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Opportunities for Allyship: National Disability Awareness Month

Posted by Lauren Kendall on November 16, 2021
At The Bowdoin Group, we believe diverse and inclusive leadership creates more profitable companies and a better world where individuals and organizations thrive. In partnership with our friends at Quantum Power Skills (QPS), we recently began an internal discussion series to encourage opportunities for allyship as well as inform our ongoing DEI efforts. Employees are encouraged to follow our internal “inclusion calendar” featuring upcoming awareness events and heritage months, starting with National Disability Employment Awareness Month.

Special thank you to our guest panelists:

  • De’Shawn Wright – Chief Executive Officer, Keystone Consulting US
  • Gianna Rojas – Founder & President, Adaptive Golfers, Globally known as “The One-Handed Golfer”
  • Liz Calder – Head of People and Talent, The Bowdoin Group


Disability Debunked: The Myth of Ableism 

According to #Wethe15, at least 15 percent of the human population has some form of disability, equating to 1.2 billion people globally. When highly talented individuals are paramount to developing cutting-edge technology and innovation, overlooking the talents of over 1 billion individuals is not an option. It is both a moral and business imperative to address challenges in the workforce, particularly the inclusion culture for differently-abled talent. While ableism, the intentional or unintentional discrimiation in favor of able-bodied people, may be a societal approach, it is not a framework for attracting and retaining top talent. Raising visibility to challenges that impact those with disabilities is one of many ongoing efforts 21st-century leaders should prioritize to thrive and gain access to this untapped talent. 

This past month, The Bowdoin Group employees were able to join a discussion on the challenges impacting those with disabilities and hear from our panelists on how to foster a truly inclusive workplace. This event, along with future discussions, are designed to create opportunities to show solidarity and allyship both internally and externally. 

Here’s What We Learned 

Companies continue to overlook talent with disabilities not only with the assumption that their contributions are compromised but by simply shying away from messaging that invites everyone to the table. 

  • The first step is having the conversation. 

“Oftentimes, there’s an urgent need [to address diversity and inclusion], and people want to act immediately. But taking the pause, to be thoughtful, to learn and engage and figure out what the right action is, requires patience.”

De’Shawn Wright

  • The second step is inviting everyone in as an organization with language the specifically addresses those who are differently-abled or disabled.

“Invite them, include them. That is key to making sure that while [those with a physical disability] are there, they have a valuable piece, an opportunity to be a valuable piece to the organization. Because in all honesty, I don’t say that people don’t try hard, but we try even harder. We show up.”

Gianna Rojas

As an organization, how can we show up for those who have a physical disability?

Here are our five key takeaways:

  1. Separate the person from the label: There must always be a separation between individuals and their “disability.” Differently-abled people are not the same, and regardless of their physical condition, they are defined by their skill sets and contributions.
  2. ATP: Ask The Person Don’t be afraid to address the elephant in the room or start a conversation with an individual with a physical disability. A willingness to be vulnerable and potentially ask an uncomfortable question is often necessary to approach someone with sensitivity and respect. 
  3. Remove the negative connotation: Whether we use the term disabled or differently-abled, there should never be an assumed limitation to a candidate’s potential to excel. Ableism is a societal approach that often excludes the highest-performing and hardest working talent, simply because their “seat” at the table may look differently.
  4. Inclusivity starts with Inclusive language and messaging. Does your website or job description have inclusive messaging? The language on your website is an invitation for all qualified candidates to be included–not just those who fit a certain criteria. 
  5. There is no Perfect or Imperfect Candidate –  Every employer has seen it before: the perfect prospective candidate on paper who turns out to be not-so-perfect. Conversely, candidates with disabilities may be overlooked or even eliminated under the assumption that they won’t be as high-performing. There is simply no such thing as a perfect candidate. It is often those who have a demonstrated track record of overcoming adversity who make invaluable employees. 

Additional National Disability Employment Awareness Month Resources:

Interested in ways to support Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Executive Search? Learn more about The Bowdoin Group’s ongoing DEI efforts.