Joerg Schmitz 0:08
Welcome to the inclusive leader podcast. The practice of inclusive leadership enables us to tackle the complex challenges of our times. This is the space for conversations about inclusive leadership. I am your host, York Schmitz and I welcome you to this episode. There are an estimated 1 billion people that experience some form of disability in the world. That's 15% of the world's population. And from my estimation, probably that number is even conservative. Disability inclusiveness is incredibly important when we're building modern workplaces. And yet, there is so much work to be done. One person who I've met who opened my eyes to this particular challenge is Jessica Mayer. She has been a tireless advocate for the inclusion of people with disabilities, and is very active in educating leaders, and encouraging organizations to shift their policies, practices and culture to become more inclusive of people with disabilities. I am thrilled that she will engage with us in this institute, and also the possibility for you to learn from her. Here's my conversation with Jessica. So Jessica, what does it really mean? When organizations say we want to work on our inclusiveness of people with disabilities? What are the kinds of things that that organizations need to know do? And importantly, because we are focused on inclusive leadership? What does it mean to exercise inclusive leadership, in the context of people with disability from disabilities from your perspective,
Jessica Mayer 1:55
my perspective, it's very important that we have inclusive lists of people disabilities or and from, like, from high to like, from we always say, from the boardroom to the mailroom, that's the first thing. They also we need to have people with disabilities being advertised to a focus of what you want to do as a coach or, you know, bring people civility, and you have to have universities and colleges be more enlightened about how we need to have more people in the corporate world. And we also need to have corporate leadership listening to people with disabilities, there has been an enormous push now with these movies. So you can come out like crip, camp and CO and all of this media frenzy around deaf culture and around people with disabilities. And it really need to translate into our society. If there's no representation in our society, we don't know where to go from there. Yeah, representation. Yeah, that
Joerg Schmitz 3:33
is such a great point. And that we can't just I mean, it as it is becoming more part of the public awareness through movies and so forth. We can't just leave it at that, at that level, and simply say, we need to all ask ourselves in our organizations, are we engaging people with disabilities? I love this this framing of from boardroom to the mailroom, you said, right? I know, I know.
Jessica Mayer 4:06
I use it,
Joerg Schmitz 4:07
nobody. It's a good it's a really good reminder that that when we are talking about I mean, to some degree, any diversity challenge, that it needs to pervade an organization at every level and it cannot be relegated to a particular level. And then of course, when when I think about people with disabilities, there is also a wide range, right? have disabilities that this includes visible, invisible disabilities. How do we as an organization even think about that range of disabilities?
Jessica Mayer 4:41
Well, the thing about having an invisible disability is that nobody really knows until somebody either has, like if you have epilepsy, nobody knows that you have a disability until you have a sheet Sure, then that becomes an issue. There is no mechanism for counting wheelchairs, you know, you know, like they aren't count wheelchair crutches, you people this form in America where you check off button, do you have the disability is supposed to go in a separate legal thing so that they don't have to count you with a person. But the issue for me is, why are people invisible disability so embarrassed about their disability that they don't want to talk about it? And why as a culture? Do we make it so difficult for people with disabilities to talk about? A whole other question, you know,
Joerg Schmitz 6:00
but I think it is another question because you talked about, you know, the kind of the formal processes about being recognized as somebody with or without a disability. But this is actually an interesting point, right? How do we create a culture, an inclusive culture of people with disabilities and so much is depending upon how open that how open, we create an environment where we can talk about disability, where we can share our experiences, and especially for people who have a, an invisible disability, because people with a visible disability, they don't need to talk about it, in a sense. I mean, they don't need to talk about it, but but you're communicating to the world, that you are a person with a disability, even if you wouldn't be able to hide it, you know, in a way,
Jessica Mayer 6:52
right. Like, I'm able to hide that I have CP, you know, I'm able to hide my reading disability, but I'm not able to hide my cerebral palsy. And I think that we grow up in a bullish society, which tells us that being disabled is wrong. So therefore, we feel people civility sometimes, I'm not telling you, everybody I'm talking about sometimes people with disability feel shame around their disability or been taught to feel shame around their disabilities in the same way that LGBTQ people are taught to feel shame around their LGBTQ saw it, it's a whole shame be saying, and I think we rigged the stigma, by more people talking about more people talking about mental health, more people are talking about visible disability, more people are talking about deafness and blindness than ever before. And I think that the media plays a really big role in that. And by having people with authentic, ly disabled, and who are authentically disabled, play those roles, it's also really important to
Joerg Schmitz 8:29
Yeah, what strikes me in this entire discussion that as inclusive leaders, if I if I come at this, again, from a from this calling to to inclusive leadership, that our job is really to create environments where we reduce stigma, right, where we, we take stigma out of out of the experiences of employees of people, and where we create environments, systems, processes, ways of working, that, that takes stigma away and normalizes the idea that on our teams, we have people with multiple disabilities potentially, and you know, just that that's just our normal way of operating.
Jessica Mayer 9:12
Where I was thinking about it, he was saying that was that the way inclusive leadership should go about doing it is, by example, is showing what they want to and you know, maybe if they have a disability, like they say that most, a lot of CEOs have dyslexia because it's taught how to use your brains differently, and how to use your brain differently. It's something neurodiversity something that we don't talk about enough in sculpture, you don't want to weigh in So that's the way we've been doing it for years. And that's it, you know, and without having neurodiversity, we wouldn't come up with things like the computer or apples, I think was she talks about his dyslexia. Without it, he probably wouldn't have come up with some of these ideas that he had about how to make things easier for people. So I think that they have to talk about, they're the ones in charge, they start talking about their issues, too. And I say that people have to start talking about got a conversation. Well,
Joerg Schmitz 10:48
and it reminds me actually of a CEO that I talked to the other day, who and we talked about, you know, inclusiveness for people with disability, and he was actually, and this was in my inner group setting. And this was the first time that he started to talk about his, not to your point, dyslexia. And nobody knew for the longest time that that was something that he contended with, you know, in his life. And he never opened up to this, you know, because of what we talked about the stigma and the the self labeling and, and the risk that he perceived in opening up. Now, as a CEO, it's easy to open up about all kinds of things, right? Because in a certain sense, you've, you've made it to a level where, where it's safe to be vulnerable. But most of the people are not in that fortunate position. And most people are somewhere in an organization where they are really trying to avoid the stigma, the shame, evoking all these difficult feelings. And I think for people who are, who don't have a disability, there is also this notion of how do I approach somebody with a disability, but how do I talk about this? Right? Maybe? Can you say something with what it takes to break through these, these complicated perceptions and feelings that people might have around having these conversations?
Jessica Mayer 12:16
I think what happens, it's all about relationships. I mean, I think you could ask me any questions that you want to buy? If I'm on the street, going shopping? I don't want to answer questions about my belly. So it's establishment relationships with people is nothing I'm embarrassed about em stole about my day, and I don't want to be pointed out and interesting. Airport, can I, of course, know, that I was just kidding, you know, between taking out your laptop or whatever. You know, when you're in an airport, you got to do all the stuff to get for security. And just a woman was so nice. She just saw the factory. And she helped me take my laptop that normally not supposed to do that coffee, like, yeah, she helped me take my life about put in the bins. And it was just so refreshing to see. And I'm always like that when I'm going through security. Because I don't like people waiting behind me. At my level, like girl, and I really appreciated that so much. And I thank her. She's like, No problem, you know, and that's what we need more of we need more like, people seeing that people are fun. And healthy. Yeah, you know, I mean, it. You're not reading minds, you're reading people's body language, reading their faces you reading this is having trouble doing something, even though you know that you're not supposed to touch other people saw. It was almost like, Thank you, you know, was like, if so with reading people. What I
Joerg Schmitz 14:27
love about this story is that you talked about, yes, we need conversations, right? In our workplaces, around disability, you know, and that raises awareness and it needs to be a little more thoughtful than just asking people randomly about their disability because like you said, you're not always ready to talk about it. But then on the other hand, there is also this skill of observing people tuning in to people and then extending extending yourself a little bit and making it easier for people a little bit right So that's what I'm I'm hearing in what you said, being observant and attentive, and maybe not just being a standoff person who says this is your job to pull your laptop out, but but to reach out, in other words,
Jessica Mayer 15:15
right. And I just think we just need to have empathy towards the child in general, not just close to disability, just in general, you see an older person trying to ask questions, to help them walk straight. It's about reading people. It's about saying, are you okay? You know, and it's also about reasonable accommodations to so she was reasonably tell me me by pulling out my laptop. I don't exactly remember what she did. She was just be really helpful. And she's like, Yeah, you know, it's funny, because that was in Montana, at New York, where I live. Awesome. Next.
One. I mean, we're in like, a small airport. My time it was so funny to me. Yeah. But
Joerg Schmitz 16:24
it's maybe not an accident. Because context, the social context where we in the cultural context all matters in when we're talking about these basic skills that we need to cultivate. So I know that you're obviously helping organizations a lot with developing those kinds of cultures and helping people build skills. And that's what I so appreciate about what you're doing. Can you talk a little bit? How did this become your focus? Just as a as out of curiosity, I'm, you know, why? Why this and not something else?
Jessica Mayer 16:58
Why, when I graduated from college, years ago,
Joerg Schmitz 17:06
we don't have to tell people how long was
Jessica Mayer 17:09
a really long time. Anyway, there was no Ada, there was no such thing really as disability pride.
Joerg Schmitz 17:20
And for our international listeners, I just want to say ADA is the Americans with Disability Act, right.
Jessica Mayer 17:26
And there's also the DEA is disabilities from Malaysia, which was in England, and I think, failure path there. So there's a lot of countries similar legislation that are actually based on the ADEA. And there was no such thing is there was a rehab that was shared that places that had government contracts, had to comply with employment part of the rehab, which was to hire more people with disabilities and not discriminate against people civilities. But, you know, nobody really pays attention to all law that it really has teeth. And people kind of hire who they want to hire and who they like. And I was having a real struggle getting a job. And then I got a job working to shoot in New York to win wheelchair accessibility project, where I actually met people as well as he is really for the first time because I didn't really grow up around it. I mean, I was disabled, I was the only disabled person I knew. So I found this community of people. I like, so like people like everybody else, just because you're disabled doesn't make you a group. Make your personal invincibility. And I often say that, like, I get this a lot in my classes. Just I know. So I know somebody who is smelling really meat, I say all the time, makes you a nice person makes you the same. But anyway, I decided that I really wanted to start my own business. And since I had already met all these people and dial forth in the disability field, and I liked it, and I was good. So it basically came from just being really frustrated with how little people civility really mattered, in the corporate setting. And that's how I got to do more. And
Joerg Schmitz 20:01
it's still like that, right? I mean,
Jessica Mayer 20:05
yeah, it is. I mean, in the United States, we still have over 60% of working age, people with disabilities are unemployed, over 16. Me is a waste of talent. So waste of human capacity. And a lot of it has to do with government restrictions. Well, it doesn't add a lot of it has to do with our attitudes towards people with disabilities, how much reasonable accommodations cost? You know, what is? What are the myths and biases and stereotypes without civility? Like, what am I favorite Miss A is people with disability can't really do the job they apply for, you know, as if one people are just running around looking for a driver. It's not happening. Yeah, you know, people with disabilities, actually doing the opposite. Because for every 10 interviews, an able bodied person has to go on to land that job. People civilians, go out 100 interviews, it takes people, the civilians tent on Blogger, trying to drive it book want a person to
Joerg Schmitz 21:32
do. That's incredible. Yeah, that's incredible. So if anything,
Jessica Mayer 21:36
you're gonna look at job description and check all my people on check anyway. And they they study with men and women to write a weak man will go for God's shot that don't check what maybe 50 of living will be like, 90. Yeah, that's fine. You know. So that's what I do. But that's
Joerg Schmitz 22:08
a really good point for First of all, I think the first point was, especially for inclusive leaders who want to really build environments that are that are inclusive of people with disabilities, you don't need a law or a legal framework to take action, right? I mean, this is not, it can be a compliance focus. But it doesn't have to be right. That's really important in this conversation. And the second one is to actually trust people to apply for jobs they feel they can do and are qualified for and not, not assume the opposite one of those myths that I know you talk about a lot. And in a certain sense, this is actually what makes me so excited to have you part of our institute, because just how I was able to learn so much from you. I think the people in our institute and who engaged with our institute will also appreciate learning a lot from you from the small and big things that you so freely share, and the humor that you bring out as well. Anyway, when you do that, which which I just want to want to want to mention this is phenomenal. So as we are also coming a little bit to the end of this podcast, and I'm just wondering if there were one or two impactful things that our listeners could do that enhances their personal inclusiveness of people with disabilities? What would that be? And maybe I'll ask the question on the, on the flip side as well, what are some of the things people should stop doing? Because that might get in the way.
Jessica Mayer 23:48
Okay. One is expression. You have two ears and one now, you should listen twice as much as you should speak. Death. One thing is, we really need to listen to the voices of people with disabilities. We're not a monolith. We don't all think the same way. Or monoliths are right and, but how we get those rights can be very different. And listen, learn and OSHA have a third eldest in law, and
Joerg Schmitz 24:28
I have one for you. Listen, learn and lead.
Jessica Mayer 24:32
And lead right listen, learn only so yeah, I mean, those are my three big things is to listen, learn and not the person with a disability lead. And what you shouldn't do is help a person with a disability without effort and it's a need help for because it can actually put them in danger. But my friends who walk with roaches can actually fall if she's leaving a door, open it. And somebody comes along, open it up for her. And she's letting go, she could fall before you help, and one other and never showed up one person no clue shot a while my friends told me somebody came up to her was intense dish, and he's visually impaired and they came on your show or on time? Well, first of all, if you were Jeff, that wouldn't have helped them anyway, shot. Just Google doesn't really help them. It only helps your heart hearing. So, and yelling at one person, as a matter of fact, if he should clear plot does show me a wine. Yeah.
Joerg Schmitz 26:04
Yes. But I mean, but to go back to the simple things people can do. I love I love that actually. I mean, listen better. Right? Listen, learn, let people with a disability lead. I think they're also really good. That's really great advice and create environments where that is possible, right? And then the ask before you help, right, I get permission to help, you know, not just even apply criteria based on on your own personal standards of what what help people need, right? Ask for permission. It's a respectful way of actually engaging with everybody. You know, Jessica, thank you so much for sharing this. Like I said, I'm so excited that you will be part of this. And I know that people will be able to learn a ton from you. And we will make that possible anyway. And I encourage everybody to actually stay connected to our programming at the institute so that we can actually figure out all kinds of ways in which people can engage with you and it helps on you. Thank you so much, Jessica.
Jessica Mayer 27:10
Thank you for having me.
Joerg Schmitz 27:20
Thank you for listening. You can sign up for more wherever you get your podcasts just look for the inclusive leader podcast. To find out more about the inclusive leadership institute. Visit us at www the inclusive leadership institute.com