AXSChat Podcast

Highlighting the Unique Value of Disabled Individuals in the Workplace

December 11, 2023 Antonio Santos, Debra Ruh, Neil Milliken talk with Alexandra Nothnagel
AXSChat Podcast
Highlighting the Unique Value of Disabled Individuals in the Workplace
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Ever wondered about the barriers and opportunities in the corporate world for people with disabilities? Join us as we revisit a conversation with Alexandra Nothnagel, our cherished team member at Atos and a fervent disability activist. We trace back our connection initiated via social media and Alexandra's key contributions to our accessibility initiatives. Key discussions revolve around the essence of corporations going beyond mere tokenism to genuinely integrate individuals with disabilities. Alexandra provides her unique insights into the corporate challenges and limitations while acknowledging the commendable efforts of Atos, the CEO engagement with the Valuable 500 mentoring program.

As we steer the conversation towards promoting workplace inclusion and job opportunities for those with disabilities, we ask ourselves - is it just the obligation of corporations or does the onus also lie with the disabled community to assert their worth in the job market? We investigate the need for skill development initiatives by employers to bridge the disability employment gap. The episode brings to the fore the importance of sharing personal narratives and showcasing the unique value people with disabilities bring to the society. We emphasize building a community thriving on kindness and inclusiveness within the disabled population. We invite you to tune in, engage with us on social media and take forward this essential dialogue towards a more inclusive corporate world.

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NEIL:

Hello, and welcome to AXSChat. I'm super delighted to welcome back Alexandra Nothnagel who, of course, I know pretty well because she works for me and with me running our programmes around accessibility at ATOS, but this is your second AXSChat and, really, the first one was quite early on in terms of your engagement on the programmes, and it's been a while now, so welcome back, and can you tell us a little bit, reintroduce yourself and tell us about what you've been doing and what's exciting right now?

ALEXANDRA:

Thank you, Neil. Yes, so I'm Alexandra Nothnagel. I'm a mid30 German woman living in France and, yes, being disability activist for many years, but also as you mentioned working with you in the corporate space on organisational change programmes and so, yes, I think it's four years ago, around that time, which we got to know each other for the role that I have today, which is then around three years back what I saw the last time that I spoke on AXSChat, so a lot happened since then on a personal level but also on the work level, so I think it's a very, you know, rich time of change, not only, you know, for the organisation but actually for myself, and for the work we delivered together, and so it's great to make the point again because actually just getting asked to come back to AXSChat, watching the radio from two years back, I realised how much has actually happened, which is worth to share.

NEIL:

Yeah, excellent, and we are recording this on 4 December, the first working day after International Day of Persons with Disabilities, and, as you mentioned, we first met through an event that I was running for IDPD four years back, so I think that in itself shows the power of social media. Even within an organisation like ours, it was social media that connected us and not internal systems, so the work that we've been doing on AXSChat connects people across and inside organisational boundaries, so I thought that that story was a nice one to share because having been approached by you, talked to you, it was clear to me that we needed to have you as part of our programme, so, you know, these events, these celebrations, sometimes people say"Oh, it's pretty informative", you know,"What's the impact?","Oh, organisations are just, you know, out there doing something to whitewash their reputation" and so on, but actually they have a purpose and, clearly, in the case of this, it had an outcome, which has led to other outcomes.

DEBR:

I agree and I'm going to come in here. First of all, also I'm going to try to be disciplined about doing this in the future, but I'm going to do a visual description because we are talking about identity here, so I'm an older white woman, sorry, mature white woman, with silver, grey and purple hair and I have on a black top with white flowers on it today, and the reason why I wanted to do that is because Alexandra, for those of us who can't see her, she looks so lovely today in her colour purple, and also we were talking, once again before we got on air we were talking, a little bit about identity and I realised that I always do that on my other show, but I forget to do it on AXSChat, so I just thought I'd take time to do that, but I also wanted to come in here on a different point too because I appreciate the corporations, I appreciate the corporate employers, I get annoyed with them, extremely annoyed with them. I think you're not doing enough, blah, blah, blah. Anyway, but at the same time corporations, as we know, are made up of people, and so I appreciate brands like, sorry, ATOS or any other brand that meaningfully include people with disabilities and then allow them to have a voice to help you shift your business so that you can be even more successful, and yet I don't really see that happening in most of the brands that are talking out here. I don't see you really meaningfully including us and then giving us, you know, the ability to share our voices in whatever ways we want, but I do see organisations like ATOS doing a real good job with it. I also must, I'm sorry to say nice things, but I also really appreciate the CEO of ATOS that became part of the valuable 500 mentoring Alexandra. So these are things that as a community we can see happening stepbystep to see whether or not we're really being included, are we being promoted when we get in there, are you training us, are you really adapting or adjusting or accommodating so we can be really powerful for you or are you checking the box, and so I think we've got to celebrate that as well, and sometimes we're going to brag about big brands. Could they do more? Yeah, but right now let's celebrate, so I just wanted to sort of say that because I don't work for ATOS and ATOS has never once given me one penny. I have never had a contract with ATOS, and so, yes, I do love Neil, and I love Antonia and Alexandra, but I'm talking to the community now. This is how we tell whether or not a corporate brand is actually trying to include us. So Alexandra, what do you think about that? Do you think corporations, they need to be more mindful about really including us and sharing our voices in whatever way? We might be not be able to speak in the traditional way, but what do you think about that, Alexandra, a company really walking the walk?

ALEXANDRA:

I think the question is very difficult to answer because there are two sides. There's the corporate who wants to include the persons with disabilities and let them talk, but then there is all the regulations, laws and constraints which would, you know, make the corporate afraid on how can this actually happen, how can this look like, does everyone do this, how do the competitors do, and so here one

[indistinct 0:06:

46] also the other side, the brave, you know, people like my manager here, Neil, speaking about it openly and, you know, shifting some of those borders by being proactive and giving role model examples, but, you now, then their understanding of a person, all the people involved who could speak about their disability or their permanent health condition[indistinct], don't see the value, why should I share that for the corporate, what's the value for the corporate, what's the value for me, why should I do? That's private, okay, so that's a triangle, actually, between people who are already aware and doing and sharing, like today I myself am one of those people starting to role model for some time now, but the beginning right, when I speak about doing the retrospective, when I joined Neil's team and then when I joined the role, it was a very difficult decision, okay, so it's not something where you can just[indistinct] corporates really do, it's what do corporates do to put people in the safe space and situation that they can selfidentify and speak up without consequences which are [indistinct].

NEIL:

And I think if we go beyond even that, we also need to help the corporations feel safe in that journey to creating the atmosphere because actually there's quite a lot of nervousness amongst the corporate management about these initiatives because--

ALEXANDRA:

And which will be valuable

[indistinct 0:08:

16].

NEIL:

Yeah, so there's definitely a challenge in making sure that the management feel comfortable with people talking about their disabilities at work and starting initiatives to create that culture of inclusion because actually it's quite challenging when you're thinking about this in, you know, multiple different locations and countries and the complexities of dealing with unions and workers' councils and all of these kind of things that, you know, quite often don't get thought about when from the outside, you know, you're pointing at a corporation and you're saying,"Well, you know, why don't you immediately do this?". Well, you know, there's a reason why corporations move so slowly. It's because they're complex beasts and so some of the removal of fear is not just for employees but also for the corporate side of things in terms of management as well.

ALEXANDRA:

Exactly, and speaking publicly about it for the employee but also for the corporate, depending on whether it's said it can have risks, and so, for the employee, say, for example, openly speaking about the condition or disability, looking at all the data which are available, let's think about insurance, what will happen to those information actually. Sometimes, you know, you don't really know where it will go, so it takes really some uncertainty for the person doing it, and, you know, the corporate side, okay

[indistinct 0:09:

53] because what we can build as a corporate is what is inhouse, so what will we build, for example, is accessibility programme for the safety of selfidentifying employees within the company, but what goes out and what is beyond, going back to social media, that depends on many other partners, suppliers, other platforms, so we're not alone in this. This is a full ecosystem which needs to protect actually better the people with disabilities interest to [indistinct] in the full wide corporate context because it's not exactly the same if you share about your needs and then internal survey which is anonymous if you share it within an HR department with your manager or the colleagues or if you share within specific programme like a mentoring programme, which is dedicated for this, and where the constraints are clearly owned by the corporate or if it goes beyond, if it goes outside, so what we can be really proud of, I think, here this year is something which we manage to do is that people go out more openly about their conditions, speaking about the prettiness and the power of assistive technologies they use, making colleagues understand the value at the workplace and also showing that there is real people[indistinct] that it's not just, you know, some theoretical opportunity or possibility that this could be used if there was someone, but there is people all along the different career levels and needs which have, yeah, spoken up for the first time also publicly for those tools and, yeah, so I'm not sure what you want me[indistinct].

DEBR:

Yes, good point. I think we have a little bit of technology delay, so we might speak over each other a little bit, but I want to shift it just a little bit. So once again I think we should all celebrate. I'm sorry, I love to celebrate, and also this is my birthday month, so I love to celebrate the holidays and my birthday and my partner Garry's birthday, yeah, so we can just celebrate, but also I think something that I want us to really think a lot about is a community as we celebrate the International Day of Persons with Disabilities is the leaders, the wonderful people that are already working for brands like ATOS, people with disabilities, people with disabilities that are really coming in and, you know, owning who they are. Like, once again, Alexandra made the comment about Neil. You know, Neil has been very open about his ADHD and his dyslexia, and I took a page from that and I also started speaking about it, but when we know that there is about 70 to 80% of us that have invisible or hidden disabilities. But so taking that back a little bit more, just digging into this a little bit different, I think that we have an opportunity here with the people, certainly let's celebrate the employers like ATOS that are including us and making sure the voices can be heard and learning from these really powerful voices of people with disabilities, but I think this is really a question to both you, Neil, and Alexandra, what can we do as people with disabilities that have identified and we're coming out, we're talking about it, what can we do to encourage others that are also in the workforce to come out and identify proudly, even if, sadly, I know this is a conversation we have a lot in the States, there might be negative consequences to them. I mean, unfortunately, we see discrimination happening all over our country. I'm just going to say that about my country, but you all know it happens, everybody else too, but at the same time I think that we have a real opportunity, those of us with disabilities that are actually employed, we become sort of the elite, right, we become not the elite but the "privileged" as we use that word in a weird way, and so I think we need to have maybe some conversations about how we as the people that are working for these corporations or have our own businesses or whatever, what do we need to do to make sure that our fellow people with disabilities that are not in the workforce and are not being included in the workforce can be more meaningfully included? Don't we also have an obligation as a community to make it more welcoming instead of it feels like often the conversations are always like,"You employers better find us and you better get out there", but do we have an obligation, are there things that we can do as a community, celebrating every one of us, whether we're working or not, to really allow our community to become more discoverable so that employers can be more successful with us, and I know that's a whole bunch of words, I apologise, but I was trying to ground that comment, so Neil, go ahead.

NEIL:

Okay. So I think as employers we want qualified candidates, and I don't care whether they have disabilities or not. I encourage people with disabilities that are qualified candidates to apply for jobs, so because we still need people with skills to do the jobs because business is not charity, and what we can do as businesses is contribute to skills initiatives so that we can create those skills so that people with disabilities are then qualified candidates rather than, you know, this being some kind of charitable endeavour because that's what, you know, the intent of our programme is, is to close the disability employment gap, and you close that gap through creating skills that the market wants, that we absolutely want to employ people with disabilities and we absolutely need their skills and their adaptability and their ability to innovate, but we need to make sure that those skills match the needs of the business, so we can do that through coming together, through initiatives that create digital skills, that create business-relevant skills, and to quote our mutual friend Susan Scott-Parter(?), we don't want to be teaching people basket weaving and piano tuning because they need to be the skills that business want today, so why not create skills in, you know, creating prompts, AI? Why not create skills in being able to understand automation rather than lowend jobs because we want people to have the same kind of career prospects as anyone else, and I think that this is something that, you know, Alexandra has done a lot of work on, particularly, you know, in some of the partnership spaces that we're working on.

ALEXANDRA:

Yes, yes, exactly. Thank you for asking about that Neil. So there's something on the question that I really love from you, Debra, about the responsibility or even if it's an obligation to speak up, and I think here there is the first obligation for the people with disabilities to take into account

the [indistinct 0:17:

29] to recognise the part of the community rather than, you know, continual struggle, struggle, struggle, struggle, and then say, "Oh, it's okay, it's okay, it's okay[indistinct]". So the first thing is to become visible by requesting[indistinct] if there is something, like, you know, in our organisation but maybe [indistinct] which offer support and[indistinct] because this is the first date[indistinct] organisation will have to understand there's this community, so it's the first step of visibility to get us to take care[indistinct] most possible responsible, what we can do and what we can't do and where we recognise that we have limits, but [indistinct] organisation.

NEIL:

I think we're having a few audio glitches. It's the joys of the internet. So the other thing that Debra has done, and sending the love back to you Debra, is, you know, is the whole sort of disability identity piece around building strong because it's when we bring our voices together that we really have power, so I think that as advocates we need to share each other's stories, we need to highlight the value that people bring to society as a whole, that really sort of then magnifies that and amplifies that and we, you know, spend a lot of time in silos and so we absolutely, and I think you were putting in the chat, Alexandra, the second step is to meet with others and bring that together.

ALEXADRA:

Yes, exactly. So what I, for example, started to do far more than I did before- I already did before - but meeting other people with the same type of disability, exchange the knowledge and not just, you know, stay isolated with what I learned but also give back to the community, for example, that I belong to. I think it's the first time this year I spoke at international meeting of people with autism in France, for example, sharing about the professional inclusion story, and it's actually far more important than we may consider to break the isolation of[indistinct 0:20:10], the border of our workplace and with, you know, the other people to share our stories and to, you know, get motivational insights from others on what we can do better but also share on what we've learned what works well or what doesn't work, and here I think there is, again, some risk, you know, which is, if it's going well, like, for example, my case going well, addressed to be - address your own community saying,"Oh, but, you know, this looks fake, this looks too good", so also if we have people with disabilities sharing about it, I think we need to be kind to each other in the communities.

NEIL:

Yeah, so I agree.

ALEXANDRA:

You see, not everything may be possible for everyone, but, you know - I break up again?

NEIL:

So, yeah, I agree. We need to show their empathy and their kindness and that inclusiveness, so I think Debra had a comment and we need to close.

DEBRA:

Yes. We will close, and also apologies for the audio problems with Alexandra, but her comments are so, so good, so we want to hear from her more, but, Neil, thank you so much. You go ahead and close.

NEIL:

Okay. So thank you to our supporters- Amazon and MyClearText - for keeping us captioned and on air, and we really look forward to continuing the conversation on social media.

Corporate Inclusion of People With Disabilities
Promoting Inclusion and Employment for Disabilities