Top-level executives from more than a dozen major U.S. companies joined with government officials to launch a nationwide public-private sector initiative to advance employment of people with disabilities.
The companies and officials plan to work together to achieve common goals, including to identify and resolve employment barriers facing people with disabilities, share experience and best practices, raise visibility around the effort and awareness of the significant benefits, and expand participation.
“While we have always been a supporter of inclusiveness—and in fact, it is one of GE’s key growth values—as a result of participating in Walgreens CEO summit, we are evaluating how we could apply some of the best practices we saw.”
The initiative arose from the first-ever CEO Summit focused on employment of people with disabilities on June 4, 2012, hosted by Walgreens at the company’s Windsor, Conn., distribution center. The summit was held at the Walgreens facility to provide participants a first-hand look at the company’s robust effort to employ people with disabilities. About 50% of the workforce at the distribution center has a disability but all employees work as equals with the same responsibilities and performance standards.
Summit participants included government officials led by U.S. Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa, U.S. Congressman Pete Sessions of Texas, U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, and Delaware Governor Jack Markell, vice chairman of the National Governors Association. Participating companies included Amerigroup, Ascend Performance Materials, Best Buy, Clarks Companies, Ernst & Young LLP, GE Lighting, IBM, Lowe’s Home Improvement, Lundbeck, McLane Co., Merck, OfficeMax, SAP AG, Procter & Gamble, UPS, Walgreens and Walmart.
Following the summit, the officials and companies made a commitment to schedule additional activities with expanded participation, starting with meetings at the U.S. Business Leadership Network conference in Orlando, Fla., in October of this year; summits in Dallas and Washington, D.C.; a Website to share information and best practices; and, future activities to expand and promote the employment of people with disabilities and address barriers.
“One thing we’ve learned from the Walgreens experience is that if companies set big goals and put themselves out there, and work with the right partners to help them build a talent pipeline of eager, productive, and loyal workers with disabilities, the results of such efforts are stronger and more productive companies and a loyal productive workforce,” said Senator Harkin, the chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions and a lead Senate sponsor of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
“The Walgreens facility is powerful proof that people with disabilities are valuable assets to our workforce,” Senator Blumenthal said. “I appreciate the leadership of these companies on this important issue and I’m very eager to work with them to employ more people with disabilities in Connecticut and across the nation. All people with disabilities deserve the dignity of work and we should continue to find ways to help make this possible.”
“As the father of a young man with Down syndrome, I understand firsthand the importance of providing individuals with disabilities opportunities in the workplace,” Congressman Sessions said. “I am encouraged by all of the companies reaffirming their commitment to employing individuals with disabilities, as well as expanding their efforts. I look forward to a continued partnership with Senator Harkin, Senator Blumenthal, Governor Markell and participating companies to provide even more opportunities for these eager and talented workers.”
“The bottom line is that there are so many people with disabilities who have the time, talent and desire to make meaningful contributions to interested employers. More companies are recognizing that creating greater economic opportunity for these workers improves their own bottom line as well,” Governor Markell said. “It’s inspiring to see so many leaders from the public and private sectors committing themselves to this cause and pledging to work together on something that builds both economic and social capital.”
Walgreens’ new goal is to fill 20% of its distribution center jobs with people with disabilities and is now applying lessons learned at the distribution centers across the company with the recent launch of companywide solution to better enable its retail stores to employ people with disabilities. More than 100 U.S. and global companies have visited Walgreens to learn how to initiate and sustain similar efforts of inclusion.
“Like our distribution center in Anderson, S.C., our facility in Connecticut has been 20% more productive than our others, with lower absenteeism, lower turnover and an excellent safety record,” Wasson said. “And importantly, we’re seeing a highly engaged workforce. Our guests from other companies that had set up similar programs at their facilities with a similar approach shared that they had the same experience.”