Article: How IBM built a PWD inclusive workforce: A case study

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How IBM built a PWD inclusive workforce: A case study

Consciously building diverse teams and encouraging diversity of ideas creates the greatest impact on clients, colleagues and the world.
How IBM built a PWD inclusive workforce: A case study

International Business Machine, IBM is an American multinational technology company, headquartered in New York, with operations in over 170 countries. IBM hired its first disabled employee in 1914, 76 years before the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)and since then the organization has remained dedicated to recruiting and hiring people with disabilities and helping them to be successful in the workplace. 

Ritesh Rajani, Diversity Engagement Partner, IBM Asia Pacific shares, “For IBM, inclusion is a business imperative and a way of life and it is not just to fulfill the corporate social responsibility.” He adds, “Organizations have an obligation to offer equal opportunities, available infrastructure, equal benefits and an inclusive culture to everyone. Every individual brings in unique value and skills to the workplace.”

If you are looking out to source new employee talent, you can find gold in a population that is often overlooked and underemployed. However, most of the organizations complained that tapping this potentially large talent is a challenge in itself. 

People Matters brings you a series of case-studies and articles that will help you in understanding the various challenges the companies go through in attracting persons with disabilities and the best practices that were implemented in hiring and retaining persons with disabilities.

This article reflects and highlights the problem statements of the IBM’s hiring team in attracting candidates with disabilities and the solution that were implemented and their impact on the business.

Hiring Challenge:

One of the biggest challenges faced initially by IBM was identifying candidates with a disability from their resumes, campuses, employment agencies or our existing channels. The other problems that the company was looking to solve include:

  • Eliminating hiring biases

  • Creating sensitivity across the workforce, especially hiring managers on creating inclusive hiring strategies 


Solution- The Hiring Process:

Sourcing and Attracting Candidates:

IBM tied up with NGOs working in the disability space and also started networking more at forums to extend their hiring outreach program. Their key focus was to:

  • Ensure that all their existing sourcing channels and methods are inclusive. For example, if an external venue is chosen for a walk-in interview, it is ensured that the infrastructure is accessible for persons with disabilities and the right assistance/accommodation is available. Another example is to ensure online job listings are accessible to screen readers for individuals with visual impairments.

  • Collaborate with non-profits and other organizations working in the disability space to fill the sourcing pool with enough profiles of candidates with disabilities. They also do periodic hiring drives for persons with disabilities and have internal referral programs/campaigns. 

Every diversity constituent has certain fears, concerns, apprehensions, and expectations. These are certainly not unfounded. Also, every individual’s own experiences are varied. To attract the right candidate, at each step of recruitment IBM tried to provide the right messaging to candidates about its inclusiveness. They did it by adopting the following two programs:

  • Referral programs:

IBM sees the employee referral program as a significant source of candidates who are persons with disability. While it helps build credibility with the referral candidates; it also gives them validation that their employees with/without disabilities feel included to refer others to their network.

  • Employee as ambassadors: 

Some of IBM’s employees with disabilities/allies are visible role models in the larger community outside and work towards creating a more inclusive and accessible society, and hence become ambassadors of the company. 

 Recruitment process:

Beyond ensuring that interview process provides accessibility and reasonable accommodations, the tests and assessment procedures are same as everyone else for that job role. The focus is on outcomes and results and not on specific ways of performing tasks. IBM sensitize hiring managers not to compromise on skills and hire on compassionate grounds because they believe this is heavily counter-productive to the candidate themselves, and not just the organization. 

IBM ensure that the essential job functions are laid out for every position along with the fact that reasonable accommodations are available so that persons with disabilities can understand the nature and requirements of the job, and apply for it as per their skills, interests, and abilities.

 Business Impact:

Ritesh Rajani shares, “Being internally inclusive has helped us build the best products for the marketplace. By having employees with disabilities in our various product and service teams, we inherently ensure accessibility and quality of the products and tools that we build for our clients, most of which we also use internally.”

IBM has several employees with disabilities contributing to the transformation of IBM into the next generation of Cognitive and Cloud. IBM started their journey by bringing technology to people with disabilities in 1946 when IBM manufactured a pocket-sized Braille printer, and in 1971 it achieved first operational application of speech recognition Today, they are proud of the work of the IBM Accessibility Research labs which invents cognitive technology that is more human, empathetic and adaptive to everyone’s age and ability. 

Know more about the organizations that are making a difference, stay tuned for the second case-study in this series.

Topics: Recruitment, Talent Acquisition, Diversity

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