THE BLOG
11/10/2015 03:10 pm ET Updated Nov 10, 2016

Retailers Can Learn From Each Other When it Comes to Disability Hiring

In the world of retail, copycat pricing is not unusual. When one retailer slashes prices, others are sure to follow. When it comes to hiring approaches, those of us in the business of finding employment opportunities for people with disabilities, we're hoping that same copycat approach holds true -- particularly when one of the retailers that is taking the lead is Starbucks. The company that revolutionized the way we drink coffee could very well do the same for how corporate America hires and cultivates talent.

In a race for talent, companies are now realizing that people with disabilities are a largely untapped pool that, as a result, has seen unemployment rates remain stubbornly high when compared to the general population. So when an employer the size of Starbucks plants a flag and says it is going to make this a priority, others are likely to follow.

My experience has been that this kind of an effort only succeeds if it is backed by a strong leader who chooses to make disability hiring a priority. That was certainly the case at Walgreens, where former executive Randy Lewis, whose son is autistic, spearheaded one of the most successful disability-hiring initiatives in recent years. At Starbucks, that person is Deverl Maserang, who heads up the company's global supply chain organization. For leaders like Randy or Deverl, this is not about charity. It's actually quite the opposite. They need talented men and women who can perform at high levels of productivity. They've simply decided not to allow the typical stereotypes to stand in their way of finding outstanding employees who can contribute to the overall success of their organizations.

I had the privilege to meet graduates from Starbucks unique training program called the Inclusion Academy at the company's massive coffee roasting plant in York, Pennsylvania. My organization was invited by Starbucks to first train Starbucks supervisors on managing individuals with disabilities, and then help them locate the most appropriate sourcing agencies that could provide the specific talent Starbucks was looking for.

We always say, when you're hiring people with disabilities, it's not the "what" that you expect to be different. You expect the same performance and productivity and output. It's the "how" that's different. The "how you train and even how you interview." The fact that Starbucks is doing this is going to make our job a lot easier in finding employers who are willing to try innovative new approaches. Employers who know that people with disabilities can be a valuable talent segment, but don't know how to approach recruitment and building an inclusive workplace culture. Starbucks' Maserang said it best recently in an interview about the Inclusion Academy: "We've found as we've hired these individuals, they really change the culture and fabric, which very much aligns with our mission and values to inspire the human spirit. They inspire us as much as we inspire them." We find this to be the case with all of the companies with whom we partner.

Our nation recently celebrated the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The ADA was the most sweeping piece of civil rights legislation in our nation's history, promising to enable people with disabilities access to go to school, to church, to the theater -- and to work. The ADA has lived up to its promise in many ways ... except the work part. I encourage employers to look at what Starbucks and other progressive companies are doing when it comes to finding talent.