Guest: Doug Foresta Guest Title: Producer of HPAW
Date: June 28, 2017 Guest Company: Stand up and be heard
Debra Ruh: Hello. This is Debra Ruh and you’re listening to, or watching, The Human Potential at Work. Today I have my producer and partner, Doug Foresta, joining me, and we are going to talk about the event that the International Labor Organization and the USCIB, which is a council for international businesses, just held in Washington, D.C., on June 20, 2017. So welcome to the program, Doug.
Doug Foresta: Thank you. Thanks for having me, Debra. I can’t wait to hear all about this, and I think it’ll be really helpful for our listeners, and our viewers, to hear more about how it went, and why it was such an important event.
Debra Ruh: Yeah. It was very exciting, and I’ll just start off telling the listeners a little bit about those two organizations. So my company, Ruh Global Communications was contracted by the International Labor Organization, known as the ILO, to help facilitate a conversation with U.S. based corporations. And we’ve been talking about this some on the show, but they have multinational corporations that are part of International Labor Organization and, drilling down just a little bit more, I’m talking to Stefan Trömel, who was on the program earlier, who partially is responsible for, I mean, he’s responsible for the Global Business Disability Network, but he also has other responsibilities.
So he had asked if I could help facilitate United States corporations coming more into the conversation, because they have over 20 companies, multinational companies, that are part of this Global Business Disability Network. And two of them are U.S. companies, Dow and IBM, but they were finding that most of the conversations, even with those two American companies, the European representative is doing an amazing job, but the U.S. voice was not being heard. And so, they really want to make sure the U.S. voice was heard. We had been on speaking panels and different conferences together, and so he said, “Debra, do you think you could help us put together a conference, a one-day conference in the United States, and bring in corporations to really have this conversation?”
And so they decided to work with the United States Council of International Businesses, which it was formed in – I’m gonna look at my notes – it was formed in 1945. They have over 300 multinational members. And they represent the United States on multiple boards, including the International Chamber of Commerce, the Business and Industry Advisory, Committee to OECD, and the International Organization of Employers. I, personally, wasn’t that familiar with USCIB, but a lot of big corporations are familiar with it.
Doug Foresta: Right.
Debra Ruh: People kept asking me, “Who is the ILO?” I was talking to the ILO about that. I mean, do you know who they are, Doug?
Doug Foresta: To be honest with you, I had never heard of them before we had Stefan Trömel on the program. And, of course through you, Debra, I’ve learned who they are. But maybe you can explain to viewers, or listeners, who is the ILO, what is the ILO?
Debra Ruh: And I will say that, I don’t know if I’ve said this on air, but how I was describing it was the ILO was the labor department, almost, for the United Nations.
Doug Foresta: For the U.N.
Debra Ruh: Right, for the United Nations, whereas, in the United States we have a Department of Labor that’s part of the U.S. government. And I was talking to the ILO and I said, “This is the way I described it,” and they said, “Yeah, that’s not right.” I said, “Okay, cool.”
So what it is, the ILO is the only tripartite United Nations agency. They were founded in 1919, and they’re made up of three segments, or three stakeholders, once again, looking at this from an international perspective, which is government, employers, and workers. They have 187 member states, which means countries that are part of this, including the United States. And what they do is they set labor standards, develop policies, promote decent work for everyone, all women and men. I do think it’s cool that on their website, they-
Doug Foresta: They have women first. Yeah.
Debra Ruh: … mention women before men, only because there’s a lot of women issues, all over the world-
Doug Foresta: Oh, yes.
Debra Ruh: … kind of not effectively, really, being able to participate in the workforce. And then you drill down into this topic that we care about, which is full inclusion of people with disabilities, and the numbers get a little bit more depressing. So I have known about the International Labor Organization for many years, and then tracking what they’re doing with these global conversations, and I’ve been really impressed with the work that they’ve done, because I believe the corporations have to be in these business to business conversations, and I like that they’re doing it globally.
So when they asked me to participate, I was definitely very honored to do that. AT&T agreed to host the event, and AT&T is a member of the USCIB and they were amazing. AT&T really should get a lot of kudos for all the efforts they made. We were in Washington, D.C., at the AT&T Forum, which is the nicest, most sophisticated facility I’ve ever seen and-
Doug Foresta: And accessible, right?
Debra Ruh: Fully accessible!
Doug Foresta: Yeah, fully accessible.
Debra Ruh: It was amazing. The cart services we hired, sign language interpreters, because some of the participants were deaf. They had a ramp up to the stage. Things that people forget. They forget.
Doug Foresta: If we, for people who, if they don’t get the show, they’ll have to go back and listen to previous episodes, but none of the speakers had to be lifted up to the stage.
Debra Ruh: No. The speakers could actually get on the stage, themselves. Regardless of whether they walking, they had a cane, they had a service dog or a service animal, or they were in a wheelchair. And also, they knew so much. If anybody’s looking for a great place to have a conference, AT&T Forum I highly recommend. As a matter of fact, they’ve set the bar so high that it’s gonna be hard for other venues to-
Doug Foresta: It’s hard to match. Right. Yeah.
Debra Ruh: Yeah, it was amazing and totally accessible. And so, it was a really, really impressive venue. But, once again, some things that I thought were the most impressive was, of course, the cool technology they have. But it was fully accessible to all participants, so that was really amazing.
Doug Foresta: Debra, why do you think that, obviously again, we had talked about, in the previous episode, the companies that had been participating in the, lot of global brands participated in this event and why do you think this was important to companies? Like, why do they care about this, do you think?
Debra Ruh: Well, it was really exciting. We had 35 different corporations. Most of them were multi global. A couple of them were national, but all of them were amazing corporations. We had quite a few corporations sign up for the event and there was actually a terrible storm Washington, D.C., the night before the event, with a tornado, and some of our participants couldn’t get there, which was a shame.
Doug Foresta: Oh, boy.
Debra Ruh: Yeah. Some people got, they couldn’t get there from California or Chicago and things like that, but most of the corporations, we had had 30+ corporations in the room. I think what is happening with things that are happening politically, all throughout the United States, certainly in the United States government, as well as things that are happening in other countries’ governments and politics and stuff, I believe that what’s happening are corporations are starting to understand they really have to have a voice. They can’t rely on the government, or a group, to have a voice for them. Their employees expect them to have a voice. For example, when you saw that with how, a lot of our CEOs, CEOs in the United States, that whenever our government decided not to be part of the Paris Accord, there were a lot of CEOs that stepped up and said, “Well, we support it and-
Doug Foresta: And we’re still going to actually help to match the standards. Yeah.
Debra Ruh: Right. And that, I think what, because I’ve had quite a few conversations with a lot of these corporations, and the same thing is happening, not only because of the political, because of the social media and the branding aspect. Because, once again, you can stealth social media because it’s a scary, sometimes hostile place, but the problem with that is if you’re not engaged on social media, somebody else is gonna be engaging for you, and they might take your brand to, you know, somebody else might be telling your story, and it might not be the way you really want it to be told. And that happens no matter what, sometimes. But it’s very important for these corporations to be, and we talked about this in an earlier program, with Ekaterina …
Doug Foresta: Ekaterina Walter, right.
Debra Ruh: Right … how important it is to humanize, for a corporate brand to be humanized.
And so I know that when the ILO first started talking to me about doing this event they said, “Do you think corporations would be interested in joining this conversation? Because, over the years, there’ve been this interesting, sometimes weird, relationship between the United States and the United Nations.” And I said, “You know, I think the timing is right. There is so much disruption happening. And disruption can be very stressful for people, but at the same time you can’t stop disruption and disruption can, and boy we’re in a huge disruptive time in the world, but it can also add great value.”
And just little things like when I was a Washington, D.C., one night we grabbed a cab, and we were talking to the taxi driver, and he was a traditional taxi driver, and he was from Ethiopia, and so we were talking to him and saying, me and the other guests that had gotten in the car, “You know, how are things going? You know, have things like Uber, you know hurt your business?”
Doug Foresta: How’d it hurt your business? Right.
Debra Ruh: Right. And he’s like, “It has hurt my personal business so much,” he said, “but I understand why it had to happen.” So you have disruptions like Uber and Lyft and others really changing the world for a lot of people, but at the same time, you can’t stop progress from being made.
So we, so it’s very interesting, and I really felt that some of those things that were happening, Doug, are gonna actually be a real benefit to the conversation we were gonna have in Washington, D.C., and why do I think there’s a need for disruption, you might add, and I’ll tell you the reason why. Is because I see we’re not really having the employment outcomes, anywhere in the world, we’re having employment outcomes in some fun and innovative things, but it’s still not really moving the needle enough.
Doug Foresta: Yeah.
Debra Ruh: And that’s why I thought, absolutely I want to be part of this.
Doug Foresta: I don’t want to put you on the spot, there, because this just popped into my mind, it’s not something we’ve discussed, so feel free to say, “I have no idea,” but are there, how does the U.S. compare to other developed countries, like in Europe, for example. Are they pretty much in the same boat as us? I mean, do you have an idea? I’m not asking for specific numbers.
Debra Ruh: I do. No, I do. I actually have written a book about that.
Doug Foresta: Okay.
Debra Ruh: You know, it’s interesting … I travel a lot, and I’ve talked about this before in the program but I will travel to different countries and the conversation will start, “You Americans …” and I think, “Oh, I can’t imagine where you’re gonna go with this,” but in some ways the United States is way ahead, in a lot of different ways. In other ways, we’re way behind. In some ways, we’re equal. It’s really all over the place.
Doug Foresta: Okay.
Debra Ruh: We’ve seen a lot of interesting things coming out of the U.K. and out of Europe, and Australia, very interesting things happening in Australia and Canada. And then some of the developing countries, like Egypt, are surprising us. And Africa, interesting things happening in different parts of Africa, and the Middle East, fascinating.
Doug Foresta: Yeah. I mean, places that you wouldn’t think, necessarily would be at all concerned about people with disabilities. Yeah.
Debra Ruh: Right. Right. These things, these are some … and China, there’s some very, very interesting things happening in China and India. So I do not think, right now, any of the countries can claim we’re there, we got it.
Doug Foresta: We are number one, stake in the ground. Got it.
Debra Ruh: Yeah, you know, that’s our jump in the U.S., “We’re number one.”
Anyway, so I think that there’s a lot of work to do. And I was talking to a woman from the U.K., that had come over to the event. And she was saying, “Well, I know that when your corporations do this, and people self-identify before they can be hired. And you know you can ask them if they’re a person with a disability and,” I said “Whoa-whoa-whoa-whoa, no-no-no-no. You’re in the U.S.,” she said, “Well, what do you mean?” I said, “We are not allowed to ask if you have a disability. That’s considered discriminatory practices.” “Oh, but once they’re employed you can,” “Nope. Nope. Nope.”
“Well …” and she was so confused, she’s like, “Well, how do … if you all can’t ask if somebody has a disability, and so many disabilities are invisible, I don’t understand how the U.S. corporations know whether or not they’re making progress with this.” And I said, “Yeah, that’s the fun thing about being in the U.S., we can’t do that, and by the way, we’re very litigious, and we sue each other a lot,” and she was like, “Well, that must be almost impossible.” And I said, “Well, let’s look at it a different way.” Instead of saying “Oh, no.”
The opportunity is that, and over and over, I know that we do things very hard in the U.S., but it also encourages disruption, which we need, and it also encourages innovation. So yes, our rules are sometimes very hard, very nebulous, very difficult to enact and follow our laws and make sure we don’t get sued, but at the same time, I see corporations getting really, really innovative and creative in the United States with these.
And so, one thing I wanted to do, because I didn’t, you know the ILO and the USCIB, this was their conference. I was just helping facilitate it. And so, they suggested the agenda, but they asked my advice, and so I invited some of the speakers. You know, I suggested some of the speakers and they suggested some, and we just went back and forth until we felt we had a really solid day of good content. And fortunately, you’ll have, many times we’re having these great conversations, and a couple of things will happen. Either they’ll be the same conversation that’s been heard over and over and over and over and over again, and so unless you’re new, you’re like “Oh, good, I get to hear this again.”
Doug Foresta: Right. Here you go, here we go again. Right. These are the same topics.
Debra Ruh: Right. So that’s one problem that happens. And another problem that happens is you have this wonderful conference, you share, people get really excited and then that’s it, it’s done. Okay. We’re done.
Doug Foresta: Right.
Debra Ruh: So we wanted to make sure that the conversations that were being held were, first of all, really being held by the corporations. What are the corporations doing? I was telling one of the corporations that, it’s a really big multinational corporation so I won’t say who it is, but the speaker was getting nervous about it. She was starting to psych herself out, “What do I do?”
I said, “Listen. Generally when you’re a speaker, and I speak a lot, you don’t want to make it a commercial, because that’s obnoxious.” I said, “This is the time when actually, you can make it a commercial. Tell us why your really large corporation, multinational corporation, tell us why you care about including people with disabilities. What are you doing to make sure you’re considering neuro diversity and DNI and accessibility? This is actually a time when you get up there and brag about what you’re doing. And if you want to talk about the things you fear, and the risks, I mean, go for that. But sometimes there’s a time to really brag about the efforts you’ve made”
Because what we’ve found at these corporations, they’re not all telling us what they’re doing, and as a community of people with disabilities, that you know are impacted, or like with me, my daughter has a disability. You know, my husband’s walking a path with that right now, my mother, my father, you know, I’m surrounded by it. And that’s okay, because, once again, disability is a natural, normal part of the human experience. We talk about that a lot. But what I find often is these brands are not telling us what they’re doing, and that’s one thing we’re trying to accomplish here on this show.
Doug Foresta: Definitely.
Debra Ruh: Tell us what you’re doing, because if I know you’re including us in some way, I’m actually going to change my buying behavior and I’m gonna go and support you.
Doug Foresta: Right. We want to reward the people that are doing the right things. Debra …
Debra Ruh: Yes.
Doug Foresta: One of the things I wanted to ask you, so first thought I had is about, obviously, so many companies are multinationals now, right? So many of the large companies, so we can’t just talk about sometimes, it’s not enough just to talk about, “What are you doing in the United States?”
Debra Ruh: Right.
Doug Foresta: At the same time, do you think this replaces the national conversation? Is there still room for the national conversation? I’m curious about your thoughts about that.
Debra Ruh: Yeah, and that’s a great question Doug, because we actually, I think there was some, there was some nervousness that maybe that’s what we’re saying, “Oh, let’s just have a global conversation.” But we must have a national conversation and for that matter, we must have a state-by-state conversation, as well. I’m in the Commonwealth of Virginia and Virginia needs to look at this, “What do we do and how can we help? Are there other states doing other things?” It’s interesting to watch how the states compete with each other. How the agencies sorta compete, and I’m using that as a very broad word, but no, it does not replace the national conversations.
During the event we talked about some of the national organizations that are having impact on the U.S. conversations. You have The Harkin Institute that is doing an event in December, talking about employment of people with disabilities. You have organizations like The Ruderman Foundation that is doing an employment conference, I believe in November. You have organizations like the National Business Disability Council or the USBLN or AAPD or National Organization on Disabilities or the World Institute on Disabilities, here in the U.S.
There’s a lot of these conversations happening. We cannot slow these conversations down, or in any way say those aren’t needed. Oh lets just have a big global conversation that’s enough. No it’s not. But you must have the global conversation and so, I know sometimes the US entities say “Oh no, we’re global” and they are by the way Doug, because they have multinational members.
Doug Foresta: Right
Debra Ruh: They sometimes are visiting these other countries, they’re maybe on grants. They are having a global impact, but I like the idea of the United Nations International Labor Organization having a labor conversation that is global, corporate and is including people with disabilities. You need all those different stools. I’d mention ILO is a triparted, so you’ve got government, employers, workers.
Doug Foresta: Right
Debra Ruh: Well, it’s the same thing. You’ve got to have the local, the national and the global conversations and hopefully those are all complimentary to each other so that … I think sometimes corporations get confused because it’s like, which national conversation am I supposed to be joining?
Doug Foresta: Right
Debra Ruh: Is it this one, is it this one, if I do this …
Doug Foresta: Is it U.S., is it Canada, is it …
Debra Ruh: Yeah, and so I think there’s room for all of these conversations and that’s why I really want to support what the ILO was doing.
Doug Foresta: Do you think, Debra that each country is going to have in a way, its own individual suggestions, its own solutions, or are there going to be best practices do you think that we can glean that will be applicable globally?
Debra Ruh: Well, I’m gonna answer that in a couple different ways because we have the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities so the UNCRPD. The United States have signed it, but we have not ratified it. We are one of five countries that have not ratified. I think three countries haven’t signed it. Our lawmakers or politicians have said “Part of the reason we have not ratified it is because we have our Americans with Disabilities Act.”
Doug Foresta: Right
Debra Ruh: Which really did start this, we did, I believe we’re 27 years old next month. But at the same time there’s a danger in not ratifying the convention in the United States because once our citizens leave our borders they’re not protected under the ADA. So I believe we should ratify it. So, what’s happening is all of these countries, most countries have signed and ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities so they get to use the way that information is laid out, the way we’re defining disabilities, to then decide how each country is going to implement it, but there’s guidance.
There’s guidance, you can get support from the UN, from the ILO and things like that. In the United States, we’re using our Americans with Disabilities Act and many, many other laws to try to decide how we’re gonna do it. So you’re still going to have countries deciding, but there’s benefit if we’re all look at it the same way. So in the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, they have a little bit tighter definition of disability than the Americans with Disabilities Act. I explain that also in my book because it’s confusing for corporations.
The way that we’re defining disabilities is broader in the United States than the way we’re defining at the UN Convention. That’s good for corporations to know because I had one corporation that has a lot of employees in the United States. She reached out to me and she said “Debra we did a merger and we got big bank of workers in the U.K. and we’re not really sure what their laws are or how they’re doing this.” For example, we call things accommodations, in the U.K. they call them adaptions but we’re talking about the same thing. They can self identify, we can’t. I mean we can self identify, but they can ask you if you’re a person with a disability.
So the laws are different. Very confusing for corporations that have employees and vendors, and different stake holders in these different countries. That’s why once again it’s so important to have an organization like the ILO, Global Business Disability Network, there to support, and like you said, best practices. There’s some very interesting best practices happening and some of the best practices might be smaller best practices but very innovative and it’s like “Wow, we never thought about doing that over here” and also, “Let me ask you a question that I’m nervous about and I want to ask openly, don’t want to embarrass my company, but …” so where is a safe place for these companies to talk to each other to get help without the fear of that being accidentally blasted all over social media because they asked a stupid question.
Doug Foresta: Right, exactly. That’s why we have to have, again, that’s the importance of having the global conversation, having a place like you did in D.C., as of this recording, 3 days ago. What do you think are the next steps Debra, I mean you talked about examples, we all know when you go to a conference, everyone’s fired up, great conference, then people leave and then, see you next year.
Debra Ruh: I know. We’re gonna do the typical things you would expect. We’re gonna follow up with participants. We did a webcast, and the webcast is live on the ILO site, and everything is being captioned so it’s fully accessible. One of the participants, VNO, Inc., which is one of my partners said that they would take the video of the whole day and do highlights and make a video fully accessible for people to look at.
We got wonderful accolades about the speakers and how empowering the event was. We had stake holders from all of the entire community. The government was there, non-profits were there, universities were there, persons with disabilities advocating for groups and themselves were there and corporations were there. So we had all of the different stake holders, I think I captured all of the different stake holders. In the conversation they were saying the content was very rich, and it surprisingly, was much more sophisticated than some others that they’d seen recently. So we’re going to do the typical follow up, we’re going to share the PowerPoint presentations, we’re going to thank them, but now what do we do?
Once again, ILO has already the Global Disability Network with 20 plus multinational corporations involved, but most of their events are happening in other parts of the world, not the U.S. They have something every year in Geneva, the UN, they have a conference in France, they’ve done things in India, China, different places. What we’re trying to really understand is what do we provide here in the U.S. that adds the most benefit to the U.S. corporations but at the same time inviting those U.S. corporations over into the Geneva conferences so that we’re mixing, we’re all benefiting.
The ILO understands that if it’s all outside the U.S. we’re really not going to have as meaningful of conversations as we could. So we have talked to different national organizations about what they’re doing. So we’re figuring it out and we’re going to a small group of very active corporations to get their feedback. Because, something like this I don’t think you should ever try to figure out yourself. You should always say “by the way, we’re doing this for you. This is a B2B, business to business, what do you need?”
Doug Foresta: Right
Debra Ruh: I mean there’s obvious things they’re going to get. The ILO, and once again it’s about decent work about everything, so they’re talking about the future of work, they’re talking about how technology, they’re talking about a lot of different things you know? So there’s so many ways the ILO can support these cooperation just with a ton of other initiatives.
Doug Foresta: Right. Exactly. Of course the other thing I’m thinking about is the future of work. Persons with disabilities who are workers are still workers. So the types of jobs that will be available, the issue of automation and construction will impact persons with disabilities as much as it will impact, probably more than it will impact persons without disabilities.
Debra Ruh: Right, and the women’s conversation, how do we get women, you know, as we know, we’re having problems with the salaries not being the same. Women are not being funded by venture capitalists as often and we’re not sitting on the big conference boards. There are two people that were meeting both amazing leaders John Kemp, on of my favorite people, and Judy Human, and both of them were saying here are two very, very talented people with a long, deep history of success, and those two individuals with physical disabilities would be amazing on a corporate board, and yet you’ve never seen that.
So like you said, all of the talk about making sure that … they’re talking about slavery, all the things that happened. All of the SDG’s goals of the United Nations, the sustainable development goals that the world has set, they’re talking about all those things from the lens of employment. So we add value in all those conversations because as we know, disabilities goes across everything. Across religion, economics …
Doug Foresta: Right. Gender, sexual orientation, you name it. What I like about, I think one of the takeaways here too, what I hear you saying is that the international, the global conversation does not replace the national conversation.
Debra Ruh: It can’t.
Doug Foresta: This is not about competing, and the national conversation doesn’t replace the state conversation or there would be no conversation. All these conversations are needed and necessary in order to achieve the goal of full inclusion, would that be fair to say?
Debra Ruh: It is fair to say, and Doug it’s really a shame because sometimes I know there’s this one U.S. based organization, they’re just like “well, we’re just going to be global” and it’s like, good, good! Please be global, please. There is room for all of us at the table. You don’t have to fight for scraps. There is room for all of us. We all belong, we all need to be in there, all of the stake holders. I saw some people getting nervous that we were having this event but we have to have this event. How you be in the U.S. and think that we shouldn’t be having a global conversation the way the world is right now?
Doug Foresta: That’s right.
Debra Ruh: We have to make sure that our corporations have voices in these conversations or we lose. We lose as the United States and the employees lose. It’s interesting, someone like AT&T, I think is primarily a national company and I asked them, “Are you just national, are you just here in the U.S.?” And they said “Well, no, we actually are international.” I believe that they mentioned services in Mexico.
Doug Foresta: Call centers, Oh, services, wow.
Debra Ruh: Right, and look at their vendors. Their vendors are all over the world and even if you are just a national company, you still want to have a global voice. You still want people to know your brand.
Doug Foresta: That’s right.
Debra Ruh: I’ll give you an example. My daughter worked for Nordstrom’s for 10 years. Love Nordstrom’s but I believe, and I might be incorrect, but I believe Nordstrom’s is just in the United States, I believe. When I’ve talked about Nordstrom’s in my global travels. They have a great name recognition. People know about them all over the world. “Oh we know Nordstrom’s.” So it’s important to brands to have a global brand.
Doug Foresta: Well, also just because I mean now, if people can order online, so you are global. I mean if you’re doing econ or even if you’re a national company, you are by definition international and global because people can, if they know about your brand, they don’t have to go to a Nordstrom’s, but they actually go to Nordstrom’s and order online.
Debra Ruh: Right and maybe they don’t sell it in your country, but I’ve had people say … I remember when Google was selling their glass. The Google Glass. I had a customer in Spain say “Debra we can’t get it here at this time, would you order it for us, because we want to test it” using people with disabilities.
Doug Foresta: Wow, there you go.
Debra Ruh: I’m like “absolutely” and so we are around one world. We really are one world.
Doug Foresta: We are. The world is definitely … as Thomas Freidman says “The world has really become flat” it’s become very flat.
Debra Ruh: You know, Doug, it was interesting watching these corporations tell their stories. We had Patrick, which some of these guests we’re gonna have in the future because they were brilliant. Patrick Romez was speaking for Cisco and the success stories that they’re finding at Cisco. I’ve never seen these kind of statistics. 200% productivity gained by hiring people in India or Bangladesh that are blind.
I mean these are real numbers that capture all of our attention, but corporations, they need those statistics. So we’re not having the same conversations. If you’re not hiring people with disabilities that’s not the right thing to do, or it’s all about your corporate social responsibility or charity. No, this is good for your brand. This is good for your innovation. This is good for adversity.
Doug Foresta: It’s good for your business.
Debra Ruh: It’s good for your business and tell us what you’re doing at Cisco. We had Cisco there, we had JLL, Kimberly Vanderlin did a brilliant presentation. I was just sort of start struck by her. We had Accenture was there, we had Repsa, an energy company from Spain, we had L’Oreal. L’Oreal has a fascinating story. I’m trying to think of all the different ones we had there. We had … and I’m forgetting somebody, so I’m going to think about it. I’m starting to think about how they were sitting. Deloitte was there. I mean just the speakers, Boeing, oh Boeing. Kevin Bradley. Kevin Bradley and Boeing were there.
Doug Foresta: Lockheed right?
Debra Ruh: Lockheed attended, [inaudible 00:35:58] was there, the Hilton was there. So many corporations, but you know I’m deliberately calling out these brand names.
Doug Foresta: Right, because again, they’ve made a commitment and demonstrated that they care about this issue. Debra is there something that, was there anything that was really surprising to you about this whole experience of the conference?
Debra Ruh: Yes. I will tell you, probably Cisco surprised me the most because I know that Cisco has been in the states trying to help our wounded warriors and our veteran service people for years. But when I saw the numbers and the comments that were made. You know what else they told me, I’m so fascinated about what Cisco is doing that I’m totally going to write a book about this, but what they found in Bangladesh with all the workers that they hired that were blind that they’re having these amazing productivity gains from, but what they found was the empathy and I thought, what do you mean empathy? I love the word empathy, but they found that because these people in Bangladesh, these very talented people that are blind, they had such empathy for the customers.
When the Cisco customers were talking about how they were having this problem or this, or why ever they are calling. The empathy these individuals have speak to the customers. It almost seems, because they have walked in some cases, very hard paths, their empathy level is out of the roof. The loyalty level they feel to the corporations that are employing them. The retention gains. We’re finding things about these employees that we didn’t expect. I got feedback from people, and this one man, I won’t mention his name, but he said “I’ve been to so many of these conferences, I’ve never been to one like this. This is so empowering.”
He himself is a person of the LGBTQ community and one of the speakers said “We want our employees with disabilities to be proud to speak up, just like now our employees with LGBTQ are saying, ‘We’re here, we add value, don’t make us invisible.'” He said “I can’t believe it, I was walking home from school as a young man and I got beat up so bad. I had an arm and leg broken, I was beat up horribly just because I was homosexual.” He said, “Here I’m at a conference, years later and one community is saying we want to be like LGBT, we want to celebrate who we are.” That will get you really misty eyed.
Doug Foresta: That’s beautiful.
Debra Ruh: It’s like, we’re changing people’s lives. We’ve got to have all the conversations. Everybody is needed in these talks. We don’t want just one person talking, we need thousands. We need individuals with disabilities that are visible talking for themselves. We need people that have invisible disabilities. One of the, and I won’t tell her story, but one of the people disclosed during the presentation that she had MS and she had hidden it for years because she didn’t want people to think less of her. She worked through it and everything. It was a very beautiful, empowering story.
This is a very talented woman, and a woman in the audience who has diabetes came up to me and said “I never told my employer I had diabetes. I was afraid if I told my employer that they would think less of me, and I wouldn’t get promoted.” Diabetes. A lot of people have diabetes. My mom has diabetes. So I believe we had a really empowering conversation, just based on the responses that we got. It was beautiful.
Of course, now our job is to continue these conversations. It’s not my job, it’s certainly an ILO job and USCIB, but I’m here to help facilitate the conversation. I’m not the only one, others need to join it.
Doug Foresta: I do want to also just say that for people who are listening or watching that if you want to continue the conversation, one thing you can do, if you’re a professional at work, you can join our Facebook group.
Debra Ruh: Yes, please, please.
Doug Foresta: And be part of, as of now, over 4,000 people around the world who care about these issues. Not the only way, but it is a powerful way to join the conversation.
Debra Ruh: And to tell your story. Your personal story, your professional story. If enough of us stand up and say, which I have said before, I have ADHD, depression and I don’t say that so I get to be part of the disability community because disabilities are part of the human experience. My husband, the trials he’s walking right now, and my daughter with Downs Syndrome, excuse my Trisomy 21, it doesn’t mean they’re broken, but they are definitely human beings.
Doug Foresta: That’s right.
Debra Ruh: They add value to the world, and so, I love the stories, and I think we learn from hearing these stories. Somebody was saying to me “Debra we have all of these amazing corporations in the room. Some of them I had no idea they were really making these efforts.” We need to tell the community so the community will purchase from them, or maybe, I’ll use Cisco as an example. Cisco is not business to consumer, they are business to business, they sell to other business, but still. We all know the Cisco brand. There are other ways that we could support and celebrate the Cisco brand, or the IBM brand. IBM was in the room. Francis West attended, she was the former Chief Accessibility Officer for IBM. There was a lot of people there.
You know Doug we wound up having about 80 people in the room, but we had deliberately kept is smaller and manageable, do an invite only, you know, sort of manageable. I have to say this though, the CEO of Tommy Hilfiger was in the room. Oh my goodness, we had a CEO in the room. Do you know how many times we say in the disability conversation “if we could only get the CEO’s to the room.”
Doug Foresta: Now here you go, here’s a CEO, right.
Debra Ruh: Well, Gary, yeah, the CEO of Tommy Hilfiger, he came to the event and Mindy from Runway of Dreams. Something is happening Doug. I’m optimistic, I can feel this power energy happening. We are having a major tipping point. It would be interesting to take all these corporations that spoke and attended and just count up how many employees these corporations employ.
Doug Foresta: They represent, right.
Debra Ruh: It’s huge numbers. I get really excited because that will help change, and that will help small and medium businesses and the entrepreneurs with disabilities. I think there’s a lot to be excited about. I could barely talk after the event Doug.
Doug Foresta: I’m sure. Yeah.
Debra Ruh: I’m excited. I think the ILO, they’re working on how do we do this, how do we add to the conversation and in no way take away from the national conversation. How do we benefit the corporations that need to be part of the conversation. They’ve done some amazing things. They do YouTube videos, they do best practices. They have a lot of good content already on their website, it’s available to everyone, but how do we pick it up even more with more of the U.S. conversation, U.S. voices joining. Our voices need to be heard in the U.S. We have a lot to say. I don’t want to be left out of the conversations.
Doug Foresta: That’s right.
Debra Ruh: So it’s exciting to see all the different stake holders. My daughter attended too, and she loved being a bit of a belle at the ball. It was a pretty powerful meeting. I was really excited about it, but we have work to do now.
Doug Foresta: I was gonna say, work to do, but very exciting and a great start. A great start here in the U.S. I know this has already been happening, but to bring it to the U.S. and to continue that here, I think it’s fantastic. I think the work you’re doing is amazing Debra.
Debra Ruh: Thank you Doug. Thank you for helping me tell my story, so I can tell other people’s stories.
Doug Foresta: Absolutely.
Debra Ruh: I appreciate you. Thank you everybody for listening today. If you want to more about the ILO, Global Business Disability Network you can find them at businessanddisability.org or you can just Google ILO, GBDN. It’s pretty easy. Or you can go to my website, ruhglobal.com, we’ve got a lot of information and we’ll also make sure the videos and everything are out there to share with everyone. So thank you Doug.
Doug Foresta: Thank you
Debra Ruh: Thanks everybody.
You’ve been listening to “Human Potential at Work,” with Debra Ruh. To learn more about Debra and how she can help your organization, visit ruhglobal.com. If you’ve enjoyed today’s episode and you want to make sure that you don’t miss any future episodes, go to iTunes and subscribe to the podcast, “Human Potential at Work.” Thanks so much for listening and we’ll be back next week with a new episode.