Tag Archives: equity

The internet belongs to all of us! Preserving net neutrality and the information commons

The internet belongs to all of us! Preserving net neutrality and the information commons

By Emma Guttman-Slater | LinkedIn and Symone Jackson | LinkedIn

Emma is the Strategic Communications Director and Symone is the Social Media and Digital Engagement Manager for Beneficial State Foundation, both based in Oakland, CA.

In two days, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will vote to repeal net neutrality, a 2015 ruling that enacted oversight of internet service providers (ISPs) like Comcast and Verizon on the principle that they should treat all content on the internet equally.

If right now the internet is a “place where the lowest income user has the same access to unfiltered information as the wealthiest, and where individuals can successfully compete with multibillion dollar corporations”… Imagine the opposite.

A place where you have to “pay to play.” A place where the wealthy get high-speed internet access, while low-income families are confined to the slow lane, and our country becomes one where people must pay for access to information, entertainment, and the social and political capital that comes with expanding one’s network and connecting with other people. It’s not hard to imagine: We’re already seen this type of censorship in net neutrality violations where, for example, companies have censored text messages sent to reproductive rights activists who signed up to receive alerts.

Fair internet access is essential for shared prosperity.

The internet, whose development in the US was funded by the American public (the Department of Defense) is a public good, like electricity and broadcasting. We think about this in the context of banking, which can be viewed as quasi-public because of the privileges we the public have bestowed upon the banking system. Consider the FDIC: Federal deposit insurance set up by the government that makes it possible for someone to run a bank and hold your and my cash deposits.

Without limits, the financial institutions and ISPs serving us these public goods can harm citizens. During the financial crisis, we saw what happens when banks operate unchecked. And still, it’s not difficult to envision a future where access to services and information is in the hands of corporations, not the people, and the people have to pay those corporations to get access to free and available information. Getting rid of net neutrality might widen our already increasing economic inequality gap and would leave consumers unprotected. Not only would those with lower incomes be adversely affected by increased costs, but people of color also stand to be disproportionately disadvantaged — including their ability to make their voices heard on the internet — by the loss of the rule. Repealing net neutrality rules would also have significant impacts on health outcomes in rural communities where people rely on telehealth services, and in LGBTQ communities where young people often must turn to the internet to access health education resources.

A thriving economy is one in which everyone who desires to participate has the option to do so, and everyone has equal access and choice. A strong public utility backbone, which includes fair internet access, is essential for shared prosperity that comes out of full participation.

Image obtained from: https://imgur.com/gallery/zfxwB

It’s true that California, as an example, has innovation and prosperity a-plenty — the state has some of the richest zip codes in the country! Yet almost 20 percent of Californians live at or close to the poverty line. Prosperity is not shared. By establishing a pay-to-play internet, it’s clear who will win and who will lose.

We already know trickle-down economics doesn’t work. Earlier this month we saw a tax bill pass that will leave America’s wealthiest as the winners, at the expense of low and middle income communities. When the national debt balloons, we’ll hear the GOP’s call to cut costs to social services and healthcare to make up for it, further undermining low and middle income families’ chances at getting ahead. Privileging corporations and wealthy people does not foster economic opportunity; it leaves huge swaths of our country high and dry. This kind of increasing inequality is not only an affront to our sense of justice and fairness, but also to our democracy — everyone’s ability to access opportunity and to participate.

If you’ve been following the net neutrality debate, you’ve probably heard that 30 percent of Americans don’t have a choice when it comes to their ISP. Thirty seven percent can choose between only two. Without net neutrality disallowing filtered data lanes, huge chunks of the population stand to lose at the whims of these corporate ISPs.

Do you trust that your internet provider will put your interest above its own?

We also have to look at who has access right now. The rural-urban digital gap is stark: While 96 percent of urban Americans have access to broadband service, 39 percent of rural Americans lack access. There is also a gap within America’s major cities: In Detroit, for example, 40 percent of the population does not have any internet access. “Because of high foreclosure rates, and because of bad credit, a lot of telecom companies don’t offer good service within these areas, or they won’t even turn on their fibers so we have a lot of dark fiber that doesn’t have internet running though it throughout the city,” says Diana Nucera, director of the Detroit Community Technology Project. Luckily, community-based organizations are working locally to address this need by installing high speed internet systems in the homes of Detroiters who have not had internet access. Still Detroit is a prime example of what happens when consumers are left unprotected from entities that are supposed to serve their needs.

Christopher Mitchell at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance explains that without net neutrality rules, major ISPs will be able to extract more money from their existing customer base, providing less of an incentive to expand their customer base into those areas lacking internet access now. The prediction makes sense: With even fewer rules, why should we expect to see investment into rural communities, which already face disinvestment? Mitchell says areas without access need rules to protect them. If there’s no hope for competition, there’s no hope for a marketplace to regulate behavior.

Without net neutrality, we are beholden to corporations whose primary interest is profit. These companies will further entrench their position as  “gatekeepers to the internet.” To paraphrase Mignon Clyburn at the FCC: Do you unequivocally trust that your internet provider will put your interest above its own?

Exactly.

So, what can you do?

  • Keep net neutrality in place.  Take action at battleforthenet.com
  • Invest directly into low- and middle-income communities, with their needs and economic and racial equity in mind. Think of all the untapped innovation and abundance in these communities, often out of reach because of severe unequal access to basic services. That might look like banking local, supporting local business, and investing your time and energy into power-building within these communities.
  • Look to the communities that are making it work with place-based solutions, cooperative solutions. There are more than 350 organizations across the US where cooperatives are currently delivering fiber to the people.

This blog post reflects the author’s personal views and opinions, and does not represent the views and opinions of Beneficial State Bank and/or Beneficial State Foundation.

Oakland Indie Awards Vendor

Statement on current tax proposals

Beneficial State statement on current tax proposals

We believe in a fair shake for everyone, and envision not only a banking industry fair to the person with the least bargaining power, but a society and economy that are too.  Notwithstanding our dire need for a tax plan that produces increased equity and local living economies, this ill-conceived tax bill in the main will leave America’s wealthiest as the winners, at the expense of low-income communities. To call out just a few negative consequences, the current tax plan would strip funding from programs proven to benefit the communities we serve as they face crippling and persistent affordable housing shortages. To achieve broader economic prosperity, we must invest directly into low- and middle-income families and individuals and advance equity for our most economically marginalized communities.  As a result, we emphatically oppose this tax plan.

How you and your company can support nonprofits

Beyond one-day service: how you and your company can build lasting relationships with nonprofits to further your mission

By Tegan Molloy | LinkedIn

Tegan participated in Beneficial State Foundation’s 2017 Summer Fellowship as the Community Engagement Fellow based in Portland, OR.

In order to build a new economy that’s inclusive of all communities and sustainable for the planet, the business and nonprofit sectors must team up and build new systems together. As a Beneficial State Foundation Fellow, my focus was to lead market research on the nonprofit sector, including conducting interviews with thirteen nonprofit leaders throughout California, Oregon and Washington. This blog explores a few challenges I identified through these interviews, and some suggestions for how individuals and business leaders can be better partners to nonprofits.

As an MBA candidate at Presidio Graduate School studying triple-bottom-line business and social entrepreneurship, I deeply believe in the power that business can have in catalyzing systems change with thoughtful consideration for its stakeholders. Despite the progress the business sector has made towards becoming more sustainable, we still have mountains of work ahead of us. Let’s face it: big, gnarly, societal problems will always persist in various forms. As one of my wise professors likes to say, “As soon as you have the answers, the questions change.”

“The most critical work that needs to be done is what I call high impact, low profile work.” – Jan Masaoka, CEO, CalNonprofits

The nonprofit sector is critical for addressing these problems with its reach across interconnected spectrums of society. Nonprofits play the important role of think tanks who lead formative research, build pilot programs, and catalyze movements. On the other side, nonprofits can also act as last line of defense, serving those who have been failed by inequitable systems in our society. And while the business pendulum is beginning to shift in a more responsible direction, nonprofits are often the invisible glue, binding communities. In an era where various public sector players are failing to meet basic needs for some of our population, the role of nonprofits is more important than ever before.

CHALLENGE: Capacity Building

Volunteers working with Beneficial State Bank nonprofit client SupplyBank.org to stuff school supply bags and dental kits for children.

The greatest capacity building challenge that nonprofits face is a shortage of staff and talent. In one interview, an Executive Director revealed: “The dark side or shadow to nonprofits is that they compete for talent. The sector has a challenging time sourcing professionals because the pay isn’t competitive. And there’s a lot of turnover between like organizations.”

In learning about the talent shortage, I thought that this was yet another reason why volunteering plays such an important role. While this may be true, I discovered that volunteering can also be problematic. In fact, multiple interviewees expressed that one-time volunteering habits are often something nonprofits “endured.” Yikes!

Interviewees expressed that when it comes to Board of Director positions, board members can be harmful when they apply the exact same principles and strategy of their own businesses to the nonprofit they’re serving on. Instead, the organization should be treated as a unique entity with different resources, operations, and purpose.

Nonprofit leadership can also create problems with board service. While on a mission to find a board member to a) amplify their mission and b) fulfill legal requirements, it’s not uncommon to lure business leaders into serving on a board under false pretenses. Often they’ll frame the opportunity as one that “won’t be that much work!” The fib that board service is a small undertaking is hugely destructive to organizations and their potential. In doing this, nonprofits automatically diminish the huge responsibility it is to serve on a board. If you’re a current or future board member, be ready and willing for a significant commitment.

SOLUTION!

  • Update your company’s volunteer hours strategy to encourage long-term service & formal partnership capacities. Some companies are known to compensate employees’ time for up to 40 hours / year.
  • As a volunteer, ditch any thinking that you might “know what’s best” for the nonprofits you’re serving.
  • Consider how your business can count civic engagement as volunteerism. How is it defined in your policy?
  • Like many behavioral patterns, there’s a gap between people wanting to volunteer and actually doing it. If you must, address stagnant volunteerism at your company by organizing a group outing where people can volunteer together. Making it a regular habit will hopefully outweigh any drain it might have on a nonprofit.

“Nonprofits are at the forefront of understanding and addressing social and economic disparities.” – Nonprofit Association of Oregon

CHALLENGE: Nonprofit Displacement

The second greatest capacity building challenge nonprofits face is lack of space and equipment. Nonprofits in urban areas are increasingly being forced to move, or combine offices with two to three other organizations due to rising rents. Why not purchase a building? It’s challenging for nonprofits skating by on their annual budget to set aside savings towards a down payment towards a building purchase. Oftentimes, the majority of nonprofits (who are under $100,000 in annual revenues) don’t have not any collateral to begin with. The cycle of nonprofit displacement is a real issue that’s costly, and exacerbates stress and employee turnover.

SOLUTION!

  • If your company’s based in an urban area with rising rents, consider renting space or equipment to a nonprofit at a more affordable rate.

CHALLENGE: Equity Work

Equity can be roughly defined as allocating money and systemic support to the communities who have been marginalized and systematically discriminated against to level the playing field for all. Vu Le, a comedic nonprofit thought leader and the Executive Director of Rainier Valley Corps defines equity on his popular blog here.

Beneficial State Foundation and Bank teaching young creatives from Oratory Glory’s leadership cohort about socially responsible banking.

It’s not news that oftentimes communities with the highest need get the least attention and least financial support. Many foundations and funders have been shifting funding practices towards using “an equity lens”. However, according to one nonprofit consultant interviewed, despite this focus, equity isn’t getting better, it’s getting worse. She wasn’t alone in this unsettling sentiment.

In trying to do good things for, rather than with, marginalized communities, there are still very harmful practices that halt progress. Effective community engagement with marginalized communities is often missing, or is treated as an afterthought. This only reinforces cycles of inequity. Oftentimes businesses want to turn their attention to the shiny, trending objects, rather than embracing the lower profile work that may be most impactful to communities.

SOLUTION!

  • Hire a consultant and host a diversity and social justice training (or ongoing trainings) with employees to deepen awareness of inherent bias and systems that may be failing or harming your stakeholders. And create a permanent committee within the company who will keep social justice issues at the forefront of company decision-making.
  • Consider setting aside funds for rapid responses needed in the community.
  • Focus on specific communities and not just hot-button issues. The most significant impacts are often felt when they’re tangible and targeted for specific community needs.
  • Inequity is incredibly complex and will require many different solutions. Keep in mind that these solutions will require a whole lot of trying, failing, and learning along the way.

CHALLENGE: Funding Cuts & Policy Reform

Source: CalNonprofits

Perhaps the largest trend affecting the behavior and well-being of nonprofits today is the current political climate. The chart below illustrates responses from 800 nonprofits in a CalNonprofits survey taken in March of 2017. With federal budget cuts to human services, the environment, the arts—and more organizations need to face the reality and quickly adapt to current and imminent funding disruptions.

What many people don’t realize is that much of this funding is invisible to the general public and it’ll likely have a domino effect.

What happens when government funding disappears? Nonprofits will scale back from innovation to providing basic services in times of economic stress. For example, the health and wellness program for a low-income population will be reduced to a simple food program. This shatters the holistic desired outcomes that these organizations and their funders envisioned. In addition to shrinking services, there’s always a chance that people will be laid off or that the organization will close its doors.

For policy affecting nonprofits, and well, everyone. . . The Johnson Amendment will be eliminated by Congress and the Trump Administration through the latest tax bill. This enables nonprofit and religious organizations (who are exempt from taxation) to legally endorse political candidates, having serious implications for campaign finance. Boiled down, the repeal of The Johnson Amendment eliminates nonpartisan regulations in place for tax-exempt institutions.

SOLUTION!

  • Show up for nonprofit stakeholders on policy positions by making endorsements and being vocal advocates for issues aligned with your values. Attend community events and forums, hang signs, wear buttons, write an op-ed, start a flash dance mob.

    Mike Torres (Opportunity Fund), Sarah Livnat (Opportun) and Beneficial State Foundation’s Director of Strategic Communications Emma Guttman-Slater meet with Congresswoman Roybal-Allard to share the importance of the CDFI Fund.

  • As an organization’s financial capacity grows, it’s typically more effective in accomplishing its mission. Donate a portion of your profits to nonprofits. Stumped on who to support? Utilize resources like Willamette Week’s Give!Guide, an annual guide to giving in Portland, OR. Note that California nonprofits receive roughly 8% of their revenues from individual donors. So even if individual giving has increased to 10%, it will likely not make up for the loss of funding. This is yet another reason why it’s critical to donate money as a member of the business community. If funds are tight, consider donating to smaller nonprofits where your money could make a more significant local impact.
  • Further the missions of your favorite nonprofits by simply moving your money into banks, credit unions, and retirement funds that align with these missions. While your money sleeps at night, it has the potential to help advance those causes. You can even take steps to convince your employer to shift your company’s retirement plans. Here are some resources to get a move on it:

A special thank you to the talented nonprofit community who generously shared their time, ideas, insights, and expertise!

Nonprofit Sector Resources:

This blog post reflects the author’s personal views and opinions, and does not represent the views and opinions of Beneficial State Bank and/or Beneficial State Foundation.

Can cooperatives help us create an equitable economy?

Can cooperatives help us create an equitable economy?

By Salvador Menjivar | LinkedIn | Twitter

Salvador is Beneficial State Foundation’s Executive Director based in Oakland, CA.

There are many different types of cooperatives in the U.S. and some have been more successful than others in establishing roots in the communities where they reside. Contrary to popular narratives, co-ops are as American as apple pie, and they have a long history in the United States.

In 1752, Benjamin Franklin founded the country’s first federally-recognized cooperative business—the Philadelphia Contributionship for the Insurance of Houses from Loss by Fire. Moreover, by refusing to ensure houses not up to fire safety standards, the company set new criteria, which would eventually be incorporated into building codes and zoning laws, for housing safety.

Cooperatives also played a key role in the South for enslaved Africans and African Americans seeking to build lives for their families following the Civil War. W.E.B. Du Bois often spoke of cooperative economics in his work, and recognized the Underground Railroad as a co-op in which abolitionists shared resources to help enslaved Africans escape. Vigilance committees within the Underground Railroad provided food, clothing and shelter, and raised revenue so these resources could be readily available for runaways. Additional cooperatives were later established to help build wealth within Black communities, such as the Freedom Quilting Bee in Alberta, Alabama, which helped African American women earn money collectively, enabling its members to purchase land and a factory. Ownership of their labor allowed some of the women to make enough money to purchase their freedom from sharecropping.

Contrary to popular narratives, co-ops are as American as apple pie, and they have a long history in the United States.

Today, co-ops are defined as legal entities created and operated with the intention of benefiting their members. There are multiple cooperatives structures which are commonly used today: consumer co-ops, worker owned co-ops, employee owned businesses, and real estate co-ops.

REI is a well know consumer co-op, where people come together to buy products at better prices. Worker-owned coops are increasing, but still rare in the U.S.; according to some sources there are just over 300.

Alabama Freedom Quilting Bee, Encyclopedia of Alabama

Employee Stock Option Plans (ESOP) are slightly different than co-ops—cooperative structures grant each member or worker-owner an equal share of the business AND an equal vote in decision-making, regardless of pay or seniority. In the case of an ESOP employees are granted the option of acquiring company stock, usually at a discounted prize. However, the objective of an ESOP is usually to reward employees for the growth and profitability of the business, not to create a distrusted ownership of the company. Kelly-Moore Paint is one of the most widely-recognized companies with an employee stock ownership program.

Real estate co-ops facilitate the ownership of housing by members, making property ownership more affordable. For example, the NYC Real Estate Investment Cooperative (NYC REIC) consists of more than 400 members who “are pooling their money and power to secure space for community, small business, and cultural use” in New York City. In California, the East Bay Permanent Real Estate Cooperative was born out of a collaboration between the People of Color Sustainable Housing Network and the Sustainable Economies Law Center. The East Bay Real Estate Cooperative is “designed to remove land from the speculative market, create permanently affordable housing and commercial space…and assert democratic control into the development process in the face of mass displacement in the Bay Area,” says Chris Tittle, Director of Organizational Resilience at the Law Center.

Some of the most successful co-ops in the U.S are financial co-ops, also known as credit unions, and they can provide a great alternative to traditional big banks. Credit unions are not-for-profit institutions that either invest profits back into the organization or distribute profits among members as dividends in the form of earned interest. Technically, credit unions are owned by their account holders, known as members. As not-for-profit institutions, credit unions pay no state or federal taxes, meaning they can charge lower interest rates than banks for most financial services. Today, more than 100 million Americans are members of credit unions in the U.S.

It’s time for a new economic system—one that balances the needs of all its stakeholders.

Co-ops offer great hope for addressing one of the biggest problems of our current economic system: the concentration of wealth among a shrinking number of investors in big corporations and banks. From 1979 to 2007, “paycheck income of the top 1 percent of US earners increased by over 256 percent.” During the same period of time, “the bottom 90 percent of earners saw little increases to their average income, with a dismal 21 percent increase from 1979 to 2015.

Stagnant wages in the U.S. are just one of many factors that have made home ownership a lofty goal for countless working-class families. Homeownership remains a significant driver of wealth in the United States, which is why many housing rights advocates are looking at collective ownership models that make home ownership a possibility for people who have historically been excluded from the housing market. In general, co-ops offer an opportunity for communities to reimagine what ownership looks like with a lense towards equity.

Cooperatives represent a solution that can help increase ownership within untapped communities, build generational wealth, and foster economically resilient neighborhoods. A robust and innovative co-op movement is one of the keys to an equitable economic system that abandons models which value profits over people and the planet. It’s time for a new economic system—one that balances the needs of all its stakeholders, including workers, community, the environment, and even investors.

This blog post reflects the author’s personal views and opinions, and does not represent the views and opinions of Beneficial State Bank and/or Beneficial State Foundation.

How do I know if my bank is good?

How do I know if my bank is good?

By Jhana Valentine | LinkedIn

Jhana is Beneficial State Foundation’s Social and Environmental Impact Associate based in Oakland, CA.

“How do I know if my bank is good?”

When I was first asked this question, I was surprised and a little embarrassed that I didn’t have an answer. At the time, I’d started an internship at Beneficial State Foundation and experienced how easy it was to move my money into a community bank. I was energized to see the Defund DAPL movement gaining momentum. I was trying to convince my best friend that not all banks were bad and that many banks and credit unions actually do a lot of good in their communities so she should move her money to one of them. I didn’t have a name for it at the time, but I was encouraging her to join the Banking on Values movement.

The Banking on Values movement, led by the Global Alliance for Banking on Values, aims to positively change the banking sector by influencing the ways in which banks and other financial institutions serve human needs, our environment, and the real economy. Consumers can engage in the Banking on Values Movement by encouraging their bank to adopt values-based banking principles or by moving their money to bank that already does.

My best friend was pressing me, as she often does, to get to the heart of the matter: “Are there principles or practices that distinguish a good bank? How do I know if my bank is upholding these principles? How do I know that my bank isn’t funding projects I don’t support, like the Dakota Access Pipeline?”

The Banking on Values movement reminds us that our deposit dollars don’t disappear into a black box

Underlying the over-simplified binary of “good” and “bad” banks are our values.  I value fairness and equity.  So when I hear about a bank charging people of color higher interest rates than white people, that goes against my values and I don’t want my money to support those practices. When I learn that my bank actively supports projects that preserve and develop affordable housing, I feel proud to bank with an institution that aligns with my values.

The Banking on Values movement reminds us that our deposit dollars don’t disappear into a black box. That money is recirculated in the economy, either by investing in the people and products we see in the real economy, or participating in the financial economy of stocks, securities, and speculation. Values-based banks demonstrate that a bank can generate positive social and environmental impact and remain financially sustainable by making loans directly into the real economy.

In my role I track and measure the impact metrics of Beneficial State Bank, a values-based bank.  We look at numerous social and environmental indicators of our bank’s loans, from the number of kilowatt hours produced by clean energy projects to the number of small and local businesses that have distributed ownership models, such as cooperatives. This work has given me an in-depth understanding of how good banking can be translated into concrete indicators, policies, and practices that can help any one of us determine if our bank is aligned with our values.

I often think back to my friend’s questions because they remind me that the impact metrics I’m collecting can help a consumer make an informed decision about where they bank. My hope is that one day all banks measure and publish not only their financial indicators of success, but also their social and environmental impact metrics. Drawing upon the work of the Global Alliance of Banking on Values members, who are working together to develop best practices for impact measurement, I’m now much more equipped to answer my friend’s questions with concrete examples.

Here are some principles and practices that distinguish a “good” bank:

To determine if your bank is upholding these principles and practices, you might have to do some digging:

  1. Read through your bank’s website. Do they share a mission and vision that resonates with you? Do they provide concrete examples of how they are living up to this mission? Do they publish information about what they’re not supporting, such as private prisons and pipelines?
  2. Talk to your banker. How is the bank involved in the community? Do they have special products or pricing that serve communities that have historically been left out of the banking system?
  3. Check their certifications and associations. If your bank is a certified Community Development Financial Institution, Community Development Credit Union, or certified B Corporation, or a participant in the Global Alliance of Banking on Values or Community Development Bankers Association, there’s a good chance they’re a values-based bank.

Thanks to dedicated organizations, you can check if your bank is funding certain projects that have negative social and environmental impacts:

  1. Food and Water Watch will tell you if your bank has funded the Dakota Access Pipeline.
  2. Rainforest Action Network will tell you if your bank is funding activities that directly contribute to climate change.

For me, values are at the heart of the matter, whether I’m picking out food at the grocery store, deciding how to spend my free time, or putting my money into a bank or investment vehicle. I know that we all have a unique blend of values, but I think there are as many similarities among people as there are differences. I think many of you would agree that you don’t want your money working against you. And so, if you only saw your bank’s purely financial statements, that information alone wouldn’t convince you that your bank is good. I think you’d want more comprehensive information. The Banking on Values movement has inspired me to consider us all as stakeholders of the banking industry. As a depositor stakeholder, I want my bank, which holds my money, to support the communities and ecosystems that sustain, nourish and make my life beautiful. What do you want from your bank?

For more tips on how to find a values-aligned bank near you, check out our Move Your Money toolkit.

This blog post reflects the author’s personal views and opinions, and does not represent the views and opinions of Beneficial State Bank and/or Beneficial State Foundation.

Inclusion drives innovation: how we can shift societal attitudes toward disabilities

Inclusion drives innovation: how we can shift societal attitudes toward disabilities

By Michael Steen | LinkedIn

Michael is Beneficial State Bank’s Senior Credit Analyst in Portland, OR.

Along with family, friends and a myriad of community organizations that are integral to the human experience, employment offers an essential avenue to connect with one another.  It oftentimes is a core component of one’s identity, providing meaning and a sense of fulfillment.  A workplace can provide structure for people to utilize their talents, enhance skillsets and celebrate accomplishments with team members. And it goes without saying that a paycheck provides the means necessary to purchase essential goods and services.

It probably does not come as a surprise that people experiencing disabilities have lower rates of employment, though the statistics are worth noting.  Though the unemployment rate for people experiencing a disability was “only” about twice as high as the overall population (7.5% vs. 3.9%), the labor force participation rate for people experiencing disabilities is 21%, compared to 68.7% for those without a disability. While some people experiencing disabilities choose to not enter into or remain in the workforce, many more prefer to be gainfully employed, but are discouraged from entering the job market

National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) encourages employers to reach out to people experiencing disabilities to apply for employment opportunities and educate themselves about reasonable accommodations (if any are needed at all) – creating a more inclusive workplace.

Just as we all are shaped by our environments, having a disability is simply one of a host of attributes that influences how we choose to make use of our time.

The impact of a disability varies widely depending on the type of disability (be it a physical, mental, or intellectual and developmental) and when the disability was acquired.  My life has been influenced by Cerebral Palsy (CP), a neurological disorder that can affect muscle control and tone, coordination and cognitive abilities.  While in my personal circumstance, the severity of the CP is minimal, disability is nevertheless an impactful component of my life – including one that has influence on my current occupation.

“Nothing About Us, Without Us, Is For Us” by Ricardo Levins Morales, courtesy of Creative Resistance

In reflecting on my career in banking, I have enjoyed opportunities to contribute to conversations around credit structures and policies while forming relationships with colleagues and customers.  As a team, we strive to provide credit and banking services that best fit the customers’ needs. By leveraging one of my own strengths (holistic analysis), I have contributed to the impact that Beneficial State has in the communities we serve. While I am mindful that certain tasks take longer than I would like them to, by building strong relationships and focusing my day to day responsibilities on those tasks that I can do most efficiently, I add value to the longterm mission of the bank.

This year’s NDEAM theme is “Inclusion Drives Innovation”.   As the U.S. Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta said, “Smart employers know that including different perspectives in problem-solving situations leads to better solutions. Hiring employees with diverse abilities strengthens their business, increases competition and drives innovation.”

As the old adage goes: necessity is the mother of invention.  Experiencing constraints are part in parcel with having a disability.  However, the drive to figure out how to mitigate certain constraints is a powerful impetus for innovation. Consider the following:

The invention of the typewriter: “In 19th-century Italy, sighted Pellegrino Turri and blind Countess Carolina Fantoni da Fivizzano struggled to find a way to send each other their secret love letters (Braille had not yet been developed)… After much deliberation, the lovers came up with a tactile solution: one of the first working typewriters. By treating blindness as a design challenge, they developed a revolutionary method for producing print by touch. Today, millions of people produce print through the touch of a key, and some of the fastest typists are touch typists.”

The creation of email services: “Mr. Vint Cerf is hearing-impaired, and his disability influenced his work developing the Internet. Back in the 1980s, deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals searched for a good alternative to communicating over the telephone. Mr. Cerf spearheaded the creation of the first commercial email service, allowing him to communicate with family members and colleagues without straining to hear.”

Despite the fact that the lived experiences of those with disabilities provide a unique perspective to solving challenges, and although the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 was created to level the playing field for people with disabilities, major barriers to employment persist.  While the ADA prohibits discrimination in the workplace and requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations, a cultural component unfortunately remains in many places.

Communities have a significant opportunity to advance the welfare of all people by shifting societal attitudes towards disabilities.

While an initial investment of time and resources may be required, companies that include people experiencing disabilities in their workforce often reap a competitive advantage. Take these examples into consideration:

According to the food company Carolina Fine Snacks, based in North Carolina, “The impact of hiring people with disabilities is that employee turnover dropped from 80% every six months to less than 5%, productivity rose from 60-70% to 85-95%, absenteeism dropped from 20% to less than 5%, tardiness dropped from 30% of staff to zero.” The company’s president said that “the new employee’s attitude was contagious: some of the non-disabled employees began to improve their performance.”

Leah Lobato, director of the Utah Governor’s Committee for Employment of People with Disabilities says, “When a customer sees a diverse workforce, it raises their comfort in your business. I hear a lot of stories where, ‘I tend to go to that store who has this bagger who happens to have a disability but who is one of the best baggers I’ve ever known.’ Or, ‘I happen to go to that company because I know that they hire individuals with cerebral palsy.’ Those aren’t things that we typically focus on, but [hiring individuals with disabilities] does create an atmosphere of more positive thinking and inclusion.”

Society as a whole benefits when all people are included in the workforce and are afforded opportunities to gain the skills needed to perform those jobs.

Currently, there are 6 million unfilled jobs across the United States, acting as a weight on GDP growth.  People experiencing disabilities could certainly fill a portion of these roles admirably, possibly with a little ingenuity.  For example, a practice known as “job carving” can be used, whereby a job coach analyzes work duties performed in a given job and identifies specific tasks that might be assigned to an employee experiencing a disability.  This tool enables a true “win-win” opportunity for employee and employer.

By using smart techniques such as “job carving”, allowing for reasonable workplace accommodations and flexible scheduling (which I am grateful to benefit from), employers are able to increase our social awareness of the differences that make us unique while capitalizing on our collective strengths. Through increased awareness from inclusive hiring practices, we enrich one another, making ourselves, the companies and the communities that we are part of, a little better.  This is realized from both the economic perspective and the shared experiences that bond us together.  As we celebrate National Disability Employment Awareness Month, seek out those opportunities to engage with people who may be differently abled. Besides being the right thing to do, you never know who may bring about the next innovation that you just can’t live without.

This blog post reflects the author’s personal views and opinions, and does not represent the views and opinions of Beneficial State Bank and/or Beneficial State Foundation.