Employment January 18, 2021
InReturn Strategies is redefining the way American companies talk about diversity & inclusion
Qualified professionals with disabilities are mostly overlooked by companies. This helps explain why less than 20% of people with disabilities in the United States are employed according to a 2019 survey by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Kansas-based start-up InReturn Strategies is out to change this.
Jim Atwater, who was born with severe hearing loss, always wanted to be a rural doctor. He completed the required courses in medical school staying in the top 5-10% of his class. There’s a huge demand for rural doctors in the United States and yet Atwater was always told, “Doctors are not going to repeat themselves for you”.
Atwater started out to help companies gain a competitive advantage from the deaf and hard of hearing market. Over time he realised that people with disabilities come up against multiple barriers at the workplace. He founded InReturn Strategies to bridge the gaps between employers and candidates with disabilities and make the hiring process more inclusive.
Regardless of age, gender and race, disabilities impact everyone. This should make disability inclusion a top priority and the easiest initiative for any organisation. However, a 2019 survey by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics found that little over 19% of people with disabilities in the country held a job.
One in 4 people in the U.S. have a disability
“It’s a long-term result of how the solutions that have been built up around disabled people in the social sector has been a segregated approach,” says Atwater. “They are ‘over there.’ And on top of that, we must understand how businesses are approached relative to inclusion and the role they are being asked to play. The combination of these two things (segregation and culture) have “disabled” visibility of a mutual value between the disabled and the private sector.”
InReturn Strategies (InRS) has adopted an innovative model to tear down these barriers by integrating people with disabilities into the business strategy of companies.
“We have reverse engineered what the solution should be”, says Scott Brouillette, CEO & Co-founder, InReturn Strategies. “Private companies usually interact with disabled people in a charitable manner. They never engage with them to understand their challenges or skill sets. We don’t want companies to hire these people because they are disabled. We ask companies if they add value to their business in the current environment and what they define as success. Only then do we want to work with them”.
This system, says Nathan Beck, “invites people with disabilities to bring their ‘whole self’ to the job”. Beck is an Employment Navigation Supervisor for Hamilton County Developmental Disabilities Services, a government social services agency that every year supports over 8,000 people with intellectual and developmental disabilities throughout their lives.
“The system that InRS is building promotes people with disabilities and enables them to have open conversations about accommodations and other needs on the job”, says Beck. “Employers are able to gain valuable perspectives from the interactions; this knowledge is leveraged to attract more job seekers with disabilities to seek employment with a given company”.
People with disabilities are an untapped market
The solution to bridging the disability unemployment gap, Atwater and Brouillette are clear, must come from the private industry which has the goods and services and the opportunities. The social sector is highly fragmented, Brouillette points out. “It is common for parents to start a not-for-profit as advocates for their child’s disability, whatever that might be and that is replicated across regions and states making it difficult for the private industry to effectively engage with the social sector”.
InRS has aggregated the social sector backend by connecting private-sector companies with 4,500 social sector organisations or Access Providers across the country.
Brouillette shares the story of a top wealth management firm in Kansas City. The firm placed an ad on the InRS platform that went out to 400 Access Providers in the city. A local autism guild suggested a candidate with autism who had passed his certified public accountant exam in the first try. Before the interview, the guild worked with the firm to explain the candidate’s challenges. He was hired as a tax associate and has been with the firm for three years now.
InRS has created a repeatable best practice for all Access Providers to prepare candidates for interviews. We provide the tools and systems within our platform for providers and advocates who directly know the individual job seeker. This new standard is what is critical for businesses to successfully be inclusive through their mainstream hiring processes. – Jim Atwater, Co-founder, InReturn Strategies
Among InRS’ key mottos are to make sure all opportunities reach all people. “We don’t care what disability you have”, says Brouillette. “If you can bring value to the business, we want to bring you on the platform and give you all the opportunities”.
Currently InRS is U.S.-based. Eventually the aim is to take its message – ‘Dignified. Profitable. Inclusion.’– global.
Last September InRS was named to the CEO Commission for Disability Employment. The mission of the Commission is to raise awareness of the untapped potential of people with disabilities and work to ensure that people with disabilities achieve and maintain equal access to meaningful employment. The InRS option, believes Beck, provides employers a scalable and repeatable option to attract and engage diverse populations of job seekers. “People with disabilities are often pigeon holed into specific roles within a company and the role may not necessarily match their interest or talents”. InRS, he says, offers people with disabilities a mechanism to share more information with employers.
“This is a strategy plus a solution to execute at scale in a different way than current models because we are solving a different problem. Inclusion is not the problem; it should be the result. There’s a big difference”, says Atwater.
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