Bringing Disabilities into the Diversity Discussion


While there are over 20 million people in the US with a disability, this group has historically been overlooked as a component of diversity. DiverseAbilities – the Societe Generale Americas Employee Resource Group (ERG) for employees with disabilities and parents of children with special needs or differing abilities –  seeks to overcome this lack of visibility in the diversity discussion, raise awareness, and enable SG employees of all abilities to reach their full potential.

"Many people feel uncomfortable talking about their own disability or a child's special needs, fearing the potential stigma attached," says John SanFilippo, one of DiverseAbilities co-founders. "Encouraging open conversations about disabilities and recognizing it as an element of diversity rather than a weakness defuses this topic."  

"Fighting the stigma of disability starts by breaking the taboo of talking about it, and DiverseAbilities provides a forum to openly discuss our differences," adds Abdelaziz Grine, a member of DiverseAbilities. "As a person who stutters, it is helpful to me and to people I interact with to explain the nature of my disorder, which, in most cases, is an inherited abnormality in the brain. It's a relief for many to know that if I respond with tension it's not anger or anxiety, but simply a processing issue."

The role DiverseAbilities plays in support of caregivers is also an essential element of this ERG."As a mother of a 14-year old son with Down Syndrome, DiverseAbilities has enabled me to discuss disability with my colleagues," explains Yamira Siu, who is a member of the group. "Being open about my teenager's differences, as well as his similarities with other kids, humanizes him and his peers, allowing them to be seen as who they really are."

DiverseAbilities has focused its efforts on building awareness and education via events and activities such as mobilizing volunteers for organizations such as Special Olympics and the National Down Syndrome Society, sponsoring a webinar on Learning Disabilities & Attention Issues, and a Lunch & Learn on transitioning special needs teens to adulthood. The group also introduced a live captioning service at events, making events more inclusive and accessible to all. DiverseAbilities has also started engaging with the community by attending conferences on disability inclusion and establishing relationships with organizations such as Misericordia/Heart of Mercy, Helen Keller Services, the Special Olympics, the POINT (Pursuing Our Independence Together) Community and Gigi's Playhouse.

One recent DiverseAbilities event was a thought-provoking Lunch & Learn with Rich Donovan, CEO of the Return on Disability Group and globally recognized subject matter expert on the convergence of disability and corporate profitability, who happens to have cerebral palsy. Donovan is a former trader, and he analyzes how companies can profit by serving the needs of people with disabilities and their families, a group that makes up the world’s largest emerging market. Societe Generale Americas CEO Slawomir Krupa introduced Donovan and Larry Lawrence, Managing Director and Head of Credit Sales, moderated the lively discussion that resulted.

"It’s through such events like Rich’s eye-opening presentation as well as through external collaborations that DiverseAbilities hopes to acknowledge the different perspectives and strengths provided by individuals with disabilities and caregivers," adds Meg Cimino, co-founder of DiverseAbilities. "In so doing, we hope to play our part in making SG a more diverse and inclusive workplace."