Episode 274: Building a Culture of Inclusion

This episode of the Workology Podcast is part of our Future of Work series powered by PEAT, the Partnership on Employment & Accessible Technology. PEAT works to start conversations around how emerging workplace technology trends are impacting people with disabilities.

Episode 274: Building a Culture of Inclusion with Jonathan Kaufman (@JKaufmanConsult)

Today, I’m joined by Jonathan Kaufman, Executive Coach with J Kaufman Coaching. As a speaker, coach, writer, and consultant, Jonathan is a former Policy Advisor to the White House on Diversity and Disability, an engaging professional speaker, anthropologist, psychotherapist, executive coach, and policy architect. 

Born with Cerebral Palsy, Jonathan’s experience led him to academia first and his interest in diversity and disability policy and advocacy grew through the lens of his own disability. 

When we think about disability, we tend to do so in terms of personhood and agency. I asked Jonathan how we should be approaching it for the 21st century. “In terms of my own work, the writing I have done has been about this notion of how we redefine and reimagine disability for the 21st century. The modern disability narrative, including the disability rights movement of the 70s, 80s, 90s, has focused on disability and personhood. I wanted to focus on where we go from here. From a business perspective, we need to look at disability differently. Yes, there is a need for a pool of human capital and hiring, but the lived experience is a language of innovation. We can learn from that lived experience with disability and discover what this looks like in the modern workplace.”

“How does disability play a role in defining the challenges of the 21st century? We’re in an era of covid, but the silver lining is that the culture of work has to change. Covid was the accelerant. Now we focus on what we need to do, how we survive as businesses, and what the framework of the future of work looks like.”

“How do we integrate design components into the concept of work as we move from a centralized workplace to a decentralized workplace?” - @JKaufmanConsult #FutureofWork #Diversity&Inclusion #WorkologyPodcast Click To Tweet

I asked Jonathan how we can use this transformation as a leadership framework. “Any leader, regardless of where they are, needs to think about how to deal with adaptation, resilience, and patience. Using this framework is a continuum in the arc of their business and it can be used again and again. Someone who is living with a disability draws on these themes over and over again.”

Jonathan mentioned a statistic in one of his recent Mindset Matters columns for Forbes: two-thirds of MIT engineering students are on the autism spectrum. I asked him how employers should approach this reality – that is a large percentage of future employees. “The stat is anecdotal, but when you look at top engineering programs you’ll find that the number of people along the spectrum is growing exponentially. It’s important to think about, especially in tech, that people with disabilities are all over the technology we use every day. We have to rethink how we integrate this community into our culture and how we optimize the working environment to best utilize their skill set.”

How Remote Work Can Make Work Inclusive 

This doesn’t just apply to the tech sector. “The silver lining [of covid] is that we are at a moment where proof of concept for being able to work in a decentralized way. We have to think about where we find a place where we can be competitive. For people with disabilities, this is a moment and HR executives should ask themselves where to begin. If you have an ERG group, start there and begin by listening.”

“If we’ve learned anything from the pandemic, it’s that we can recruit from anywhere,” said Jonathan. “We have new ways of doing our work and it’s a game-changer and catalyst for change…new ways of engaging employees that may have been off the radar and creating an inclusive environment.”

“As we go out into the world trying to recruit, we have to think about what our mission is, how we perceive the employment process and employees, what we’re trying to project in order to attract diverse employees.”

I asked Jonathan if people with disabilities are in danger of being marginalized even further because they’re working remotely. “There is potential for that to happen, but that is the case for any company. What is the antidote? Creating social networks within the organization. We are social animals by nature and that will never change whether we work virtually or in person. This is where ERG groups can play an important role where people can connect with each other via platforms like Slack and Team and create a social network, a digital watercooler or lunchroom.”

Jonathan said that it’s important that HR leaders work to find a substitution for in-person connection by encouraging communication, creating social events for teams that are dispersed, and more ways of connecting so that we don’t feel isolated.

Inclusion can be built into our work culture as part of hiring, onboarding, training, and employee development. Disability also isn’t just part of the diversity conversation, it’s the essence of diversity. What makes the disability experience unique is that it runs across race, ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic status, and sexual orientation. It offers great potential for innovative thinking—and people with disabilities with this knowledge and lived experience are also an untapped talent pool. I appreciate Jonathan sharing his experience with us!

Connect with Jonathan Kaufman.


Jonathan Kaufman on LinkedIn

Jonathan Kaufman on Twitter

Mindset Matters: The Future Of Work, Disability, And Imagining What’s Next


Ep 253: How Diversity and Inclusion Can Drive Team Performance

Episode 271: How Apprenticeships Help People with Disabilities Find Work

Episode Transcript


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Jessica Miller-Merrell

Jessica Miller-Merrell is the founder of Workology, a digital resource that reaches more than a half million HR and workplace leaders each month and host of the Workology Podcast. Jessica lives in Austin, TX, with her husband, daughter, and an assortment of furry family members.


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