With the 21st-century economy increasingly reliant on a dizzying array of new technologies, it’s no exaggeration to say that nearly every business in every sector of the economy is in some way a “technology company.” Minnesota-based UnitedHealth Group (UHG)– a provider of health care, insurance, and technologies – certainly qualifies as one. And each of the many companies that make up UHG’s global footprint embraces the ideal of a diverse and inclusive workplace, a recruitment and hiring practice that includes employing people with disabilities.
UHG views disability inclusion not just as an opportunity to recruit a historically underutilized population and tap into an often-overlooked talent pool, but also to better reflect the world in which the companies do business.
“One of our big mottos here is to reflect the population that we serve,” says Fran Christy, director of UHG’s Total Absence Management Accommodation and Return to Work Program. “It’s an approach that the enterprise has embedded into the culture. Hiring individuals with disabilities is a business imperative for UnitedHealth Group as we build the workforce of the future.”
With 330,000 employees worldwide, that commitment results in employment within the UHG enterprise for thousands of people with disabilities. But the company’s commitment doesn’t end with hiring. It continues with a dedicated team of accommodation consultants, about 10 people working full time to address the workplace accommodation needs of employees with disabilities. Last year alone the group processed 7,000 accommodation requests for employees. The company also runs a disability inclusion internship program that last year offered more than 20 internships to people with disabilities.
The company also facilitates an employee resource group that encourages employees with disabilities, along with their allies within the enterprise, to raise issues about workplace disability and inclusion and to leverage each other for support. “The employee resource group exists to be there for employees, to hear them and figure out how to make their environment better,” Christy says. “We have massive organizational awareness of disability inclusion and disability hiring. It’s always top of mind.”
UHG isn’t alone in raising awareness about disability inclusion and then acting on it; many other large companies have made similar strides in recent years. And Christy acknowledges that it may be easier for large organizations to embrace disability inclusion than for small and mid-sized companies.
“The challenge is perception,” Christy says. There’s a long history of companies, large and small, being reluctant to hire people with disabilities, sometimes because of false perceptions about the cost or time that would need to be spent on accommodations. Or the reluctance can be the result of simply being unaware the contributions that people with disabilities can make, the skills and talents they can bring to virtually any company, regardless of size.
“The perception is one of mindset,” Christy says, “and it takes a movement within an organization to get that mindset to shift. We know that individuals who have a disability aren’t any less able to perform a job. We know they can and do provide value to the organization. What we’ve done across our enterprise, and what anyone else can do, is to spread those seeds and let it grow, to spread the energy and support it across the enterprise.”
It’s clear that UHG is walking the talk. In a measure called the Disability Equality Index, UHG has been named as one of the Best Places to work, achieving the top score of 100. The index is awarded by Disability:IN Minnesota, the state branch of a nationwide employer organization that promotes best practices and employment opportunities for candidates with disabilities.
John Fisher is the Director of Communications and Data Management for Vocational Rehabilitation Services at the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED).