect.

So when the breakdown happened, none of us saw it coming. It played out like this: I would present an idea to the group, and I would hear responses such as “Andrés, I agree with you 100 percent.”

So after the meeting, I thought I had gained agreement from the group and took the next steps with assurance. But then the e-mails and voicemails started flying in: “What are you doing? This is something we did not agree to!” Confused, I replied, “What part of ‘100 percent’ didn’t I understand?”

TEDxIndianapolis Talk: Why Diversity is Upside Down

by Andrés T. Tapia –

Why is diversity upside-down and how do we with what that means for our lives and our companies? Check out my recent TEDx Talk in Indianapolis, IN. I explore just how much our world’s hyper-diversity has affected practically every aspect of our lives – in our personal relationships, in our communities, and in our companies.



How to Influence Real Inclusion

by Andrés T. Tapia – 

stock-photo_20206875XSmall.busteamsunsetNext generation diversity and inclusion calls on us to go beyond just measuring the diversity within our organizations. This new landscape requires that we also measure inclusion.

In an earlier posting, I talked about engagement being the first of three key metrics in measuring inclusion. The other two? The strength of the diverse talent pipeline and the degree of influence and decision-making power among leaders to make way for the diversity of talent to rise to the highest levels. In this post, I address the latter one.

Measure Inclusion by Assessing Whether Leaders Are Truly Serious

Many companies today can claim to reflect the available labor force – at the entry level. But even in the best companies for diversity, the glass, bamboo, concrete, rainbow, you-name-it ceiling is more obvious than ever. Below it? Tons of diversity. Above it? Not so much.

Therefore, one key metric of inclusion is not how diverse the organization is as a whole but how diverse it is at the top – on the board, on the executive team, at the senior-management level. The strategies and programs to address this are not shrouded in mystery waiting for some diversity Houdini to conjure some great escape. It’s simply about the will – and therefore the accountabilities – to make it happen.

It’s time for CEOs and their executive teams to prove their commitment to diversity and inclusion by holding hiring managers accountable for results in this area. This is a measure of the leaders’ own degree of influence and decision making power in this arena. Why? Because there are all kinds of reasons (some valid, others not) why leaders are uncomfortable with efforts to measure results.

Legal counsel bears down with frightening scenarios. After-work golf partners “tsk, tsk” during foursomes about the slippery slope of political correctness. HR balks at issues of enforceability. These are not trivial objections. But since when have executive leaders not had to deal with objections about things they care about, that require culture change – new incentives, putting aside long-standing tradition, or working with attorneys and colleagues to find creative and legal ways to achieve objectives. In other words, if they believe it, truly so, they find a way.

Sodexo has. At this French-headquartered food services company, 25 percent of leaders’ bonuses are tied to how well they are doing in advancing women into leadership. And get this: they do so regardless of their business numbers. The result? The representation of senior women leaders has been steadily climbing. This accountability is making a material difference in creating inclusion at the influence and decision-making levels.

The Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago has, too. In the past, many senior leadership positions were filled by talent that the hiring manager had developed and groomed for advancement. Recently, the Bank has been posting and competitively filling more senior level positions. Instead of leaving hiring and promotion decisions solely to the discretion of one person, the Bank enlists a cross-section of leaders to serve as a hiring panel. As a result of these steps, senior leaders have been exposed to candidates they did not know and candidates who had skills they were unaware of. And the result? In a recent round of promotions, three of the four selections were from traditionally under-represented groups. And hiring management, who was skeptical at first, now supports the new process. 

At both Sodexo and the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, these accountabilities are making a material difference in creating inclusion at the influence and decision-making levels.

So how to better impact the degree of influence and decision-making power of leaders in creating more diversity and inclusion at the higher echelons? A few tips:

  • Equip your leaders with the most compelling business case possible. Show them how lack of diversity in leadership is both a threat and an opportunity to achieving their business goals in the marketplace and as an employer of choice.
  • Don’t accept their hand wringing. Show them examples of companies that have surmounted the classic objections.
  • Find allies among the employment lawyers who can help you discern between the truly high-risk ideas and those that are low risk. Get in the habit of asking: “So, on a scale of 1 to 10, what is the risk of X?” You will quickly find out that not all risk is created equal.
  • Look your leaders in the eye when they say they are committed to diversity and ask them, “How much?” Would they be willing to hold their leaders accountable in specific ways? Be ready with your ask!

This last point really works. I remember when the CEO of Hewitt Associates, Dale Gifford, asked me to be the first Chief Diversity Officer at the company. He told me it was the right moment. He told me he wanted me in the role. He told me he was committed. And right there, we had that moment of truth. I looked at him and asked the question that implied a query about his influence and power with me and his leaders. I needed to know that as I stepped out with new ideas he would have my back. The answer was, “Yes.” He was true the whole way through.

With that “Yes,” I knew that at least on this measure of influence and power, we had one key ingredient for moving the needle on inclusion. And we did.

In a future post, I’ll share my thoughts on the other critical measure for inclusion: the strength of the talent pipeline. In the meantime, I would love to hear from you about this topic. Do you have a story about executive-level influence and decision-making power on inclusion? Share your thoughts in the space below.

Latino Growth Signals Need for Change

by Andrés T. Tapia –


Companies are missing opportunities to connect with the rapidly growing and influential Latino population. Check out my article on DiversityExecutive.com, Latino Growth Signals Need for Change, to read my perspective on this pressing matter. Also, be sure to read the article’s sidebar, The Problems of Power and Identity, where I delve a bit deeper on the topic.

Engagement: The True Measure of Inclusion

by Andrés T. Tapia –


Multiracial Hands Making a CircleInclusion! It’s the rallying cry in today’s organizations – a response to the urgent recognition that diversity alone is not enough. This has become more evident as organizations have become more diverse, but have failed to achieve the promise of diversity.

While a key diversity metric is a count of the different ways an overall workforce is diverse, inclusion requires different measurements. I believe there are three key inclusion metrics: influence and decision-making power, strength of the talent pipeline, and engagement. Today, I want to talk about engagement. (Look for my take on the other inclusion metrics in future postings.)

As seemingly obvious as this is, few organizations fully leverage engagement and employee satisfaction surveys to measure inclusion. And here, I’m not talking about the four to five questions around diversity and inclusion. Rather it’s about being able to use and analyze every single engagement survey question through a diversity lens.

A good number of companies are doing demographic cuts of the data. But I’ve been surprised that it’s still a limited number. However your organization defines the mix (diversity), it should be measured by how well the mix is working (inclusion). I can’t think of a more powerful, embedded, systematic, and accepted tool to do this than the engagement survey. It’s smart to hook diversity and inclusion to engagement, which often is already an accepted, and even valued, metric.

A few tips:

  • If you are already measuring “people of color,” see if you can break the group down into the different racial or ethnic population segments. You’ll very likely find variance in the results.
  • If you are measuring engagement by age and tenure, see what it looks like when you break the data down by generation. Evaluating age ranges within a generation can be more beneficial than simply looking at age.
  • If you are proud of your lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) inclusion efforts, count your LGBT population and measure their engagement.
  • If you want to discover more people with invisible disabilities, give them the opportunity to self-identity in your engagement survey. When they do, offer a handful of questions specifically about their experience as a person with a disability in the organization.

Be sure to measure these aspects in a multidimensional way. Don’t just look at your female engagement. Rather, look at the engagement of Millennial women versus Xer women versus Boomer women. Then look at those cuts through a racial or ethnic lens. With this approach you can look at multivariate results that lead to much more pinpointed and meaningful issues that in turn lead to much more focused interventions and solutions that can lift inclusion of those particular groups.

Measurement is not enough, however. When the results come in, be sure they are analyzed in crossculturally competent, diversity savvy ways. Much interpretation of engagement results is governed by cultural and worldview assumptions, beliefs, and preferences. Challenge preconceived notions of what is and is not engaging. Tap into the different groups for insights. See what’s missing that should be considered.

Diversity and inclusion practitioners need to get really smart about the art and science of engagement. Are you a part of those key engagement conversations? If you are, be ready to provide your diversity and inclusion practitioner insight coupled with a credible grasp of the engagement discipline. For those of you who aren’t currently plugged into your company’s engagement efforts, connect with the person who owns engagement. Ask him or her, how do you use this tool? What are its advanced uses? What are the challenges? Get to know that person and their engagement work.

As you learn from them, offer to help them become even better engagement professionals by allowing them to see the diversity and inclusion implications from a crossculturally competent way. The more diverse the workforce gets, the more diversity savvy all of human resources must become when it comes to making the most of the engagement surveys.

In upcoming messages, I look forward to sharing more thoughts on the other two key measures for inclusion: influence and decision-making power, and strength of the talent pipeline. In the meantime, I would love to hear from you about this topic. Share your thoughts in the space below.

Shattering the Current Paradigm: Time to Consider New Tenets for Diversity

by Andrés T. Tapia —

shattered-glassIn the November/December issue of Diversity Executive, a magazine for diversity professionals, I share my views on some of the coming changes that will affect the diversity and inclusion work we hold so dear. You can follow the link above to the published piece on Diversity Executive’s web site or read it here.

For many of us, diversity and inclusion (D&I) has its own sacred place in our lives, with its own set of beliefs, foremost of which, that as our world gets more diverse, its implications must be addressed. This D&I gospel is often evangelized by way of myriad gatherings, webinars, roundtables, awards, books and magazines, and the message becomes self-reinforcing. The proclaimed gospel serves to reassure and inspire its adherents, and attract new followers. Yet, as we are all too aware, the work of diversity and inclusion has fallen short in corporations’ ability to be diverse and inclusive. Nonetheless, even with that realization, we have good news — there is a way through to a place of social and economic redemption and virtue.

The journey to redemption will require change, and all the questions and rumblings of doubt will circulate about the gospel truth. This moment of questioning is never easy; it’s frequently threatening. The instinct is to stamp out emergent heresy. And it is at this inflection point that beliefs either become anachronistic or find renewal.

In the debris of the early 21st Century economic cataclysm, the gospel surrounding diversity and inclusion is up for renewal. There are three D&I tenets that no longer hold up in 21st Century business and three new ones we must consider.

Old Tenet No. 1: Tolerance and sensitivity is the desired behavior. While I am not advocating for intolerance and insensitivity, focusing our efforts here is the same as thinking it’s enough to just teach our kids to say please and thank you and not say rude things aloud.

NEW Tenet No. 1: Inclusion requires cross-cultural competence. Inclusion is not an attitude; it’s a competence. Individuals and organizations may have the best intentions in the world when it comes to creating an inclusive workplace, but that’s not easily done without certain skills. We need to know how to perform the actual behaviors, techniques, and approaches to manage both the upsides and downsides of difference. In doing so, we’ll be better equipped to consider other people’s subjective ways of doing the same things while staying true to who we are and producing the desired business outcomes.

Old Tenet No. 2: Launching fabulous programs is a must. I love best-in-class programs, but I have yet to see one consistently lead to breakthrough results in that most basic metric: the advancement of targeted, underrepresented groups.

NEW Tenet No. 2: Diversity is a must for short- and long-term business strategy success. Only when executive leaders and managers are convinced that advancing diversity and inclusion in the workforce and the marketplace is essential for their success — as measured by meeting revenue, margin, and operational goals — will we see consistent and sustainable diversity breakthroughs.

Old Tenet No. 3: The HR business case is about getting the best people. I don’t deny that this is true, but it’s incomplete. Sure, we want to source the best talent from all available talent pools. But diverse backgrounds alone do not guarantee that greater creativity and innovation emanating from diverse perspectives will automatically happen. These perspectives must be mined, managed, and leveraged appropriately.

NEW Tenet No. 3: The HR business case is about getting talent that knows how to leverage its own and others’ diversity. This means that it’s not enough for employees to be diverse; they also need to know how to maximize their own differences for business impact. Further, it’s not enough for managers and executive leaders to be diversity sponsors; they must be able to apply D&I principles to their core functional and business responsibilities, such as R&D, marketing and sales. Finally, it’s not enough for diversity executives to be role models of how to live the diversity gospel. They must also be business practitioners who can collaborate on interdisciplinary actions with business leaders.

The updated tenets will require the same leadership energy from diversity leaders as is needed from any chief executive who, in order to be effective, has to believe in the organization he or she leads and who operates off a set of assumptions about how a company, its customers, its competition, and the marketplace work.

Work from Home on Way to Becoming the Norm

According to HR.BLR.com, the number of people working at least partly from home has been on the rise–up to 11.3 million in 2005, a 17% increase since 1999. Those who enjoy this kind of flexibility in their work environment are also more likely to report flexibility in scheduling work hours: In 2005, about 23% of home-based workers reported their weekly work hours varied, compared with only 10% of those who worked outside the home.

Given the domestic pressures many women feel, it’s not surprising that over half of these home-based workers are female.

In The Inclusion Paradox, I offer evidence of how meeting the need for work/life flexibility helps employers recruit and retain the best talent in an increasingly diverse workforce. While it will be no surprise to most that the 2010 census will confirm an acceleration of the trend toward working from home, I predict the numbers will be stunning — full-time or part-time work from home will have gone mainstream. Company policies and processes to manage this kind of workforce will continue to lag behind.  This revolutionary change in how we work also calls for a closer synergistic collaboration between the Real Estate, Technology, and Human Resources functions. Currently these three operate separately and sub-optimize what an interdisciplinary approach could accomplish.

What changes do you see need to happen for companies to better accommodatethis inevitable transformative change of where work happens?

Harvard Public Policy School Leader Asks, “Is Transgender on Your Agenda?”

Amanda Simpson’s appointment as Senior Technical Advisor to the Department of Commerce Bureau of Industry and Security making her the first ever transgender presidential appointee raises questions about how ready businesses and other organizations are to broaden their inclusiveness tent.

See what Loren Gary, Associate Director for Leadership Development and Public Affairs at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Center for Public Leadership, has to say in his blog posting, “Is Transgender on Your Agenda?

The reality is that very, very few organizations are ready. Not only is more diversity training and crosscultural competence needed around this topic where there are transgender workers, but HR and workplace policies and procedures need to be put in place to avoid the kind of vitriol and dehumanizing humor we are seeing in response to Amanda Simpson’s appointment.

Do you have a story of an organization managing this diversity issue effectively?