Technically People
Technically People

Episode · 11 months ago

Inclusion for Employees with Chronic Illness & Disability


In America, 157 million adults have at least one chronic illness. Hannah Rose Olson, Founder and CEO at Chronically Capable, makes one thing clear: A person who lives with chronic illness or disability is not just capable but they bring important skills to the table, like resilience and empathy. People with these challenges represent a massive pool of untapped talent for the workplace, which has already started adapting to the most requested accommodation: remote work.

In this inaugural episode of Technically People, we interview Olson about strategies employers can adopt to attract and retain this capable and often untapped talent pool.

In the interview, we discuss:

- What it takes to build inclusive workplaces both in-office and virtually

- Intersectionality for people of different communities with chronic illness

- People’s fear of telling managers about an illness

- Job descriptions that signal you’re inclusive for this population

- 3 strategies for allyship

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Welcome to technically people, a community conversation by and for workplace futurists brought to you by the tech recruitment platform built in. The podcast features insights from leaders, thinkers and doers on the vanguard building human centered workplaces of the future. Along the way, you'll hear concepts that will stop you in your tracks, concepts that inspire you to ask yourself, what's the most futureforward way to approach my people leadership? We all know the future of work isn't waiting around, so let's get on with the show. Welcome to technically people. This is a podcast for leaders who are really passionate. Any type of leader, people leader, even up to the CEO, who's passionate about building better workplace of the future, a human centered workplace of the future. So will be providing insights on some of the most pressing issues that workplace leaders face today, DII and belonging, wellness, recruiting in the socalled new normal, and a lot more. I'm your cohost, Tiffany Myers, and my fellow host Sheridan or, who's built in Cmo, is here with me as well. Sheridan, hi, it's nice to see you. It's good to see you, tippany. I'm really excited about this conversation. I totally agree. I have to say I'm really excited to be exploring an issue today on this episode that is really important to me near and dear to my heart. So I'll introduce Hannah Olson. She is a founder and CEO of chronically capable, which is an employment advocacy platform for professionals with chronic or invisible illnesses and disabilities. The platform gives members with these challenges access to opportunities across disciplines at various companies. So, Hannah, thank you so much for joining and leading us through this important conversation. So glad to be here. Thank you so much for having me and I'm a huge fan of built in, so excited for today this conversation. Love it with the fanship goes both ways. I'm a huge fan of your work. I wonder it's really hard to separate chronically capable from your personal story, Hannah. You just can't have one without the other. So can you share a bit about your story? Absolutely so. I was diagnosed with line disease in college, very very bad case, and after graduating I unfortunately had reached the point in my treatment, where I was instructed to have a pickline in my arm, which, for those of you who are unfamiliar, it's a permanent IV. I was hooked up to you ivy antibiotics for about eight hours a day and at the time I was the recent graduate from Boston University, excited to enter the workforce, and I had this pickline and I accepted a job down in Washington DC and didn't know how to disclose as I didn't know when I was supposed to who I was supposed to tell, and so I chose to stay silent out of the fear that this boss wouldn't accept this piece of me that I was dealing with. And as I got down to DC, I kept it pretty quiet and hidden for as long as I could until, unfortunately, I had a boss that wasn't okay with me having this pick line, and so I saw firsthand, you know, how hard it was to live with an invisible disability in the workplace. If I had a long sleeve shirt on, no one knew what I was dealing with, but as soon as my I was wearing a short sleeve, you could suddenly see this, this visible disability, and I struggled with is there a place for people like me and there is there a place for people with illness and disabilities in the workplace? And for a while I thought that there wasn't and I thought I was the only one going through this. As I learned the depths of chronic illness and disability in the United States, I was just so alarmed the disparities amongst these communities and how hard it was to find and connect with an employer who cares and who can support these individuals. And so I became determined, from that plant on, to really up front and to create a platform that would actually help people like me. And so, three years..., I'm so grateful to be working on this product and to be building something for people out there shuggling like me. I just want to mention something. When I think about that long sleeve shirt that you were wearing, I think about secrets and keeping secrets and what a burden that really is and in fact acts keeping secrets actually can affect your health and a manifest in your body and new ways. So the challenge is even related to negative health effects. But I want to ask you, your three years in, tell me how employers are actually doing in terms of supporting people with disabilities or chronic illness. So I'd say that two thousand and twenty was really a year of learning and on learning for a lot of companies, and I think leading up to that there was already this general understanding that we needed we needed to do more. However, two thousand and twenty and being faced with the global pandemic, we saw firsthand the need to include those in the suddenly, the topics of illness and remote work and flexibility, we're all endeaversy inclusion. We're all coming to a head all at the same time, and I think this really tipped the balance towards inclusivity and employers saw the need to actually include this population. So I think, thinking about the past three years, we're definitely on an upward trend. I'd say that there's a lot of work to be done and so much work to still be be done in this space. There is a lot for this particular population of disabilities. In the United States it's under the ATA, which is now about to have its thirty one anniversary this July, and under that their section five hundred three, which requires companies to not only recruit but to promote and retain individuals with disabilities in their workforce at a level of seven that but right now only thirteen percent of companies in the United States have actually reached the Department of Labor's target, so there is obviously a lot of work to be done. I think I recall I read that section five or three is not a mandate necessarily, but a recommendation. Is that correct? It is not a mandate, and so that's where it becomes a bitchery. Hopefully one day it will be, but there are some idiosyncrasies there that if you are to be audited, you have to be able to prove that you are reaching towards that goal. So it is an aspirational goal, but it's one that that companies do take very seriously and they are. It is on their agenda and just even in the last few years it's become more and more a priority. You're talking about the progress that we've made over the last three years and it still is the case. At least. I believe that when people are thinking about inclusivity, it seems as though chronic illness is the last thing that comes to mind. I would say ages M is probably the one thing that rivals. That's in terms of the work that companies do with regard to inclusivity. Do you agree with me on that? Definitely the last thing, followed by producibilities and then chronic illnesses. I think people don't understand the depth, but I think it's hard for companies to put into perspective how many people this is actually affected, and when they start to learn those statistics, I think it becomes more of a priority, but that comes from education awareness. People aren't talking about this enough and you know, I felt like I was one of the first people, almost like a pioneer in this face, because people will never disclose this publicly and I took a huge risk in my life to do so. But I hope that that starts a trend and you know, as I continue to share my story, that that encourages others to speak out. Because we don't know the actual problem, people aren't going to react to it. Tell me some of those stats. Absolutely, when we talk about chronic illness, we're talking about most US adults. Sixty percent, and this is a statistic that people sometimes don't believe me when I share this. Sixty percent of our population lives with at least one chronic illness. Forty percent lives with two or more, and this is CBC dog of Statistics. It equates to a hundred fifty seven million Americans. And of those people with...

...chronic illnesses, seventy percent of illnesses are invisible, which means that your employer wouldn't know if you weren't to disclose. Only three point two percent of people disclose in the workplace. That's a huge gap, something that I like to refer to as a disclosure gap. That's something I want everyone to walk away with and understand it. But as you look at people, you may not know what they're dealing with. So I was reviewing some stats according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, so I was doing some light, light summer reading there. And Unemployment in two thousand and twenty four people with disabilities with twelve point six percent. Compare that to seven point nine nine percent of people without a disability. I know that your point of view, Hannah, is that hiring, recruiting, retaining promoting people with disabilities or chronic illness is an opportunity and not a chore. Tell us more so, I think that the chronicalness and disability community really does represent this massive untapped fule of talent that does bring core financial, cultural and economic benefits to to organizations. And so there's a great study done in two thousand and eighteen by accenture and disability in and talked about disability inclusion champions. So these were companies that were prioritizing disability inclusion or implementing this in their workforces. And across the board they saw higher revenue, higher net income, higher economic profit margins and they also saw ninety percent higher retention rates in a seventy two percent increase and employee productivity. And we see as well that employers who are actually hiring from these populations, they're building workplaces that are accessible, and when we build work places that are accessible for those with disabilities, we're actually making them better workplaces for everyone in it in an organization. And then, lastly, there are federal incentives to hiring from this population. There's something known as the Work Opportunity Tax Credit, also referred to as wat see, and this awards companies up to ninety six hundred per person, per qualified candidate per year and tax credits, and so that's something important for companies to understand as well. There's something I think about quite a bit with regard to chronic illness and that's the invisibility component. You know, there are so many symptoms of chronic illness that can't be objectively measured. So think about pain, right, it's totally self reported. You can't tell the level of pain that a person is in just by looking at them. There's no test for it. But then I think, you know, you could say something similar about depression. Similarly, you can't measure the severity of someone's depression just by looking at someone. It is about self reporting, and I just want to make totally clear that I believe that there's huge stigma around mental health. But I do feel like we've made at least a little bit of a dent, probably because covid has caused so many wellness and mental health issues among employees that employers have started to focus on stepping up and creating safer spaces to talk about mental health. I don't think we're talking about chronic illness in the same way. So tell me what needs to happen for companies to catch up. Its start internally and there needs to be this domino effect of a people sharing and starting from leadership. I think we see women talking about being leadership positions and talking about this, sharing their stories about being female leaders, but we never, ever, ever see someone with a chronic illness or disability saying I'm in n leadership position and I to suffer from a chronic illness or disability. But actually should stop saying the word suffer. We need to create a culture where people feel comfortable and that starts from the leadership level and from companies actively standing up and saying that we are a company that supports and accepts those living with illnesses and disabilities. We don't see many statements about this and, of course, as an individual, if you are in that that seat which...

I was in, there's so much fear and stigma involved in that and if no one's doing it before you, why the risk is too high is a why would you do that if the leadership isn't even saying that they also are living with this? So I think it starts from within and I think there's a lot of work to be done here. Yeah, something that you said just now makes me think it would be really helpful for people, leaders to know, when they start discussing the realities of these challenges. You said I shouldn't be using the word suffer, so tell our listeners why I'm not suffering. I'm going through things. I've been dealing for now six years with an illness that has taken so much for me, but I'm capable and I think that that's important to note that, even though people may be suffering in a moment, that we can't group this population as a group that is incapable, because then we're furthering the issue, for furthering the idea that these people don't belong in the workplace and cannot perform in the workplace. I'm a perfect example of someone who I've dealt with my fair share of health trials and I have suffered up points in my life, but I'm also able to do x y Z. I also bring tons of strength to the word place that those who haven't dealt with these challenges may not bring, and so I think it's important to use language and be very cognizant of the language that we use when we refer to this population. In particular. Just to expand on your thought about what you bring to the table, we also talked about the entire population of people with the these challenges bringing in softer skills like empathy and resilience and time management. So I would say we want to make sure that that's not lost. Let's talk more about health related stigma, because you know, we know, of course, that that causes negative outcomes with regard to psychology and in terms of social outcomes, but it's a crazy and ironic vicious cycle because it leads to negative health outcomes. In other words, health related stigma makes sick people sicker. We can put that in the context of inclusivity. Health related stigma intersects and interacts with other forms of bias and discrimination and oppression based on things like race, gender, sexual orientation, and that's naming just a few of the points of intersection bipoc or other marginalized groups, and are looking at people who live below the poverty line, for instance. They experience ar in something that's referred to as double stigma or multiple stigmas. So do you have a sense of how a double or multiple health related stigma may affect how people are treated at work and what can employers do about it? Absolutely just today I was researching a bit more about communities of color living with chronic conditions and disabilities. Racial and ethnic minorities are one point, five to two times more likely than white people to have the majority of major chronic illnesses. One in four black adults from the US have a disability, whereas one in five white adults have a disability. So we need to always think about not only the the intersectionality, but also the racial disparities in the healthcare industry and of those affected with illness as disability. You know, I'm someone who lives with these, as you mentioned, these double stigmas or multiple stigmas. I'm a woman, I live with an illness and disability and identify as lesbian and, on top of that, I'm young, and that's a lot of things I'm dealing with as in trying to work with organizations, and so it's important for companies to talk about the intersectionalities amongst these groups. Again, this is something that really comes down to what the organization is doing and how they're putting in that work. Are you educating yourselves, are you educating your employees and are you creating a culture where people can feel comfortable to talk about and I think a lot of that comes down to edge vacation, storytelling and how are we communicating...

...with our points. So thank you so much, Hannah, for bringing these issues to light. I think we have the right time to move into part two, where Sheridan talk about some of the implications and applications in a business sense. Thanks so much. I actually learned quite a bit and took several notes while you both were talking, especially being a leader and about that it's my responsibility to disclose things that maybe people in the organization could or outside the organization could identify with. Sometimes, as leaders we do a poor job of supporting even disabilities or disadvantages that we can see, and I really feel enlightened about thinking about the invisible, like what does good leadership look like to someone who may be struggling with these illnesses? What would you want from the ideal leader? Yeah, it's a big pieces is just being open to talking about this. I think that that's something that leaders often find a strange conversation to have in the workplace or something that may be uncomfortable for people, but those uncomfortable conversations really do ignite a sense of inclusion. As I mentioned before, there's little to no leaderships actually even saying that I'm someone who identifies there was a great organization that came out this past year called the valuable five hundred. We saw five hundred companies across the globe, leading organization come out and say that we're a company committed to disability inclusion and we are going to put this on our business agenda moving forward. Even in this amazing initiative, still there weren't any litten leadership actually saying that. I'm also someone who identifies, and so from a leadership perspective, it's important that we're investing into this community so that they feel heard and feel steen, which is something that these people are often feeling alone. That's so important and I'm going to rise to your challenge right now, Hannah, as a chief marketing officer and a female and technology I mean I've kind of hidden a lot of things, but I have struggled with IBS really my whole life and you know, you sit in these executive meetings and you need to really go to the bathroom and it feels embarrassing like you can't stand and hang with everyone else, and so there were times that I had actually premedicated because I know I needed to sit in that meeting for a long time and I think it would have been better. I've always just closed on an individual level and I really should have taken the time to say, look, I'm struggling with this and just really kind of owned the response to that. So thank you very much, and so I have disclosed and I actually will keep doing that. Thank you for kind of freeing me to do that. So I really appreciate it and I feel like I learned as a leader from your conversation with Tiffany. I loved what you were saying about things that we do for those with disabilities make it better for all of us, and the first thing that comes to mind is the ramps, you know, for wheelchairs. I mean, when I had a son and a Stroller, I could not have been more thankful. But what does a workplace look like when you're trying to accommodate some of these invisible diseases? What can we do better? I'd love to start with remote work, because we saw in two thousand and twenty the benefits of remote work and how, in particular, how much the disability and chronic illness community benefited from from working from home. People build accessibility into their homes and so when you are then thrown into a workplace. Oftentimes the workplace isn't built with them in mind, and so be able to work remotely firstoff allows people to have the accessibility offerings of their home environment, but also remote work allows people to have that flexibility. We have a lot of folks who have IBS in our community, crowns disease, these types of disorders, being able to use the bathroom, being able to have the flexibility that isn't often there in a workplace when everyone's staring. We also add in the commute time and the accessibility of commutes. So remote work is... number one. I think it's the number one combination request we see from our community. But in terms of to your question, you can build an accessible workplace by having ramps, screen reader, software, interpreters, these sense of things. But it's going beyond that for this community and how do we build inclusive policies, educational programming and benefits that support this community? I love to always talk about the benefits piece, because beer on tap and a gym membership isn't always the most inclusive benefit to offer someone living with an chronic illness. They may want yoga membership or, you know, a health stipend. And then when we think about policies, flexible work and leave schedules, having combined health sick days and vacation days, these are the types of things that really benefit the community. And then overall it's you know, are we talking about accommodations in our job descriptions on our careers page? People in our community, I think it's like ninety three percent or something. I have to pull the the exact statistic, want to see combinations listed up front on a job posting. It is very rare that I've ever exist. That's such a good point because usually the restrictions like you must be able to lift fifty pounds and Devan see owners on the candidate to explain why they cannot, versus you can be successful in this role regardless. So really big tight away. And I also like what you said about the different benefits. And you know, we as leaders off and think that these are great benefits for everyone, but sometimes they may create o their stress. We do mild challenges and a lot of those things that seem to be good, but we forget we may be leaving someone out really, really good advice. When you think about the ideal way that somebody is a leader could kind of position a job description. What does that look like? How do we write that job description? In your mind? You gave a perfect example, one that I actually give myself a lot about the lifting fifty pounds. I don't know if you heard me laugh, but that's often in a job description. It's a very unnecessary j organ I think job descriptions in general have a lot of unnecessary jargon. So being conscious to scan for biases in these descriptions and then to include here are the accommodations that we offer at this organization. You can have the general ones, then certain roles may have telecommute options, and being sure to lift those up front, because that times out of ten a person is going to walk away from a job description when they think, when they see the five lift fifty pounds, I'm going to say why would I have to lift fifty pounds at a marketing job? And, like you said, why would I have to explain that to the hiring managers? It makes people feel more comfortable and more opt to apply for your roles on chronically capable we lift the accommodations up front on each profile and so that way people are getting matched with the right jobs based on their needs. That is so important. One of the biggest benefits that I think I've learned in two thousand and twenty is about ally ship, and I had always wanted to be supported of my team and my peers. How does someone make a good ally without disclosing unwanted information about somebody's health condition? How do we strike that balance and how do we make sure that we're empowering our teams to continue to support one another? Alley ship has been at an ongoing conversation this year and something that we're still learning. I think there's three key things I want to point out. Versus language matters, being conscious and in educating yourself about what language we use. When it's necessary to mention a disability, it should emphasize the person first, the disability second. Second is that good allies they are good listeners and they're good observers, which I think is really important, and they actually truly want to know an individual and how an individual is affected by a certain situation. And so a lot of people want to be allies, but they may act before they think and before they get to know the entire situation, and so some people are really just too...

...quick to volunteer to help. Then it's important to be supportive, but be patient with providing that support, and so you shouldn't assume that I can't do it until it's shown that I can't. And lastly, it's important to get to know the person for them and not for their disability. You know, some people want to talk about it too early and too often, when they think that the person is defined by their disability and they want to talk about how that disability impacts the person. There's a time and a place for those types of conversations, but really it's important to get to know the person first. Like, I'm Hannah, I like to be outside, I like to hang out with my friends, I like to do x Y Z and I have lime disease, but it's important to know me first as an individual, then going straight to this visibility. Well, I'm gonna steal a little bit from what you just said because we're getting ready to move into our two minute takeaway, which is, like, what would you want our listeners to remember from this conversation? I'm going to go on and start with mine, because what you just said is really, really impactful, is that we really need to see the whole person first and then this is just a part, and make sure that we are accepting all parts of someone and making sure that they can thrive. Is that a good way to say it, or do you have a better way to say you know, get to know the person and then make sure that you accept and accommodate everything you possibly can. I think that's perfect and you know, treat your co workers the same way you'd treat any other coworkers and make a conscious effort to be informed without making assumptions and at the same time, you know you should have an eye out for some of the injustices that society is placing on people with disabilities. They have amazing treats that they bring to a workplace, they bring to your culture, and so get to know them first and their disability second. Any other takeaways you'd like us to make sure that our HR and senior leaders can make sure we take advantage of this great talent and make sure that they're successful at our organizations. Three or four teakways. Reminder about the stats. I think it's so important to remember this and things we should all know and remember. Sticks out of ten adults in the US live with a chronic health condition. One out of four adults living with a disability and because seventy percent are invisible, more likely or then not, you wouldn't know that your employees are one of these people or you maybe one of these people. So important to really understand the depth, I think. Second big takeaway is that the chronical DISI. Disability community, does represent a massive untapped pole of talent and they bring financial and cultural benefits of companies of all sizes and disability inclusions an opportunity. It's not a chore. Third, I'd like to say that, you know this disconnect about disclosure. Only three point two percent of people disclosing. This is a huge gap from the sixty percent of people that identify as having a chronic illness and the twenty five percent with a disability. So we really need to create a culture where disclosure is encouraged and it's celebrated, not something where you have to have fear. And lastly, you know, I just want to reiterate that disability inclusion at its core it's about embracing difference and it's more than just hiring people with disabilities and involves creating a workplace where disabled and Chronicallyal people are their valued for their strengths and that they have the same opportunities to succeed, to grow professionally, to be compensated fairly and to have the opportunity to advance in their careers. So again, just leaving it off, that this is about embracing difference, inst clebrating and not something that I think we all need to walk away remember. Tiffany, I know this is a topic near and dear to your heart. Anything else that you'd like to add as your takeaway? Yeah, I would. I'd like to jump on the disclosure train and say that I also live with chronic, an invisible illness, and I'm lucky enough to work at a company that has been above and beyond supportive, for sure. So, Hannah, I'm glad to have been a part of closing...

...the disclosure gap. By Point Zero, Zero Zeros. There's one percent that you've hurt for sharing and for having me here today. Well, it's our pleasure. So I'm sure you piqued the interest in a lot of our listeners. How should they reach out to you and find out more about your organization? You can first off join us on our website. It's www dot work. If you're looking for a job or looking for a community. We've got a great community of folks out there like you. If you want to reach out to me, find me on Linkedin. My Name's Hannah Rose Olson and again, my company's name is chronically capable, and thank you so much for having me. I really love everything that built in is doing and excited to be a part of your podcast. Well, we're glad to have you and it's really impressive what you've already accomplished in your young tenure and expecting to see even more amazing things from you and let us know how we can support you as you do those things well. Thank you so much, everyone for your listening and for your time. If you'd like to learn more about our podcast, visit technically peoplecom where you'll find our latest episodes and blog post. You can also subscribe on your favorite podcast player and if you're focused on building the human center workplace, you're going to want us in your feed. Thank you so much and have a good day. Built in is a tech recruitment platform that's in constant dialog with leaders about the future of tech. Built in's PODCAST, technically people, expands those conversations to help fellow futurists create in lead exceptional workplaces, environments that inspire in Demand Tech professionals to join your company and thrive. To learn how built in can help your company attract best in class professionals, visit employers dot built incom. You've been listening to technically people a community conversation about the future of work. If you want to hear more cutting edge ideas about creating humans inter workplaces, subscribe on your favorite podcast player and you'll never miss an episode. And if you're over the moon about what you've heard, we'd be honored if you took the time to give us a five star review. So signing up until we meet again in the future.

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