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Why Now is the Time to Improve Disability-Inclusion Practices

Sustainability Leaders 25 octobre 2021
Sustainability Leaders 25 octobre 2021

 

Disponible en anglais seulement.

“It is the time of the employee, and employee flight is real, and if we are not creating environments that allow employees to bring their best selves to work, and to be engaged and excited and unleashed in whatever workspace they’re in, they’re going to find an employer that will,” says Leslie Anderson, Global Head of Employee Tech Experience and U.S. Chief Technology, Resiliency and Experience Operations Officer for BMO Financial Group.

Join Paulette Jagers, Managing Director of Strategic Talent Initiatives at BMO, Jason Brommet, Head of Modern Work and Security Business at Microsoft, and Leslie Anderson in a conversation about why it is essential for employers to come from a place of empathy and work in partnership with their employees to dissolve barriers to inclusion. From hiring, to accessibility best practices, to employee experience, this episode touches on it all.

In this episode:

  • Why digital equity is top of mind—creating experiences that foster inclusion and equity

  • How the employee has a big voice and why employers need to double down to meet those needs

  • How managers that lean into their people create environments that are far more balanced on mental health and well-being

  • Why using older, less accessible technology can result in losing your best and brightest employees

  • How disability is highly applicable to a large percentage of people, whether permanent, temporary or situational


Sustainability Leaders podcast is live on all major channels including AppleGoogle and Spotify.


LIRE LA SUITE

Leslie Anderson:

It is the time of the employee. Employee flight is real and if we are not creating environments that allow them to bring their best selves to work and to be engaged and excited and unleashed in whatever workspace they're in, they're going to find an employer that will.

Michael Torrance:

Welcome to Sustainability Leaders. I'm Michael Torrance, Chief Sustainability Officer with BMO Financial Group. On this show, we will talk with leading sustainability practitioners from the corporate, investor, academic and NGO communities to explore how this rapidly evolving field of sustainability is impacting global investment, business practices and our world.

Speaker 3:

The views expressed here are those of the participants and not those of Bank of Montreal, its affiliates or subsidiaries.

Paulette Jagers:

Hi, I'm Paulette Jagers, Managing Director of Strategic Talent Initiatives at BMO, and your host for today's Sustainability Leaders podcast. In the spirit of disability awareness month, we will be talking about what organizations are doing to create inclusive experience for employees with disabilities and why it's essential for employers to come from a place of empathy and work in partnership with their employees to dissolve barriers to inclusion. At BMO, as a recognized leader in workplace inclusion, we have launched BMO's Zero Barriers to Inclusion 2025 strategy that supports equity, equality, and inclusion.

Paulette Jagers:

Our purpose calls us to remove barriers for our employees, customers, and communities to create a more inclusive workplace and society. We have 14 employee resource groups with 6,000 members, including BMO Without Barriers, who's committed to remove barriers and increasing access for employees and customers with both visible and non-visible disabilities. We also receive the DEI Best Places to Work for Disability Inclusion with 100% score four years in a row.

Paulette Jagers:

It is my pleasure to introduce one of our guests, Jason, goes by Jay, Brommet, Head of Modern Work and Security Business at Microsoft. Today, people are an organization's most important asset. Empowering each of them and their organizations to be their best and bring their best is more critical than ever. The modern workplace is an inclusive, creative and culture-centric environment. As the lead of modern work and security business in Canada, Jay leads the team that is responsible for enabling organizations to amplify the ingenuity of their people with secure, collaborative platforms and tools that accelerate business growth and success.

Paulette Jagers:

With the modern work portfolio, Jay oversees productivity platforms such as Microsoft Teams, employee experience platforms including Microsoft Eva, alongside Microsoft's market leading security and compliance tools. Jay's work frequently involves detailing the future of the workplace, including cultural development, prioritization of people, employee wellbeing, and the innovative use of technology. The modern work team also works with and across Microsoft sales and delivery teams, and their market leading ecosystem of partners. Jay is also an advocate for technology enabling inclusivity and accessibility, and leads Microsoft Canada's Commercial Accessibility Initiative. Welcome Jay to our program.

Jason Brommet:

Thanks Paulette. Great to be here.

Paulette Jagers:

Our second esteem guest, Leslie Anderson, is currently Global Head of Employee Tech Experience and US Chief Technology Resiliency and Experience Operations Officer for BMO Financial Group. In this role, Leslie is responsible for leading the strategic alignment and enablement, a key technology tool for BMO's workforce, while also partnering with engineering and corporate real estate to ensure that we are delivering a differentiated employee and customer experience that drives value, growth and profitability enterprise wide. With more than 25 years of experience in the Chicago banking industry, Leslie has held leadership roles in variety of capacities dating back to her initial tenure with Harris Bank in 1996 when she led the bank's urban emerging market strategy. Welcome Leslie.

Leslie Anderson:

Thank you. Good morning.

Paulette Jagers:

So let's start talking about a topic that is top of mind right now, and that is return to the office. What do you think is critical for employees to do to ensure new hybrid work models do not create new challenges for a variety of disabilities? Jason, I'll have you start us off.

Jason Brommet:

For sure. Thanks so much, Paulette. I think we are at such a profound reflection point for organizations, both public and private sector, as we think about adapting to this new hybrid reality that so many of us are learning to adapt to. We really had this hard shift to remote work that is now normalizing around this idea that I'll call hybrid work. One of the most prevalent I'll say of things that are in front of us as Microsoft and we are thinking deeply about, but also top of mind for our customers, is this idea of digital equity.

Jason Brommet:

While a lot of the data will point to challenges that those that have disabilities have experienced through the pandemic and the shift to remote work, it has also created opportunities where barriers are removed and they can participate in the workforce where previously moving into, I'll call it the physical office, presented its own barriers, whether those be physical or technological.

Jason Brommet:

Top of mind right now is this idea again of digital equity, which is we will continue to have people working in different places at different times. And how do we create experiences that foster inclusion and foster equity irrespective of the location in which people choose to work? Technology can play such an important role in that. Obviously I do have a bit of a bias in that perspective and answering that way, but there is also a huge piece of this that is about process and about people, which is we need to create the environment where everyone is encouraged to create more inclusive experiences.

Jason Brommet:

One of the very simple examples that I heard from a customer last week that I thought was brilliant, we are so accustomed I'll say in the old I'll say traditional office-based environment of having individuals play specific roles in meetings. You can think about the time cop. You can think about the relevancy cop. We're now seeing customers introducing facilitation roles in the context of meetings. And those individuals responsibilities are to ensure that every voice is heard. So again, looking around as individuals, do you return to the physical workplace bringing everybody into the conversation? So just one simple I'll call it practice that I think goes a long way.

Jason Brommet:

The second is having everybody join the virtual experience. Again, it's a great way to sort of create a great equalization of the experiences so that, again, we don't unintentionally exclude anyone as we recognize that, again, diversity of experiences as we shift to hybrid, we will continue to see a high degree of flexibility between physical and digital as well as I'll call it place and time. And so I think those are some of the key pieces that are certainly top of mind. There's this great moment where we can reflect on what we've learned over the last 18 months. But more importantly, we need to be very intentional in thinking what's our strategy moving forward so that we don't unintentionally exclude. And so with that, Leslie, I'll hand it over to you. I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Leslie Anderson:

Yeah. Jason, you covered a lot of it, but the non-tech. So I'll approach it a little bit from the human perspective. While tech is important and clearly it's where I reside today, the employee has the biggest voice that they have ever had in my work lifetime and probably in generations before mine as well. I think what is really critical for employers is to really double down on that human. So we absolutely need to touch base with our employees, asking them what challenges they're facing. We are doing our job in terms of doing the research, partnering with companies that are putting out the best and the most accessible tools that we need to use within the workplace.

Leslie Anderson:

But nothing is a substitute for asking our employees how are you doing, what are you struggling with, how can I help, because that's where we're going to find, because this environment itself has unleashed a whole new set of challenges that we are just starting to understand. So we're solving for those challenges that we've had, we've known about for years, but there are going to be some to come and we need to be flexible and agile and be able to respond to employee's needs in that fashion. And I think we're building an infrastructure that allows us to do that.

Jason Brommet:

Yeah. Just to build on that, and I love that perspective, Leslie. It's fun being I'll say a technology company employee, but often being the one that represents the voice of the human element of it because I'm not a deep technologist by trade and by education. But what really pops and I think you hit on it really well, which is, this is such a moment for one leading from a position of empathy, which is everybody is having their own experiences. But the second is, it's such a personal moment. And I think about for managers and leaders, the data is clear. That is where managers are leaning into their people, are creating environments that are far more balanced on mental health and wellbeing, we're seeing a higher interest of staying with those organizations. But it is such a moment to be personal and I think it's a great add on for sure because tools and technology can only get us so far.

Leslie Anderson:

Absolutely, absolutely. It's an opportunity to celebrate why we're different and to create an environment that supports all those differences.

Paulette Jagers:

I love that. I love the digital equity and also how we're front and center with the employee voice and the criticality of being empathetic right now in the human experience. Jason, this one is for you. On the topic of ensuring a variety of disabilities are met, how is this being thought of at Microsoft? You consult on this topic for a number of clients on behalf of Microsoft. What are the clients telling you and what have you been dealing with?

Jason Brommet:

Yeah. I'll maybe break this down and answer on two perspectives, Paulette. One, I'll say a little bit that Leslie just teed up. In many ways, accessibility is devoutly connected to our mission as a company, which is empowering every person on the planet to achieve more. And that in and of itself is a broad statement. When you think about what I'll consider to be sort of traditional classifications of accessibility requirements across vision, hearing, physical, cognition, and then broadly just creating more inclusive design features. We continue to lead from a strategy of accessibility built in versus bolted on, meaning we really want to engineer our products from the ground up taking into consideration the requirements of anyone that may have an ability or disability in any one of those categories.

Jason Brommet:

There's this central thematic that is broadly, I'll say, referred to in the marketplace but we take very centrally inside Microsoft, which is this idea that says nothing for us without us, which is more central about we need to bring people in and we need to represent obviously the diversity of the customers, the consumers and the users that we represent and that ultimately use our products. And so we want to be able to bring individuals that can help infuse our thinking, challenge our norms around traditional design challenges.

Jason Brommet:

One of the best examples, more consumer oriented than I'll say business, is the Xbox Adaptive Controller. For years, we've been building the Xbox. It's been a successful platform. But what didn't really hit our radar was we were unintentionally excluding such a broad population of the global community from being able to participate in this idea that says when we all participate, we all win. And so the idea of the accessible controller was really about creating a more diverse, broader gaming base with gamers around the Xbox platform. So that's on the first side of it, which is thinking about I'll say traditional definitions and categories of disabilities and ensuring that our tools can respond and adapt and enable those individuals to participate.

Jason Brommet:

The second piece is, back to the earlier question, this idea of digital equity and recognizing in this new hybrid reality, people are going to choose to participate in the workforce in different ways at different times. How do we think about creating more immersive experiences? A few small examples that in many way were born out of the pandemic in response to customer feedback. One is something called together mode inside Microsoft Teams. In many ways, our engineering team, when they first saw it, thought it was a bit of a gimmick in all honesty. But what our data told us was that individuals, all of us sitting in front of screens all day looking at little two-by-two squares, was putting pressure on our neuro-diverse capabilities to participate wholly in our work. And so our teams actually redesigned the experience to create that more immersive experience, having everybody sitting in a common space so that we weren't constricted to these two by twos. So that's one example.

Jason Brommet:

A second one is mental health and wellbeing. We've introduced something called the virtual commute inside Microsoft Teams using artificial intelligence to nudge us. And again, this goes a little bit to the discussion Leslie and I were having. Tools and technology are great enablers. A lot of this is also about people and about humans, but using artificial intelligence agents and capabilities to nudge us to create space, whether that be for learning, whether that be for personal development, whether that simply be about physical activity. We know that this shift to hybrid work and remote work has put physical drain on each of us. And so, again, technology can play a role, but it also needs to be coupled with I'll call it practices that each of us as humans can go lead.

Paulette Jagers:

I think that's brilliant, Jason. Especially the pandemic has really inspired I think a lot of innovative thinking. I love the fact that you have accessibility built in versus thinking about it as an afterthought, the way traditionally that we've normally thought about it with consumers and what we have available to us. Leslie, what is BMO doing to level the playing field to ensure accessibility is met?

Leslie Anderson:

There's a lot of things that we are doing. One, we have fully embraced the hybrid work environment and we are leaning on our centers of excellence around Zero Barriers to Inclusion and BMO Without Barriers to give us some intel on some of the tools that are needed with employees both who are working at home and also who are working back into the office. What are some of the things that they need? Wider doors to be able to access our conference rooms so that no one is excluded if they're working in the office. We're also leveraging our iPhone tools to interface with the physical workspace because Apple has brought a lot of accessible tools to the table that we can leverage going forward.

Leslie Anderson:

We're looking at building modular pieces of technology so that... Well, Jason talks about we want to make sure that we're embedding accessibility and all that we build from the ground up. But as we know, the challenges of our employee base will change over time. So how do we create technology that allows us to pivot and move and align with the needs of our employees? And we're doing that more and more every day, our sit stand desks. So we are literally ripping apart what was our normal come to the office, sit in your same desk, it doesn't move, to having spaces and rooms for collaboration, for anyone to come in and engage in the right type of interaction with their peers and their managers and their partners in ways that feel comfortable and engaging and actually allow ideas and your personality and who you are to be really amplified in the office or at home.

Leslie Anderson:

We want to make sure that no one is feeling like they are regaled to one location or another because of their challenges. We want to make sure that our spaces, whether it's at your house, so we've actually created a home kit of parts to make sure that people can have a home office that is just as supportive as if they were coming into the office at BMO.

Paulette Jagers:

That's fabulous. I love the integrated experience and how we're really transforming the way that we work and how you're thinking about bringing all of those work environments together, whether it be at home or at the office using your iPhones, that's going to be a seamless experience for employees. This one, Jason and Leslie is for both of you, how should employers be thinking about the range of disabilities and the range of support that is required given all of the varying factors? Leslie, I'll start it off with you.

Leslie Anderson:

There should not be a limit to how we think about this. When we talk about creating an inclusive environment, it is as inclusive at the top of the house as we think about the tools and capabilities that our employees need as it is about the employees themselves. And so, like part of my department is innovation for employee experience. We are constantly looking at tools across the entire accessibility landscape to make sure that we are employing those things that are known to support our employees in addition to what are some of the capabilities that we haven't experienced at BMO but we know some of our peers have. And leveraging the learnings across the industry to say, okay, we didn't have this type of employee, but we want to have them because at the end of the day, how we win is when all the voices around the table are represented.

Leslie Anderson:

And so we want to make sure that who we are today is not excluding a population either just because we haven't experienced them. And so we really are reaching far and wide and leveraging the resources that we have, which includes Microsoft and all of our partners and some of our peers to say, what is it that you're experiencing that we may not be so that we can actually collectively create environments that are inclusive for everyone?

Jason Brommet:

I'll maybe build directly on Leslie's comments and some of the earlier points. One, which is, and I think Leslie had touched on this. This is a profound moment in which we are operating today and what's intrinsically true that I think we would all agree is not one organization has all of the answers. And so for me, there's just such an incredible opportunity right now for each of us to be I'll say this sort of idea of a learn it all, which is, how do we lean in together and learn? And Leslie just touched on it, which is in some cases, organizations may have experiences with a defined set of disabilities, but you're seeing other peer organizations seeing new ones emerge, and how do you adapt to that and learn very quickly from one another? So that would be one.

Jason Brommet:

Second, again, earlier comments, which is this idea of being very personal, whether there is I'll say a structured self ID program that may be in place in a workplace environment, it is a great platform to be able to acknowledge and correlate that information. But it doesn't necessarily replace just the natural interaction that should occur between managers and their teams to understand what they're going through.

Jason Brommet:

And again, to Leslie's comments, it's changing daily if we think about I'll say traditional views, which is a high percentage of the population have what we often think about as invisible disabilities. Those that are not obviously visually available or referenceable or not disclosed. And so this idea of being very personal and understanding where adaptation and/or accommodations may be required will only surface through that sort of position of empathy and that curiosity.

Jason Brommet:

The third piece, which is the shape of disabilities are changing dramatically. Again, one of the big pieces that without question is very much moving itself to the foreground is this idea of mental health and wellbeing. We do need to think about that as a disability, and how do we empower individuals with tools, programs, resources that enable them to adapt and be able to thrive, take the time and the space where they may need to as we continue to adapt to the pressures that are building around us.

Jason Brommet:

And then the last, coincidentally funny I leave this one to the last point of it, which is, what role can technology play? And Leslie, you hit on a great point, which is recognizing that the workplace is changing, meaning it is no longer defined as being that traditional nine to five physical footprint that may be operated by the company. Those do need to be reviewed and considered, especially many customers and organizations are rethinking the design of their physical spaces as we contemplate a return to workplace.

Jason Brommet:

Obviously an accessible centric design process into that work is critical, but it's how do you create that experience for your people that are working at home or for when they are working from home? And again, this idea of digital equity. I hear too many stories, unfortunately, which is individuals at home are left with what I'll call a less than experience than those in the office. And so they feel compelled that they need to be in the office to have that first class experience. That will unintentionally exclude, whether we want to acknowledge it or not. And so I think across those dimensions, we need to be highly flexible. What's sort of the central thematic in this is there are so many variables right now. We need to listen, we need to learn and we need to be able to flex very quickly.

Leslie Anderson:

I would just add on to what Jason said because you touched on something that is near and dear to my heart. This is a leader led strategy. From the top of the house on down, we need to be setting the tone that there is no imbalance in terms of where you work because the minute we create a have and have not, we start to silence those individuals that have to choose one location over another because of their own challenges. And that is absolutely not the path that we're trying to go down. So making sure that employees feel like they are valued wherever they work is going to be a constant theme and requirement of senior leadership in every organization so that their voices are heard because we can do as much research as we want, but there's nothing that replaces the employee voice in this work and if they don't feel like they have agency in this work, then we're not going to get to the right state.

Paulette Jagers:

Yes. And just a personal story, Leslie, to share as a person with an invisible disability, I actually have ABD. And at the time when we were working in open office environments, I actually asked for an accommodation. You'd be surprised how many things a manager can do to support you. They turned up the white noise with a panel in my space. They moved me closer to a window so I wasn't as distracted with being around a lot of individuals. And I got big screens where I could do closed captioning to help me focus. Talking about leader led, we actually worked with the ERG to share some of these stories and it was great to see employees actually come up afterwards who had the stigma of not wanting to identify to say I have ADD or ADHD too and didn't know that these kinds of things would be available. And it just creates a more productive experience for all to really contribute and be at our best. Talking about leaders, how can we better educate not only managers but everyone to make a more accessible and inclusive workplace. Jason, any thoughts on that?

Jason Brommet:

It's such a great question, Paulette. There's a few thoughts. One, obviously there's a great role that each of us can play to self empower. I think in many ways, as humanity I think we have that responsibility to one another to be as inclusive and as diverse in our thinking and our approach to work as possible. Putting that piece aside that says empowering or asking each individual to invest their own personal time, efforts and energy is the leader down, and Leslie touched on this, which is it truly is a leader down moments in time. We have this sort of simple idea inside Microsoft that we refer to as one more thing. And we often share it with our customers, which is, this is where technology can play such a great role.

Jason Brommet:

Simple behaviors, turning on videos in meetings so that people can see one another. Very simple. Behavior driven, but again, something that can be driven top-down. Turning on closed captioning in virtual meeting experiences. So individuals that may be hard of hearing, frankly again temporarily because we do also see disability as being temporary. Folks that may be in a noisy environments and can't hear voices, the ability to see captioning on a screen, super important.

Jason Brommet:

The idea of accessible content when you're drafting emails using tools like accessibility checker. Very simple based behaviors that an organization can empower. Again, leader modeling is a great way to do this. Connecting to accessible environments and teams like Leslie's organization. Simple behaviors go a long way. But again, it requires reinforcement. As we generally know, you need to do things a number of times before they become habit.

Jason Brommet:

But as you start to coach and encourage individuals to do that and you see leaders modeling the way, it's a great moment to pull other people in because suddenly... I've had it happen a couple of times. I use pronouns in both my public profile as well as my work profile. The number of times that I get questions on, why do you do that? Similarly, sometimes I'll say when I post social content that may have pictures, I will always include alt text so that those that are using screen readers can see the visual reference. Again, it sparks curiosity. And so in so many cases, this is about empowering individuals with guidance and practices that they can employ that generally creates movements and becomes a really powerful way to move the collective organization forward.

Leslie Anderson:

I would just add on to that, Jason, because I think that was amazing. Just as you were talking, I'm like, wow, I need to think about my posts on social media. So it does create some curiosity, and how can I be better and be different. But I'm also encouraging my group and more broadly the enterprise for individuals to strengthen their muscle around self agency. When we all got locked down for the pandemic, we encouraged everyone to turn on their videos and it literally is starting to create a negative effect now that we've been on video sometimes eight to 10 hours a day.

Leslie Anderson:

So I'm telling folks, if you get up in the morning and you don't feel like turning on your video, so don't, because I need you healthy in how you work, I don't need you align to how I want you to work. And helping them to understand the importance of their own voice allows them to build the muscle around raising their hand when there's something that's not right or a barrier that's keeping them from being their best. So there's a line that we need to also continue to walk, which is encouraging engagement in every way possible because I know that people who are especially working at home alone for hours and weeks and days on end struggle with that interaction, but also giving our employees the voice to say, "Not for me today."

Paulette Jagers:

Thanks Leslie and Jason. I agree, Leslie, I thought the same thing. I was like, wow, there's a lot of technology options that I'm not enabling and using and I definitely need to get educated on what's out there. I love the fact, Leslie, you're talking about flexibility in how people can work because it is important as a number one item that employees bring up on why they want to stay with an organization and what that value proposition is is because of its flexibility and gives them choice. So, how should employers handle technology that is still being used but is not compatible with accessibility? Either of you have any thoughts on that?

Jason Brommet:

I have a really short answer, upgrade, and I truly, truly don't mean that I'll say as a sales pitch. But what I would say is this, Paulette. Technology is moving at such a profound pace. It truly, truly is. Our CEO has made reference, which is, we saw two years of innovation in two months, I'll say, as a function of the pandemic. That is intrinsically true not only in business models and operating models, but how we think about technology and innovation as a company, and speaking for Microsoft. If you're using old technology, you are unintentionally creating an exclusion. It is as simple as that, as you look at the advances of things like artificial intelligence.

Jason Brommet:

And again, this isn't about robots replacing humans, but you think about capabilities like cognitive services, being able to translate cameras on mobile devices is a great example to be able to read signs and be able to create markers and way points for individuals that are visually impaired. Any of those experiences just aren't possible in old technology. And so by I'll say residing on that, what we often refer to as technical debt, you are absolutely unintentionally excluding people and not creating experiences that are immersive and participatory for all. And so for me, it's a really simple answer, which is, we need to help you upgrade. We need to help you modernize because it's the only way that you'll be able to take advantage of the incredible innovations that continue to ship yearly, monthly, depending on the industry.

Leslie Anderson:

I agree with with you. There is a balance. I mean, we're a corporation that are beholden to our shareholders, and technology moves faster than we can replace an upgrade within the workplace. We actually are undergoing a huge modernization because what we also know is that modernization also improves resiliency and other things that allow us to be there for our customers and our employees when they need us. We are being thoughtful about how we create a continual loop of upgrading and enhancing so that we are maximizing our shareholder return but also not creating environments where people can't be productive. And so that's where the employee voice is coming in.

Leslie Anderson:

There's some technology that just has to go. We know that. We continue to set our bottom baseline to make sure that we are not falling below that. But as we look at ways to innovate, we're using our expertise, our resources, our partners like you Jason to make sure that we are upgrading and innovating in the right spaces at the right pace so that we are creating not just an inclusive environment but we are also maximizing how we make those investments over time.

Paulette Jagers:

So based on that, what would you both say to employers who are doing the bare minimum when it comes to accessibility?

Leslie Anderson:

I would say come to BMO, www.bmoharris.com. This is not the environment where employers can rest on their laurels. It is the time of the employee. Employee flight is real and if we are not creating environments that allow them to bring their best selves to work and to be engaged and excited and unleashed in whatever workspace they're in, they're going to find an employer that will, and BMO is one of those employers. We would love to have them. I would say for those employers that think they're getting by with significantly old technology that doesn't create an inclusive environment is a sure-fire way to lose your best and brightest.

Jason Brommet:

I'll just build on Leslie's comments and in many ways I'll say ditto. There is a great article I read last week I'll say by one of the many points of view they are floating around at the moment, which was really anchored on this principle of I'll say the great resignation versus the great attraction. And to me, accessibility is one of those conversations that underpins it, which is your sure-fire way to sort of inspire your employees to depart your organization is not contemplating action as it relates to creating more inclusive environments, for all reasons. Organizations that do invest in accessible experiences and environments, the data is clear. They are more productive, they are more profitable and they do a much better job in both retaining and attracting talent. And so in many ways, to me, this is a statement that says you can't afford to not participate in this.

Jason Brommet:

That being said is I'm also pragmatic, and Leslie touched on this on shareholders, which is, progress versus perfection is a great step. What's intrinsically true, and again, speaking for Microsoft, this is a journey. There is no end game. We need to continue to challenge ourselves and challenge our thinking to continue to be better. We really view our role as one to be able to partner with organizations like BMO to say, "Hey, how do we help you create more inclusive environments?" And so that progress versus perfection I would say is just an anchor point, which is make the first steps.

Jason Brommet:

What's amazing in many ways is, yes, technology does move incredibly fast. It can be expensive to upgrade. And again, not making this a sales pitch, but there are so many accessibility features built into a lot of the core technology that you would empower as part of your employee experience portfolio today. So it doesn't come with I'll call it necessarily additive cost. But getting those deployed, getting those capabilities turned on becomes one of those first steps that every organization can take today.

Leslie Anderson:

I use that statement often, Jason. I shift it a little bit saying perfection is not success here. Success is engagement, success is investment, but it's going to look different for every organization, but the status quo is failure.

Paulette Jagers:

Yes. And just a few stats to reinforce the points around great resignation and talent attraction. There are 61 million disabled Americans and one in three Canadians need accommodations. So that's quite a large talent base when you think about attracting and retaining and engaging that talent.

Leslie Anderson:

And Paulette, those numbers only represent those who have actually self identified. There's so many that haven't in the past felt comfortable for one reason or another to self identify that we still have to address.

Jason Brommet:

Yeah. And the other piece that I would quickly add, which is I'll say identified versus invisible. The other piece of it, and by no means do I mean to sound extremist in this statement, which is, there isn't an inevitability that every one of us will experience a disability at some point in our life. It's just simple fact. There's a couple of perspectives, one which is aging and all of the other factors that we would think about that influence employee profiles and distributions. But the second part of it, which is, thinking about disabilities across a continuum of permanent, temporary, and situational. And again, not to say any one is different than the other, but as you think about those experiences, an individual that has a loss of limb, the experiences that they may struggle with would be very similar to somebody who has a broken arm, or is very similar to somebody who is holding a lot of coffee in their hand.

Jason Brommet:

And so a disability I'll say in the broadest context is highly applicable to a large percentage. The data is there. A billion people in the world today with a disability. So many of them that are unable to participate in the workforce. We need to think about this in the broadest context possible, but I think, Paulette, to your comments, the other piece of this, which is talent is everywhere in this hybrid world. One of the things that is optimism for me is those individuals that may have not been able to participate in the workforce due to physical barriers of being able to get to the space, being able to move around the space, how might those individuals be able to participate in a world where work has kind of gone home?

Jason Brommet:

I think it's just a moment for every organization to pause and be curious to say, hey, is there a moment in time for us to rethink our hiring policies and practices to create a more inclusive environment recognizing that work is more distributed than it's ever been before? It's one of those things that I'll say I hold onto my clover, I'll call it, and hope for luck where we see some change in that regard because I think it's an incredible moment for all of us to think about that.

Leslie Anderson:

I would add, Jason, some people on the podcast will know that last year I was diagnosed with breast cancer. One of the challenges that I faced was severe lymphedema. It created for me an awareness that I hadn't really had around accessibility. The things that I was able to do and never really thought about it came into play. The need for sit-stand desk became very apparent because sitting in a particular space for hours on end was no longer acceptable given the rigor that I was going through. And Paulette, you and I had this conversation. I was concerned about first alerting that I had these issues because... And I'm 51, admittedly, but if you're 25 and you're continuing to really drive up the career ladder, there's often a time where you're thinking, should I really alert people that I have these challenges? What will it do to my trajectory within my organization?

Leslie Anderson:

And so those are the things that we need to think about preemptively and call out to make sure that not only people feel comfortable about naming whatever challenge that they have so that they can be their best and brightest wherever they're working, but also empower them and give them the tools to make working feel productive and allow them to be engaged at the right level. So I have over the past year really have started to understand and feel some of the challenges that others have and it's made me to start to think about and dig into with our team, one of the things that one of my leaders is actually looking at is we're specifically looking for people with disabilities to add to our training and enablement team because we want to understand what are some of the things that we haven't seen, and someone who's been in this space for a very long time, how do we begin to adapt how we train, the tools we provide, how we engage differently going forward?

Jason Brommet:

Yeah, just maybe a quick build and it goes back to an earlier point that I made in how we think about it, which is this nothing for us without us, which is how do we bring in those perspectives? And I think it's such a powerful moment, Leslie. I didn't know that, I'll say, on the personal story side, but in so many ways it is those personal experiences that can be the catalysts. Unfortunately it is those personal experiences that are the catalyst versus proactive strategy. And I think that's where we have a moment to collectively lead, but I love that thought process.

Paulette Jagers:

Yeah. Thank you, Leslie, for sharing that story. And it just goes to show we can't think separately about the work office versus the home office. Like the lines are completely lowered and it has to be a global thought now that wherever you are, the experience has to be the same. There's not a difference between the physical locations anymore. Any parting thoughts that you would like to share with our listeners that either we haven't touched on or something that you think is important for us to know before we go?

Jason Brommet:

I'll maybe just make one quick comment, and it was related to a question that we were just talking about, which is, start making the change today. We think about it as two perspectives. One is a responsibility, which is every organization I believe has the responsibility to play a role to create environments where everybody can be their best and bring their very best. The second side of it is there's a business opportunity to it. Any organization that has a customer facing experience of which that is the vast majority of the population of business, whether public or private sector, you need to better represent and reflect the customers that you serve. And if you're not thinking about accessibility both I'll say in the context of the employee experience or on the EX dimension, you should also be thinking about it on the CX or the customer experience dimension.

Jason Brommet:

And for us, that's really been foundational, which is really guiding our strategy that says we need to better represent the customers we ultimately serve. Our ability to do that is engineering products that represents those diverse perspectives and points of view, which really gets us to this idea of built-in versus bolted on. But it is a journey. As I've said, there is no end game in this, the space continues to evolve. And so again, please start the journey today because it does take work but it is amazing the progress that can be made when we start.

Leslie Anderson:

I will just echo all that Jason has said and say, yes, start now. This is an investment in the future and the key to really doing this work well is to listen.

Paulette Jagers:

I want to thank you both for sharing your expertise and knowledge and participating in this very dynamic discussion and providing your important insights on this topic on what companies can do to create accessible and inclusive workspaces for employees to engage and thrive.

Michael Torrance:

Thanks for listening to Sustainability Leaders. This podcast is presented by BMO Financial Group. To access all the resources we discussed in today's episode, and to see our other podcasts, visit us at bmo.com/sustainabilityleaders. You can listen and subscribe free to our show on Apple Podcasts or your favorite podcast provider, and we'll greatly appreciate a rating and review and any feedback that you might have. Our show and resources are produced with support from BMO's marketing team and Puddle Creative. Until next time, I'm Michael Torrance, have a great week.

Speaker 3:

The views expressed here are those of the participants and not those of Bank of Montreal, its affiliates or subsidiaries. This is not intended to serve as a complete analysis of every material fact regarding any company, industry, strategy or security. This presentation may contain forward looking statements. Investors are cautioned not to place undue reliance on such statements as actual results could vary. This presentation is for general information purposes only and does not constitute investment, legal or tax advice and is not intended as an endorsement of any specific investment product or service. Individual investors should consult with an investment tax and/or legal professional about their personal situation. Past performance is not indicative of future results.

Paulette Jagers Directrice générale, Initiatives stratégiques – Talents, BMO Groupe financier

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