When we look around our organizations, it can be easy to see diversity (or lack thereof) reflected at us. But what are business leaders looking for when it comes to diversity? Most only picture a workforce spanning ages, genders and races while an important group is often overlooked. People with disabilities are frequently left out of the diversity and inclusion conversation, and we have the employment statistics to prove it.
According to the Office of Disability Employment Policy and the Bureau of Labor Statistics, people with disabilities ages 16 to 64 participated in the U.S. workforce at a rate of 33.6% in 2019, compared to a rate of 77.4% for people without disabilities. Not only is this an unacceptable employment gap for real people in our state – it’s a missed opportunity for companies in Minnesota to engage an untapped workforce.
At MDI, we operate on a social enterprise model, successfully hiring and training people with disabilities who make up nearly 46% of our 388 employees. We recognize that people with disabilities bring unique skills and abilities to our organization, and we’re not alone. In 2018, we teamed up with Medtronic and Special Olympics of Minnesota to launch the Unified Work Coalition. This group of like-minded organizations, now consisting of numerous Fortune 500 companies and nonprofit entities, are working to advance employment opportunities for people with disabilities.
The goal of the Unified Work Coalition is to create sustainable employment models based on real-life, working examples, and to help businesses hire and support people with disabilities in their workforce. We’ve all seen the benefits of employing people with disabilities and invite other companies to follow suit.
On March 11, I’ll be sharing this message at the nation’s largest conference on diversity and inclusion in the workplace – the Forum on Workplace Inclusion at the Minneapolis Convention Center. As we welcome organizations and business leaders from across the country, I urge Minnesota’s employers – both large and small – to set an example by putting people with disabilities at the forefront of your diversity and inclusion efforts. Re-examine or rewrite your organization’s diversity and inclusion statements to intentionally include people with disabilities. Talk with other organizations that hire people with disabilities about their employment models. Take the next step toward a truly diverse workforce, where all people are valued for their unique talents and abilities.
Peter McDermott is the president and CEO of MDI, a trusted Minnesota manufacturer with the mission of providing employment opportunities and services to people with disabilities.