7 Tips to Help Mentally Overcome an Employment Gap

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woking working on her resume attached to a clipboard

Here’s advice on overcoming the mental roadblocks employment gaps create before they sabotage your job search, from those who’ve been there.

William Childs loves his new job. He is Marketing Director at Kitchen Magic, a growing national kitchen remodeling and cabinet refacing company. “This job is a creative person’s dream. The product, the people, the collaborative ideas we are generating, it’s totally amazing,” Childs says. “This is what I spent my 14-month employment gap searching for, and I am so glad I didn’t give up on my career goals.”

Employment gaps do not define you

According to a recent Randstad U.S. study, the average job search today takes about five months. When Childs was laid off late in 2017 from an executive-level marketing job, he did not anticipate a longer-than-average employment gap. He explained: “When my old job was eliminated, it was the first time in many years that I had no specific job to go to next. I had always benefited from people just knowing me and my work, so starting from scratch while unemployed felt pretty weird.” When a few leads at the beginning of his job search didn’t materialize, he felt a bit demoralized.

According to a 2019 Monster survey, 59 percent of Americans have had an unexpected gap in their career. For a lot of people looking for jobs with a gap on their resume, there can be internalized feelings of shame, says Michael “Dr. Woody” Woodward, Ph.D., organizational psychologist, CEC-certified executive coach, and author of “The YOU Plan.” “Shame puts on a lot of added pressure to an already stressful time, which can lead to obsession,” Dr. Woody explains. “Don’t victimize yourself over a lost job or a failure in the past. It can be debilitating.” He advises readers to recognize their setback as just that, a setback — then deal with it and move on to better things.

Childs did keep moving forward. He designed an online portfolio and kept adding to it during his hiatus by taking on freelance work. He wrote for an online magazine and volunteered his talents to local non-profit groups. A year into his search, he took an advertising sales job as he continued to apply for positions. “The sales job was what I needed to do financially, and what I needed to do for my own piece of mind,” he reflects. “I was earning income, learning, and connecting with people. It helped me a lot.”

While he did not give up on finding an innovative executive marketing position, Childs needed ways to stay focused and positive on his continued career search. When it comes to overcoming the mental roadblocks employment gaps create, the following advice can help keep you more focused, motivated, and confident.

1. Honesty really is the best policy

Susan is happily employed in Reno, Nevada at The Slumber Yard, a specialty online clearinghouse of reviews, comparisons, and deals for mattresses and bedding products. Prior to taking the job last year, this mattress review specialist (whose name has been changed for this piece) had left the workforce to care for her young son after he was injured in a serious accident. When she was ready to re-enter the workforce, Susan crafted a very targeted resume and cover letter that succinctly addressed her employment gap. Still, the two-year pause in her career had her a little nervous. “I wasn’t exactly sure what the job market would be like for me,” she remembers.

“Her resume had everything we were looking for, and when she told me why she had a gap in her employment history, her honesty really impressed me,” says Matthew Ross, The Slumber Yard’s Co-Founder and COO. Ross immediately called Susan in for an interview. “Her experience and knowledge of our industry are what got her the job. But, the way that she explained her employment gap really showed her character, both as a person and as a professional.”

You can explain your employment gap without oversharing, says Dick Lively, Partner and HR Consulting Director at RAI Resources in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. “On a resume or in a cover letter, saying you took time to care for a family member who was ill or that you relocated across the country for your spouse’s job should be enough detail. Keep it professional but not too personal,” he says. It is also OK to exclude a gap explanation from the resume altogether, so long as you are prepared to address it during the interview if you are asked. Just don’t make something up. “At the end of the day, the truth always comes out, explains Lively. “You don’t want to face a potential employer or a new boss and try to explain why you lied.”

2. Don’t stop networking

Your first instinct may be to hide away until you have a new job, but that will not help your efforts. In fact, it might even hurt them. Keeping your name and face out there can help you get an introduction to a hiring manager. Plus, it’s great practice for interviews. “For me, I talked about the creative process and exchanged ideas; it helped me formulate how to best present myself as a job candidate,” says Childs.

Lively suggests that you don’t wait too long after your last job ends to start networking: “It is not only important to get your name out there and to hear about jobs that may be coming up through the grapevine,” he explains. “You also need to talk shop and connect with people. The longer you wait, the less confident you may feel. Interpersonal skills need to be kept sharp, just like any other skill.” That said, it is OK to take a few days or even a couple of weeks after your last job ends to regain your composure before you start networking. The last thing you want to do is get emotional about your job loss in front of your professional connections.

3. Expand your network

As valuable as your tried-and-true network of professional connections is, Dr. Woody cautions that you shouldn’t always drink from the same well when you are trying to find a new job. “Always networking with the same group of people can put blinders on your job search or create an echo chamber where you keep repeating the same steps that aren’t working anymore.”

Expanding his network definitely helped Childs. “Learning about new businesses and how they do things and connecting with new people is very inspiring,” he says. Telling new people a bit about yourself helps remind you about your talents and experience. You don’t know what else is out there if you don’t ever mix things up.

4. Own your truth

“You can, and should, use a positive spin when talking about your experiences,” says Childs. During an interview or a phone screening, don’t try to hide what caused your employment gap. Don’t complain or point fingers either. Tell your story concisely and truthfully, ending with what you learned or what you have gained since. When Childs interviewed with his new employer, he was prepared to lay his cards on the table when the question came up about his resume gap. His honest, three-sentence elevator speech consisted of:

  1. I was laid off when my department was eliminated.
  2. I am now doing advertising sales. It’s not me, but it’s a job, and I am proud of the quality of work I do.
  3. I have learned a lot about customer service through this sales experience, and I can apply that knowledge to my next marketing and creative position.

Dr. Woody believes this kind of planning is invaluable: “Preparation builds confidence. Working on your narrative reminds you that you have talent and have a lot to offer an employer. Taking time to boil it down to a concise summary instills it in your mind. This is who you are.”

5. Keep up a motivating routine

For years, Childs has emailed daily “Thought Bombs” to colleagues and friends. These are quotes he has collected on creativity, inspiration, and business integrity. Throughout his 14-month job search, he committed himself to continuing this morning ritual. “It got me up and thinking, ready for the day,” he says. “On my worst days, I would tell myself, ‘All I gotta do is get out of bed and deliver the Thought Bomb,’ and it really helped me get moving.”

“I really love this,” says Dr. Woody. “He used this routine to get himself into the right mindset each day. He had a purpose that was of value to his mailing list, and the discipline it took to do this daily task set his whole day in positive motion.” For other people, the routine could be mediation, exercise, journaling, or some other daily ritual.

6. Concentrate on the connection

Childs kept himself well-versed in the current ideas and trends in his field. His knowledge and passion for his work inevitably crept into his cover letters and interviews. “People are much more engaged with stories that are filled with excitement, passion, and personality,” says Childs. “Bragging and standard-issue talking points get stale quickly, but if you can connect with someone about what truly motivates and inspires you, they won’t forget you.”

Coming across as arrogant or whiny is a red flag for employers, notes Dr. Woody. But sharing insights and understanding about your field is a way to help them envision working with you. It also helps them put your employment gap into perspective in relation to your qualifications and talent. He explains: “People remember more about how you made them feel than about the specifics of what you said.”

Continue on to Top Resume to read the complete article.

Autism Awareness Advocate Areva Martin On Her Work-Life Balance Journey

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Areva Martin

Driven career professionals often struggle to figure out a work life balance that doesn’t leave them riddled with guilt. Unfortunately, for parents of kids with disabilities the increased demands can make them feel like caring for their special needs child(ren) means they must automatically reduce or even eliminate their career goals. Indeed, they often feel the pressure to automatically blunt the trajectory of their career in an attempt to demonstrate full commitment to their household’s unique needs and challenges. For those who view attentive parenting of a special needs child and aggressive pursuit of a fulfilling and ambitious career as a binary choice, they need look no further than the compelling example of disability rights advocate and award winning attorney/legal commentator Areva Martin to shatter that myth.

When her son Marty was diagnosed with autism at the age of two, Areva found herself struggling to navigate the complex labyrinth of relevant services which eventually led her to develop the Special Needs Network, Inc. to not just serve her needs, but primarily to provide a network of support for families affected by developmental disabilities.

As a disability rights advocate, she has mentored and befriended many parents of special needs children and can actively relate to the unique work life balance challenges that the experience brings, and her message is both clear and determined – “Parenting a special needs child doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice your career.” Indeed, she doesn’t just say it, she’s done it. Graciously, Areva spoke with me recently to share a few nuggets of advice for other parents struggling to manage the sometimes overwhelming demands of both work and home.

Know the Law

Parents of children with special needs are often left to maneuver a laundry list of requirements in order to sufficiently support their children. From navigating school admissions and identifying appropriate therapies to securing necessary testing and establishing an Individualized Education Program (IEP), the demands on a parent’s time and financial resources can be significant to say the least. Identifying sources of support is a critical step in relieving the very real drain on financial and other limited resources. Areva advises parents to learn their rights early so they avoid wasting precious time and money on services that may be available to them at little or no cost. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is a federal law that applies to public schools in every state throughout the country. The law makes available a free appropriate public education to eligible children with disabilities including autism and a range of developmental, emotional and learning disabilities, and it ensures special education and related services to those children from age 2 to 21. Beyond federal laws, Areva recommends that parents make time to talk to other parents, administrators and officials to familiarize themselves early on with any applicable state, local, even district level regulations or policies that might provide support or create barriers for their particular situation. Indeed, knowledge is power and taking the time to equip yourself with the knowledge early on is key.

While it may be tempting for parents of special needs children to “suffer in silence” rather than share concerns, issues or problems, Areva warns against that urge and instead encourages parents to be open with friends and colleagues.

Continue on to Forbes to read the complete article.

Creating a Culture of Belonging

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A woman in a wheelchair leading a business meeting

By Jennifer Brown

Each time I sit down with an executive who has decided to lead their company through the process of being more inclusive, I hear that executive articulate the same problem: They don’t know where to begin.

This feeling is common in positions of leadership. While diversity used to be seen as a “problem to solve” that lived in HR, it is now broadly understood as a core component of business practice that creates quantifiable value firm-wide. Creating cultures of belonging where everyone can succeed seems like something we all want to believe we’re doing already, which makes the leadership aspect all the more critical here: As leaders, we have to do a lot of individual work ourselves to become more inclusive thinkers before we can become more inclusive leaders.

As the responsibility for making progress in this arena has shifted from HR departments to core business operations, so too has the conversation shifted from one about diversity—which is about representation—to one about inclusion—which is about ensuring people are welcomed, valued, respected and heard. As we do a better job of being inclusive in our own actions and words, we have a better shot at creating more inclusive workplaces where people can bring their whole selves to work, be more creative problem solvers, and contribute to a generally healthier workplace culture.

I often remind folks that everyone has a diversity story; not all forms of diversity are visible. This is also true when it comes to disability— a facet of the diversity conversation that we don’t talk about enough. A common misconception when it comes to this topic is that making space for employees with disabilities in the workplace is not just costly, but disproportionately so, relative to making space for other kinds of diversity in the workplace. Yet recent research by Accenture exists to the contrary: 59 percent of the accommodations needed by employees with disabilities cost a company $0, while other non-zero accommodations cost, on average, $500 per employee.

Not monthly—in total. The pay-off is huge: people with disabilities have to be creative to find solutions that allow them to accomplish the same tasks as their able-bodied peers, which leads to greater innate problem-solving.

Combine that with giving those employees the sense that they are valued enough to have their needs met, and you’ll have one powerhouse employee on your hands. As with other forms of diversity, creating workplaces where all employees on the broad spectrum of diverse ability can succeed is deeply intertwined with fostering a workplace culture where people feel like they can bring their whole selves to work. According to a 2019 report from Deloitte, 61 percent of the workforce “covers” or makes a distinct effort to disguise a part of themselves they feel would be stigmatized hinder their professional development.

Those who engage in this behavior do not see themselves reflected in the organization around them and feel that their belonging is tenuous or contingent—a pernicious problem that extends beyond the individual to have a negative impact on workplace culture overall. By creating workplaces where people feel they don’t have to cover, we help them feel like they can contribute the full breadth of their energy and creativity.

This doesn’t just impact our internal culture and organizational health—it also impacts our bottom lines. Even simple vocabulary shifts may be of use: In my line of work, we’re speaking not in terms of accommodating a broad range of diverse abilities—both visible, and invisible—but rather in terms of enabling and empowering them.

Jennifer Brown is an award-winning entrepreneur, speaker, diversity and inclusion consultant, and author. Her work in talent management, human capital, and intersectional theory has redefined the boundaries of talent potential and company culture. Her latest book, How to Be an Inclusive Leader: Your Role in Creating Cultures of Belonging Where Everyone Can Thrive, is a simple, accessible and intuitive guide to becoming a more inclusive leader and provides a step-by step guide for anyone ready to do their part at work.

CEOs That You Never Knew Had a Disability

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Steve Jobs standing on stage talking into a microphone at a conference

By Monica Luhar and Sara Salam

CEOs with disabilities such as cerebral palsy, ADHD, or dyslexia have an impact on society through their innovative, creative, and out-of-the-box thinking. They have also led the way for promoting diversity and inclusivity in the workplace, while not letting their disabilities be the sole trait that defines their ability to lead.

Several well-known CEOs have also turned or viewed their disabilities as strengths or opportunities that help challenge society’s attitudes and misconceptions of the disability community.

Below is a list we compiled of CEOs that have shared some of their struggles, achievements, and advice throughout their leadership career:

Sir Richard Branson – Founder of Virgin Group

Sir Richard Branson is the founder of Virgin Group, a family owned growth capital investor. The corporation now controls more than 400 companies globally. Boasting more than 53 million companies worldwide, Virgin Group earns over £16.6B in annual revenue, according to its website. The company employs 69,000 people in 25 countries.

Branson established the Virgin Group in 1970 by launching a mail-order record business that developed into Virgin Records. Virgin Records was the first Virgin company to reach a billion-dollar valuation in 1992.

Branson attributes much of his success to his dyslexia and learning disabilities. According to an interview with the Washington Post, delegation played a large role in his approach to running his business. His motivations are rooted in wanting to do good in the world.

“Since starting youth culture magazine Student at age 16, I have tried to find entrepreneurial ways to drive positive change in the world,” Branson shared on his LinkedIn profile. “In 2004, we established Virgin Unite, the non-profit foundation of the Virgin Group, which unites people and entrepreneurial ideas to create opportunities for a better world.”

Source: virgin.com

J.K. Rowling – Best-Selling & Award-Winning Author

Best known for her Harry Potter series, J.K. Rowling (born Joanne Rowling) always knew she wanted to be an author. At age eleven, she wrote her first novel—about seven cursed diamonds and the people who owned them. Rowling came up with the idea for Harry Potter in 1990 while sitting on a delayed train from Manchester to London King’s Cross. Over the next five years, she began to construct a framework for each of the seven books of the series. She moved to northern Portugal to teach English as a foreign language, married, and had a child. When the marriage ended in 1993, she returned to the UK to live in Edinburgh, with her daughter and the first three chapters of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. After several rejection by literary agents, she received one yes. The book was first published by Bloomsbury Children’s Books in June 1997.

Rowling has shared the role depression played in her success; at one point she contemplated suicide and suffered chronic depression. In a Harvard University commencement speech, she stated, “Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one area where I truly belonged. I was set free, because my greatest fear had been realized, and I was still alive, and I still had a daughter whom I adored, and I had an old typewriter, and a big idea. And so rock bottom became a solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.”

Source: jkrowling.com

Paul Orfalea – Founder of Kinko’s aka FedEx Office

Businessman Paul Orfalea founded what is now known as FedEx Office (originally called Kinko’s). He built Kinko’s from a single shop in Santa Barbara to a national chain with more than 1,000 locations and 25,000 employees. FedEx bought Kinko’s in 2004. It has been reported that Orfalea never carried a pen, often allowing others to handle correspondence for him because he didn’t like to read or write. He has dyslexia and ADHD, which he credits as the blessings that allowed him to see the world differently from his peers. “Lacking the ability to learn by reading, I embraced every chance to participate in life. I started businesses, like my vegetable stand. I skipped school to watch my father’s stockbroker at work. I learned early that I would only get through school with a lot of help from a lot of people. I learned to appreciate people’s strengths and forgive their weaknesses, as I hoped they would forgive mine.”

Sources: https://cagspeakers.com/paul-orfalea/

https://latimesblogs.latimes.com/money_co/2008/06/post-2.html

Tommy Hilfiger – Fashion Designer, CEO/Entrepreneur, Tommy Hilfiger Corporation

American fashion designer Tommy Hilfiger built an extraordinary and widely distributed fashion line from the ground up. The company made strides in the disability community by recently unveiling a clothing line geared toward people with disabilities. From a very young age, Hilfiger was equipped with an entrepreneurial spirit and an iconic eye for fashion. He wasn’t diagnosed with dyslexia until much later on in life, although he shared that he often felt embarrassed to reach out to people for help.

He quit school at age 18 and went on to work in the retail industry in New York City, where he began altering clothes for resale. He and his friends from high school started selling jeans and opened a store called the People’s Place, which became an instant hit. Eventually, the People’s Place went bankrupt when Hilfiger was 25. But, he picked himself back up and continued to focus on his designs before launching what would be known as the iconic Tommy Hilfiger.

Hilfiger recently partnered with the Child Mind Institute in a PSA titled, “What I Would Tell #MyYounger Self.” In the campaign video, he said, “As a child, I was dyslexic. I didn’t realize it until later on in life. I faced many challenges along the way. If you are facing challenges, the best thing you could possibly do is reach out to an adult because adults can help you somehow. I didn’t realize it at the time; I was embarrassed to talk to my teachers and family about it. But if something is bothering you, if you think you have a challenge, reach out to an adult and allow them to help you.”

Although Hilfiger struggled to read and write, he tapped into his creative strengths in other ways and diverted his attention to the world of fashion with a highly successful brand with estimated sales of $6.7 billion.

Barbara Corcoran – Founder of the Corcoran Group and Shark on ABC’s “Shark Tank”

As a child, Barbara Corcoran often felt isolated and lonely due to her dyslexia. She struggled to read in the third grade and often found herself daydreaming about creative business ideas that were not related to the school curriculum. She struggled in high school and college, received straight Ds, and also experienced a ton of setbacks. She job hopped a total of 20 jobs, but never gave up on her quest to find her true passion and a career that she was passionate about.

One of the most life-changing moments of her career was when she decided to borrow $1,000 from her boyfriend, quit her job, and follow her dream of starting up The Corcoran Group, a small real estate company in New York City. Today, it’s known as the largest in the brokerage business.

Over the years, Corcoran—an American business woman, investor, author, and TV personality—has invested in over 80 businesses and is a highly recognized motivational and inspirational speaker. She is also the author of the bestselling book, Shark Tales: How I turned $1,000 into a Billion Dollar Business.

Today, Corcoran does not view her dyslexia as an impediment. She has learned to use her dyslexia as an opportunity to push her creative entrepreneurial spirit even further, and to help others on that journey as well.

Steve Jobs – Co-Founder & Former CEO of Apple

You can thank Apple founder Steve Jobs for some of the world’s most innovative tech products that make today’s communication and connectivity a breeze.

Although Jobs grew up with dyslexia, he never claimed or publicly shared his disability. He struggled in school and dropped out after one semester at Reed College. But instead of giving up, he decided to think outside of the box in 1976 by conceptualizing the iconic Apple Computer in what was his parents’ garage.

According to Business Insider, 10-15 percent of the U.S. population are dyslexic, but only a few individuals acknowledge and receive treatment for it. Jobs’ disability served as a creative gift that allowed him to take risks and chances with his concepts for Apple.

In his commencement speech at Stanford University in 2005, Jobs discussed the power of trusting in your abilities and believing that the hard work, setbacks, and struggles that you experience today will eventually connect the dots and help you reach your full potential down the road:

“Again, you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards,” Jobs said. “So, you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something—your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.”

Monica Luhar is a creative copywriter, content writer, and former journalist. Her bylines have appeared in NBC News, KCET, KPCC, VICE, India-West, HelloGiggles, Yahoo!, and other hyperlocal, weekly, and national news outlets. She has covered topics ranging from diverse representation in the media, entrepreneurship, disability rights, mental health, and has reported extensively on the Asian American and Pacific Islander, LGBTQ and Latino communities. You can follow her on Twitter at @monicaluhar or view her writing at monicaluhar.com.

Steve Jobs Photo: Apple CEO and co-founder Steve Jobs delivers the keynote speech to kick off the 2008 Macworld at the Moscone Center January 15, 2008 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by David Paul Morris/Getty Images)

Can You Hire a Deaf Employee When the Job Requires Phone Work?

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Two deaf individuals talking through sign language

By AnnMarie Killian

Imagine this: You are hiring for a job that requires phone work…but the person sitting in front of you is deaf/hard of hearing.

You may be wonder, can a person who is deaf/hard of hearing use the phone successfully?

The answer is yes.

And consider this: Companies and corporations are actively seeking out people with differences. Diversity and inclusion are not just buzzwords—they’re real-life practices that today’s companies are required to implement. Diverse teams and inclusive environments produce an organizational culture that is beneficial to the bottom line.

Yet, at first glance, managers and human resources personnel may be reluctant to consider a deaf/hard of hearing person for a job because of presumed limitations.

They may be wondering:

  • If a person can’t hear in the normal range, how can they manage parts of the job that require audio communication?
  • If a person can’t hear in the normal range, how will they communicate?
  • If a person can’t hear in the normal range, can they really do the job?

And…

  • If the job requires phone work, can a deaf/hard of hearing person really handle that aspect of the job?

The reluctance from employers to consider deaf/hard of hearing for jobs that involve phone work often comes from fear of the unknown. If you’ve never met a deaf/hard of hearing person doing the work that you’re hiring for, you might hesitate or even refuse to consider hiring that person.

Technological advances have leveled the playing field in many professions. In many cases, deaf and hard of hearing people bring a different perspective to a job that a person with hearing in the normal range may not have.

You’ll find deaf and hard of hearing people in all kinds of jobs, even those that are considered “impossible” for a deaf/hard of hearing person to be employed in. Surgeons. Lawyers. Auto shop managers. Airplane mechanics. Pharmacists. Audiologists. Bartenders. Musicians. Restaurant servers. Firefighters. NASA launch team specialists.

Even at call centers—which require being on the phone all hours of the job!

For example, Dale McCord works as a Purchase Card Specialist and his job requires frequent phone contact with vendors. “In the past, I occasionally came across managers who were reluctant to hire me for jobs because of perceived ‘limitations,’” Dale explains. “I’m a loyal and hard-working person and today’s technology allows me to do my job very well.”

Dale also has some advice for those who hire: “When you hire a person with a disability, don’t doubt their ability to do the job—because they will often do the job twice as well.”

Today’s technology has made telephone communication accessible in a variety of ways, including captioned phones and videophones. Deaf and hard of hearing individuals can make and receive calls via Video Relay Services such as ZVRS and Purple Video Relay Services.

By utilizing a videophone, a deaf/hard of hearing person is capable of working via phone. The person on the other end of the line does not necessarily know the conversation is woven with two languages, facilitated by a qualified, highly-skilled interpreter.

Here are some frequently asked questions about using Video Relay Services:

How does a deaf/hard of hearing person use a phone with a Video Relay System?

Both ZVRS and Purple provide equipment and software that routes a phone call through a video relay system.  The deaf/hard of hearing individual accesses a phone conversation by watching a sign language interpreter on a video screen. The deaf/hard of hearing individual can respond via sign language (the interpreter will voice a translation) or by using their own voice. The conversation flows back and forth between a deaf/hard of hearing individual and a hearing person with an interpreter translating the conversation seamlessly.

Can a deaf/hard of hearing person answer an inbound call?

Yes, calls can be routed through a phone number assigned to a videophone.  A visual alert system will notify the deaf/hard of hearing person that a call is coming through. With the press of a button, the call can be answered.

Our network is extremely secure–will a videophone work with our network?

ZVRS and Purple can provide equipment that is encrypted and works with firewalls. The systems are ADA compliant and integrated within your network. Our teams work directly with network system managers to ensure secure connections.

Where can I find more information about phone solutions for potential deaf/hard of hearing employees?

Purple Business Solutions and Enterprise Solutions/ZVRS

A passionate and people-centric leader, AnnMarie is vice president of diversity and inclusion for Purple Communications. She brings over 25 plus years of diverse experience in telecommunications, retail and fitness. As a Deaf individual, she is intimately familiar with the challenges of engagement and inclusion, which has influenced her professional aspirations. Recently, AnnMarie served as the vice president of operations responsible for leading key deliverables for increasing profitability, growing revenue and maximizing operational efficiencies.

Hiring Diverse Candidates Is Only the Begining

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A group of diverse applicants waiting to be interviewed for a job position
By Josef Scarantino

Assembling a truly comprehensive diversity and inclusion strategy requires us to take a more holistic view of our approach as employers. Instead of only considering diversity in our hiring pipeline, we shouldn’t forget employee retention and career advancement.

Effective diversity and inclusion strategies take the full lifecycle of the employee into consideration. Neglecting the full lifecycle of the employee misses real opportunities for engagement, organizational impact, and culture shifts.

Many companies go to great lengths to ensure a diverse hiring pipeline, yet they often stop short of getting the maximum impact for their diversity and inclusion efforts. From diversity job fairs to targeted advertising campaigns, the toolbox for diversity hiring is full of different methods. The reality is that diversity and inclusion doesn’t stop with hiring diverse candidates, but actually begins. It is at the moment of hiring a diverse employee where the engagement begins and the clock starts.
Here are some practical considerations for your diversity and inclusion strategy:
Engagement is essential.
You might have heard that diversity is like being invited to the party, while inclusion is being given a seat at the table. But the fact is that many people at the table still don’t have a voice. Remember the groundbreaking book, Lean In by Sheryl Sanberg, that became a bestseller? It highlighted a challenge that many people, not only women, face in the workplace despite having a seat at the table. Sanberg changed the conversation around women’s role in the workplace and at home to achieve both personal fulfillment and professional advancement. As an employer, we have a responsibility. Don’t make the mistake of forgetting engagement in your diversity and inclusion strategy. Ensure that diverse employees have a seat at the table and are given a voice with authority to enact real change within the company.
“What gets measured gets done.”
That simple quote was made famous by W. Edwards Deming, a renowned statistician and engineer who was sent to war-torn Japan after World War II to help rebuild the country’s manufacturing sector. One of the most important takeaways from Deming’s work nearly every company still uses today is the concept of Key Performance Indicators, or KPI’s. Companies that are serious about diversity and inclusion set goals and measure their progress towards them. Your diversity and inclusion goals have to be included alongside sales and revenue in your company KPI’s that are regularly measured and reported. Don’t bury your diversity goals as if they are an impact metric, but give them equal prominence with your other KPI’s.
Culture eats strategy for breakfast.
Every company has a unique culture that is defined by the shared values and practices of its employees. At the extreme, company cultures can be toxic, or they can be youthful and everything in between. As much as we try to define culture by certain bulleted values on our website or carefully worded mission statements, culture is ultimately created by our daily practices. An important, and often missed, component of our diversity and inclusion strategy is considering the health of our company culture. Do we offer a flexible work schedule for people to take time out for doctor appointments? Do we make office accommodations for people with disabilities? Do we value mental health in the workplace or expect employees to check email on Sunday nights? The way we empower employees to define a company culture that accommodates their ideal work environment is critical to a diversity and inclusion strategy where everyone feels welcome.
In conclusion, as you consider the health of your diversity and inclusion strategy, don’t forget the importance of engagement in employee retention. Diversity isn’t a vanity metric for companies to showcase to their boards, but should highlight tangible career advancement for employees. When we set out to commit to diversity and inclusion, identify realistic goals that can be measured and take ownership when those goals aren’t met. And finally, accept that culture is always going to take precedence over strategy. Be a leader in your market where diversity is a cornerstone led by a healthy employee-led culture. We can do an incredible job at hiring diverse candidates, but if we don’t create conditions for people to truly make the company their own, they simply won’t stay.
The clock starts now.

What Does it Take to Succeed? Just 3 Things.

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Brittany Merrill-Yeng, owner of Skrewball Whiskey, looking at the camera and smiling

By Brittany Merrill-Yeng

Being a business owner is a constant balance—and not just of your time and resources. It is a balance of being so confident in your idea and your ability bring it to fruition while recognizing how little you know.

It is staying true to your course while remaining flexible as new obstacles that appear. To successfully balance all of this, the three most important things you need to achieve success are as follows:

Persistence

Persistence is essential to being a business owner. From the outset you will be faced with a chorus of “no’s” at every turn. “You cannot do this. This is not practical. It cannot be done.” Your new job is to make it work in the face of all of this resistance because, as the owner, it always falls back on you to make sure everything gets done.

Learn to ask questions that push people to find a solution. Or, better yet, get creative and find an alternate path. Start feeling comfortable being the person with the least experience in the room. You can still be the one to make a breakthrough in the industry.

I cannot begin to describe how many times we’ve been told something is not possible. Many times, accepting “no” as an answer would mean essentially giving up on my dream and letting all the people working for us down. Given these stakes, I would work until we found a solution. While I was new to the liquor industry, I am very fortunate that my experience as a patent litigator taught me how to craft the questions to get the answers I needed and be able to quickly learn from the experts.

Faith in Yourself

Perhaps, more importantly, you need to keep faith in yourself and what you’re doing. When we started our business, the “experts” said the concept would not work, our branding did not make sense and our price was way too high. Now, those are the key things that the “experts” are pointing to as the reasons we have been successful. We all hear about the importance of confidence and staying true to what you believe, but it takes a lot of restraint to hold your ground when everyone is telling you it’s the wrong course. For me, it is more than confidence; it’s faith in yourself.

In the end, it’s these things that you did differently that will make you successful. If you want to achieve something no one else has done before, you have got to do things no one else has done before. There is nothing more gratifying than achieving success in the face of all this doubt. It gets easier when your team starts to have faith in you too. Now, when we get to these junctures, I ask those around me to have patience and trust me. I’d bet on us any day.

Humility

While you cannot compromise on the core tenants of your business, you have to be willing to accept help and be flexible on the smaller things. And, even when you achieve the impossible, you cannot rely on your past success. You have to keep moving forward and improving to get your business to the next level. This takes a bit of humility.

There are many times you have to make a less than perfect fix work. You need to face the harsh reality that you will not be prepared to handle every challenge in front of you—but you will rise to it any way. You will learn and you will be better next time. Rather than staying down, walking away or hiding these moments, we celebrate them. These are our “Skrewball” moments. As we continue to push to new limits, I look forward to many more, knowing that we’ll look back, laugh, and wonder how we “winged it.”

Brittany Merrill-Yeng is a chemist turned attorney, turned spirits brand owner as the co-founder and managing partner of Skrewball Peanut Butter Whiskey. Merrill-Yeng was one to watch in 2019 as she took her small family owned company and grew it into a Hollywood favorite and national sensation in just one short year. The award-winning 70-proof original peanut butter whiskey has been awarded several honors, including the Double Gold Medal for Best Flavored Whiskey in the New York World Wine & Spirits Competition in 2018 and 2019, and just recently secured both Disability-Owned Business Enterprise (DOBE) and Women Business Enterprise (WBE) certifications.

For more information about the Skrewball brand, visit skrewballwhiskey.com.

Disability:IN’s New VP of Supplier Diversity: Philip DeVliegher

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Philip DeVliegher wearing a suit outside, looking at the camera

As the new vice president of supplier diversity for Disability:IN, Philip DeVliegher develops and leads the organization’s global supply chain and supplier diversity strategy and program execution. He believes it’s Disability:IN’s responsibility to empower businesses to achieve disability inclusion and equality by delivering positive impact and outcomes for key stakeholders. Those stakeholders include corporate and government partners, certified suppliers, and Disability:IN affiliates across the country.

DIVERSEability Magazine recently spoke with DeVliegher on what his goals are in his new role, why he feels DOBEs make ideal suppliers and more:

DIVERSEability Magazine (DM): What is your background, experience?

Philip DeVliegher (DV): I bring a unique perspective to my role with more than 20 years of corporate experience in supplier diversity, human resources and talent acquisition, as well as nearly 10 years of entrepreneurship and non-profit leadership in supplier diversity.

By fully understanding the perspectives and roles of each of our stakeholders, I feel my experience has prepared me to best serve our suppliers and corporate partners in my new role at Disability:IN.

DM: What is your goal?

DV: My goal is to elevate disability-owned business enterprises on par among other diverse supplier segments within corporate and government supplier diversity programs through our certification and business development initiatives.

A significant component of this goal is to educate suppliers and corporate partners on how disability is defined and to encourage those with a disability to proudly own it and leverage it by first becoming certified.

I’ve seen the evolution of supplier diversity and recognize that disability is the newest frontier.  Disability doesn’t discriminate and reaches across ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, and veteran status. In fact, over 50 percent or our certified DOBEs hold other diverse certifications.

DM: Why do you believe DOBE’s make excellent suppliers?

DV: DOBEs are exceptional innovative problem solvers, constantly navigating a world that is not always designed to meet their own unique needs and challenges.

By overcoming everyday challenges, people with disabilities develop the creative skills and persistent strategies that translate well to becoming successful and valued business partners.

DM: What’s your biggest success story you can share with us?

DV: Of course, success is always relative. With that said, I look at the work we do every day in positively changing people’s lives, from the many DOBEs who are able to secure contract opportunities with our corporate partners and with other DOBEs to guiding supplier diversity leaders to grow and advance their respective programs by effectively including disability among their metrics.

Success is the supplier who tells us that without her DOBE certification, she would never have been able to secure a seat at the RFP table or would never have been able to grow her business into a successful and thriving global enterprise.

Success is the corporate partner who recognizes that a truly inclusive supply chain means including everyone.

DM: What advice would you give to others looking for find and work with more DOBE’s?

DV: Understand that 1 in 5 people in the U.S. live with a disability and recognize that most disabilities are not apparent. Most likely, our corporate partners are already contracting with businesses owned by individuals with disabilities.

I urge our corporate partners to reach out to their suppliers, both current and potential, to communicate that their organization’s commitment to supplier diversity and inclusion includes disability-owned businesses.

Encourage them to self-disclose as a disability-owned business and to become certified. And then follow through with policies and processes which level the procurement playing field for all suppliers up and down the supply chain.

 

 

Tips for Being an Effective Teleworker

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woman with disability works from home with laptop in lap in her wheelchair

Many employers and employees are shifting to telework structures. For some, conducting business from home may be a new adventure, while others are veterans of remote work. Regardless of experience, it can be helpful for us all to think through approaches to teleworking to ensure that we are both effective and content when working from our home offices.

The Partnership on Employment and Accessible Technology (PEAT) has created the following telework tips for employers and employees. Though they’ve been designed with people with disabilities in mind, they provide information that can be useful to anyone who is transitioning to remote work.

Creating a Comfortable Workplace

Pick a Spot

Designate a long-term space to work in your home where you can focus during work hours, making sure it’s clean and uncluttered. Avoid using a space you frequent in your personal life, like your kitchen table or couch. If there are things that make you happy or motivated (a candy jar, your favorite chair, etc.), don’t be afraid to include them in the space.

Make it Comfortable

Think about the comfort level of the location you choose. Find a spot with room to spread out, a place to type away without hitting your cat in the face with your elbow. If available, pick furniture that won’t put a strain on your body after hours of sitting. Ask yourself: Is this chair causing me to slouch? Is the table too high to type?

Evaluate Accommodation Needs

If you have a disability/chronic condition, evaluate what tools you need to be productive. The article “Accessibility and Employment: What People with Disabilities Need to Know” provides guidance on how to request accommodations and/or permission to use personal devices that you may already own with the features you need.

Continue on to the Partnership on Employment & Accessible Technology to read telework tips for staying on schedule, communicating with your team, staying productive, and more!

Robert Shumate Creates Diverse Opportunities at Wells Fargo

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Robert Shumate smiling for the camera in a business suit on a gray background

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). For generations, the disability rights movement has fought for equality and accessibility. Throughout history, people with disabilities have turned their dreams into reality to shape the world around us.

Robert Shumate, a Wells Fargo branch manager, knows first-hand the value and impact people with disabilities can bring to an organization and the community at large. Read more about how Shumate’s own experience inspired him to launch a Diverse Ability resource group that’s creating a greater awareness of people with disabilities at every level at Wells Fargo:

 

DM: Tell us more about your hearing loss and the impact it has had on your life?

Shumate: My hearing loss has been part of my every day, my entire life. I have otosclerosis, a degenerative ear bone disease that causes chronic ear infections resulting in scar tissue on the eardrum and throughout the ear canal. When I was born, I only had about 20 percent of my hearing. My parents didn’t understand the full extent of my condition until the 2nd grade when a teacher realized I couldn’t read. From then, my parents quickly jumped into action. I was fortunate to enroll in a private school that fully supported my needs to get me back on track.

Otosclerosis had the biggest impact on my life during my school years. In college, I recorded lectures so that I could revisit and take notes. A few teachers pushed back and one teacher forbid that I record lectures until I obtained a medical note and involved the school dean. I also underwent numerous surgeries that restored partial hearing. Today, I have about 50-60 percent of my hearing.

DM: How did you get started at Wells Fargo? What have been your keys to success?

Shumate: I got started with Wells Fargo in 2005 when I joined the phone bank. A friend encouraged me to apply because they thought it would be more accessible. Sometime later, I transitioned to consumer banking branches. In the branches, it was harder for me to focus – there are many sounds and conversations happening at once.

Throughout my career, I have worked with amazing managers whose leadership and support allowed me to be open and honest about my disability. They took a personal interest in my professional growth and development, and eliminated my fear of me speaking up.

The turning point in my personal success happened when I began asking questions and advocating for myself.

DM: What do you enjoy most about being a branch manager?

Shumate: What I enjoy the most about being a manager, over the last five years, is the opportunity to make a difference for my team. I love taking on the responsibility of helping team members grow in their careers.

In fact, one of my team members, who has a disability, had many challenges navigating the workplace. Fortunately, I was able to provide mentorship and support throughout the accommodations management process. Now, that person is one of the top performers on my team. Team members are eligible for work accommodations if they have a medical condition or disability that affects their ability to perform their regular job duties or enjoy other benefits and opportunities of employment. The most common type of accommodation is intermittent absences; with the second most common type is sit/stand workstations.

DM: Why did you decide to launch the Diverse Ability resource group?

Shumate: I was on the board for the Wells Fargo Orange County Volunteer Chapter and received an invitation to learn about volunteer opportunities within the Diverse Abilities Team Member Network (DATMN), an employee resource group. I was already a member of the DATMN virtual chapter so I was excited to introduce myself to the enterprise/national DATMN leadership, and learn more because I have a personal connection.

After several discussions, the enterprise DATMN leadership asked if I would be interested in starting a local chapter. I shared the opportunity with my local network and discovered there was a need in my community. Quickly, I recruited a board, 25 members and we got started.

The goal is to educate, increase awareness, and help develop a workplace where people of all abilities can reach their full potential. Wells Fargo has 20 Diverse Abilities chapters with more than 7,000 team members.

DM: What impact have you personally seen this resource group have on your company?

Shumate: It is important to be able to connect personally with people in the workplace. Having a local employee resource group has created a positive and accepting cultural shift directly tied to increased awareness.

Through the employee resource group, we have recruited many volunteers to attend events like the Diverse Abilities Expo and Special Olympics, and collaborated with numerous nonprofits including the Speech and Language Development Center. Thanks to these opportunities, team members in my community feel more comfortable asking for help when they have a need and self-identifying their disabilities, which allows us to provide resources that are more effective in allowing them to do their jobs.

Each year, the company reaches out to self-identified team members with disabilities to share information about Wells Fargo’s career development process, tools, and resources. More than 10,000 people have self-identified throughout the organization.

DM: Do you feel it’s important for other companies to have a similar resource group of their own? Why?

Shumate: Yes, employee resource groups play a key role in serving customers with diverse abilities and create a welcoming environment to hire, develop and retain diverse team members. It also encourages team members to value and respect each other for their differences.

For me, sharing my story with my managers and having them be open and supportive kept me from leaving the company. It really turned my career around and I know our employee resource group can have the same impact for others.

DM: What advice would you give others who have a disability?

Shumate: Don’t be afraid to share your story. It will help your managers become more aware of what your needs are and how they can better support you. You never know whom you can inspire. Learn your rights and utilize available resources.

Pizza and Beer for All

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Brewability staff standing together in front of service area with colorful Brewability sign in the background

While Brewability is a brewery that only employs individuals with disabilities, Pizzability is a pizzeria that does the same. Both Denver-based businesses were founded by Tiffany Fixter, a special needs teacher who saw a need for jobs and training for adults with disabilities.

Both Brewability and Pizzability provide job training and skill development that will translate into future job opportunities, all while providing you with a delicious cold brew and a slice, respectively.

Fixter spoke with DIVERSEability Magazine about her businesses and what inspired her to build them:

 

DIVERSEability Magazine (DM): How long have your owned Brewability and Pizzability?

Tiffany Fixter (TF): 3 years. I started Brewability in October 2016. Pizzability opened in December 2018.

DM: How did you get your start?

TF: I was an elementary Special Education Teacher in the inner city of Kansas City. I moved to Denver to be a director of a day program. It was there I discovered the severe lack of employment options for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. I wanted to do something that was cool and different. So I did the most creative thing I could think of: an inclusive craft brewery.

DM: Why was it important to you to employ only individuals with disabilities?

TF: We employ adults of all abilities. It is important to showcase what everyone is capable of. As bartenders, my staff are front and center on the social scene. We offer a variety of supports (i.e.: visuals, checklists, etc…) in order to help them be as independent and successful at their job as possible.

DM: What’s one myth you would like to squelch about employing and/or working with individuals with disabilities?

TF: Every human has strengths and weaknesses. It is important to understand that focusing on these strengths and helping to develop them is subjective. Individuals with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities are often viewed as a marginalized group of people, with less capability of a neurotypical person. This is not true. Do not put anyone in a box. See what they are capable of. You don’t know unless you try!

DM: How has your business been received? What successes have you enjoyed?

TF: Business has been a rollercoaster of ups and downs. Our first location was not ideal. It was three rows back in an industrial business park off of a major highway. It was truly amazing to see how many people would come to our little garage in the middle of nowhere just because they genuinely loved our staff. There were large party days, but in general the location was so off the beaten path, it was not financially sustainable. My favorite moments from this location were the fact that people chose us for their special moments. We had a proposal, a first birthday thought not to come, a 21st birthday where he drank a beer through his G-tube, a celebration of life for a dear friend’s father, and countless more!

The pizzeria was vastly different. It was located in Cherry Creek North, a high-end shopping and dining district. It was located on the garden level, which was not ideal. I thought the location was going to work out in our favor. Unfortunately, it was not a good fit for us either. We had trouble with people not wanting to eat food that people with disabilities had prepared, cooked and served, despite having an open kitchen concept, glove policy and visible accreditations from the health department. People said awful things directly to us or while passing by. It was extremely frustrating to be in such an affluent area that made us feel less than on a daily basis. When we lost our funding just after a year, we had no choice but to close and relocate to our new brewery location.

Brewability (and soon to be Pizzability) are now located 3445 S Broadway in Englewood, CO. It is a larger, more accessible location. Transportation is much easier as we are one block from the bus stop. We lowered a portion of the bar for people who use wheelchairs. We offer Color coded menus, Large-print menus, Dyslexie font menus and braille menus. There are lockers filled with adaptive games, noise canceling headphones, fidgets, sensory items and more. We are surrounded by independent, locally-owned small businesses. We are minutes from two major hospitals, Craig and Swedish, as well as the School for the Blind. We are loving our new neighborhood. I know there are many memories to be made. I hope you will join us in creating them!

DM: Do you have any special certifications or employ any programs that have helped you grow your business?

TF: I have dual undergraduate degrees in Elementary Education and Special Education from Northwest Missouri State University of Maryville, Missouri. I have a Master’s of Education with an emphasis in Autism Spectrum Disorders from the University of Kansas. I have experience teaching special education. More than any of my educational experience, it’s my life experience of seeing my parents work extremely hard. They are entrepreneurs and philanthropists. They have been instrumental in believing me and supporting my dreams. If it were not for them, I would not be writing this article. Thank you, mom and dad.

DM: What are your goals/vision for the future?

TF: My vision is to help others rethink how businesses could improve by incorporating accessibility beyond required ADA standards. I want to show the world that it is possible to have a truly accessible community. I’m starting with my own neighborhood of Englewood, Colorado. I hope you will follow our journey and I hope that other businesses will see the benefit of employing people with intellectual and developmental disabilities as well as welcoming them in as customers.