Disability Hiring Bad Ass - Julie Sowash

It's Disability Employment Awareness month which means it's time for The Chad & Cheese to pull out their secret weapon who knows her shit about hiring people with disabilities. Julie Sowash, Senior Consultant with Disability Solutions take the guys to school! Yes, that Sowash...

Julie and the team at Disability Solutions have helped nearly 1,200 people with disabilities find jobs in great companies like Pepsi and Synchrony Financial. She breaks through the fluffy bullshit and helps us focus on the real deal - getting hiring outcomes. #ActionNotWords

Plus, Julie tells us what really pisses her off when talking to D&I leaders who still don't get it...

All in today's interview sponsored by Uncommon.co.


Disability Solutions is changing minds and changing lives through disability inclusion.

Chad: This, the Chad and Cheese podcast, brought to in partnership with TA Tech. TA Tech, the association for talent acquisition solutions. Visit TATech.org

Chad: Dude, I just got off the phone with Teg.

Joel: Teg, Teg, oh yeah, over at Uncommon.

Chad: Dude, do you know another Teg? Anyway, Uncommon just opened up their resume database of 100 million candidates to recruiters for free.

Joel: Whoa, wait, what?

Chad: Yeah, Uncommon's releasing their new database matching tech and beta before the end of the year, and they wanna show it off to recruiters for free.

Joel: All right, let me get this straight. Recruiters can sign up for Uncommon's beta, post their jobs into the system, the system then matches only qualified candidates from Uncommon's database of 100 million candidates, and this is all for free?

Chad: I know, dude. For two weeks, for free, but only during the month of October.

Joel: Dude, Uncommon has some of the best matching tech in the industry. That'll be like cheating for recruiters.

Chad: I know. Uncommon uses the qualifications in the job description to automatically source, screen, and deliver candidates that meet all requirements. It's pretty freaking dope.

Joel: Did you just say dope?

Chad: Here's how you register, go to Uncommon.co. Click on the Join Beta button. And for all you Chad and Cheese listeners, if you use the promo code chadcheese, you will get

extended by a full week, that's three weeks in the Uncommon beta for three weeks, free.

Joel: I'm sorry, did you really say dope?

Chad: Dude, shut up. Tell your recruiter buddies, Uncommon.co, join beta, chadcheese, three weeks, it's dope.

Announcer: Hide your kids, lock the doors, you're listening to HR's most dangerous podcast. Chad Sowash and Joel Cheesman are here to punch the recruiting industry right where it hurts. Complete with breaking news, brash opinion, and loads of snark. Buckle up boys and girls, it's time for Chad and Cheese podcast.

Joel: As if dealing with one Sowash wasn't enough, I've got two Sowashes in this podcast.

Joel: Welcome everybody to an Uncommon exclusive for the month of October. Our special guest today is Julie Sowash. Yes, that kind of Sowash. Julie, welcome to the show.

Julie: Thank you. Happy to be here, especially on an Uncommon exclusive.

Chad: So happy.

Joel: So what bet did Chad lose to get you on the show?

Julie: Really? He asked me, it is an honor to have me on the show, c'mon Cheesman.

Joel: Anyone who calls me Cheesman is good in my book.

Joel: Julie, for those who don't know you and love you like we do, give us the elevator pitch and why the hell are you on the show.

Julie: All right, well not just because I'm Chad's wife, as some may say, but I work for a non-for-profit consulting company called Disability Solutions. And we focus on helping companies build enterprise-wide hiring systems for people with disabilities and veterans with disabilities. So we work with big companies.

Julie: We've helped over the past four and a half years, companies hire close to about 1,200 people with disabilities. So it's National Disability Employment Awareness month. And I appreciate you guys letting me spread the good word.

Chad: And she's a badass. I mean that's just, you know, not that I'm bias. But yeah, no, she's total badass.

Joel: Not bias at all.

Chad: No.

Joel: Of course.

Joel: I did not know that it was National Awareness month, so that's news to me. And I am much less verse in this disability compliance stuff as your husband, but I've worked really hard to get a list of questions for you, in addition to Chad's thoughtful inquiries.

Joel: I'm gonna start it off if that's okay.

Chad: Yup, knock it out.

Joel: What are companies biggest failure when it comes to hiring and recruiting disabled persons?

Julie: Well first, I say disabled persons, they-

Chad: Wow.

Joel: Ouch, right out the gate.

Julie: So just one point of education, I guess, to start off is that you don't put the disability first, you put the person first. And it's harder to say and a little bit of a pain-in-the-ass, I know. But we all feel better when you say people with disabilities or individuals with disabilities, other than focusing on what's "broken with us."

Joel: Fair enough. Now we know the podcaster's biggest failure. What are companies biggest failures?

Julie: So I think that they just have so much fear and stigma that still exists around hiring this population, really we're only thought of in two different ways. There's the compliance, right, so we do it because we have to or we say we're going to do it because we have to and the government is holding us accountable for that. Or they go the complete opposite direction, which is the charity mentality. That every person with a disability is broken, and they're unable to work in a successful position in your career, so we have to create charitable programs or create jobs for them to be able to have a human experience like the rest of us.

Chad: Okay. So here's the thing, because we talk about this all the time. It's about all the warm and fuzzy bullshit that's out there. I mean I see it on the veteran's side all the time, where it's like, "Oh, we love veterans. Oh, we're veteran friendly." So instead of going down that road, 'cause I think it's total bullshit and people talk about it all the time. Even on the side of individuals with disabilities, I wanna hear, and I want Julie to be able to talk about fucking outcomes, hiring outcomes.

Chad: So this is your stage, tell us about programs and what you guys have actually done to be able to help companies get actual hires and also retention.

Julie: Yeah. And I think that's the important thing is that this is not just a PR activity. When companies are doing it, they need to go all-in and approach it as a talent acquisition strategy. We're at near full employment and there are jobs going unfilled and there's a talent pool that is just not being tapped into because people are scared of how to engage us.

Julie: And so from an outcomes perspective, I'll start with my favorite, well my first and my favorite, you know, a long time ago, maybe four or four and a half years ago, Pepsi approached us and said, "Hey, you know what? We really wanna put our money where our mouth is, we wanna start hiring people with disabilities. Not just do philanthropic activities like donations and that type of thing to organizations." And so my organization said, "Sure, let's figure out how to help you do that." And in those four, four and a half years, Pepsi's hired almost 1,000 people with disabilities into just their beverages facilities. So that's a pretty huge number, and I don't see anyone else, maybe one company, that's touted that kind of number.

Julie: And you'll notice that Pepsi doesn't talk about it as much publicly, because I think that they can be the brand leader. Because they've actually done it and they've approached it as a hiring initiative or a strategic initiative.

Julie: But it's part and parcel to who they are as an organization. They hired in the African America community and marketed to it first. And this was just an extension of who they are as a company. But they also knew to make it sustainable, it had to have a return on investment, it had to have a business value. It couldn't based in feeling bad for people with disabilities or thinking that we can't do physical jobs or we cat do sales jobs. They said, "Find us talent, help us gt the messaging right," and in doing so, they've been successful and they have good ROI and they have great reach now into our community. And people feel comfortable saying, "I'm a person with a disability," when they apply, when they get hired at Pepsi. And that's what I'm talking about.

Chad: Okay, so that's Pepsi. You guys also work with Synchrony, which is on the financial side of the house and it's an entirely different kind of organization to hire for, tell us about that.

Julie: Yeah. So Synchrony is awesome in terms of like when you wanna work with a company who is like all-in on inclusion, they knew as a strategic initiative from their leaderships, so from their executives, you can see their CEO, Margaret Keane, doing a Bloomberg Talk on the value of hiring people with disabilities. They knew that they wanted to do this because they're inclusive by nature.

Chad: Now wait a minute, wait, wait, wait. What does all-in mean to you?

Julie: All-in means that they're willing to put resources, dollar, time, and brand to an initiative. You can't say I'm just gonna hire people with Autism in Mishawaka, Indiana and that's not all-in. It might be a nice pilot, but that's not all-in.

Julie: When they said, "We need something that we can-

Chad: That's probably a shitty pilot too, to be quite frank.

Julie: You know, it was the first random place I thought of.

Chad: Yeah, yeah.

Julie: They really kind of went to that other side, they were thinking, "How can we make an impact in our community? We want to change the world for people with disabilities." And you love working with companies like that because their heart is in it. But my job as their consultant is to say, "That's awesome, but let's make it business driven too. Let's have goals and measures. Let's make sure that our systems are working to create opportunity so that when you have success and you hire people in Kettering, Ohio, you can grow that to other locations. Either at all at one or in kind of a systematic way. And that's what they've been able to do. From one sight and then grow into more sights, which makes sense. But their system also works with that.

Chad: Gotcha.

Joel: Julie, at the risk of sounding insensitive-

Chad: Like that's ever stopped you before.

Joel: It's never stooped me before because she's all-in.

Joel: What disability is sort of the most challenged in finding employment and why? And how do we help clear that hurdle?

Julie: I think that depends on who you ask. And I would say that my opinion is that people with serious mental illness, which is not a huge population in our country, about 10 million people have the biggest barriers to employment because that is where the most fear lies.

Julie: I was actually reading an article last week that recruiters would rather hire a person with a physical disability, one that they can see, than someone who suffered from depression or anxiety, which are probably the two most common mental illnesses in this country. And aren't necessarily defined as serious mental illness, so if people like that can't get a job and recruiters are scared of hiring someone because they have depression or anxiety, what is it gonna be like for someone who has a serious mental illness like bipolar or schizophrenia? They're chances of getting employed is almost zero.

Chad: Which is why people don't identify as actually having a disability, especially when it's hidden, right?

Julie: And they don't even take the chance and they become dependent on government assistance and the social safety net because employers don't feel comfortable giving them even an opportunity. And some would disagree with me, but what I think is the biggest way to start to overcome those hurdles is to normalize disabilities like mine and physical disabilities into the workplace. So that when you think about even the LGBT movement over the past 40 years, you know we started accepting one acronym and then the next one and then the next one, and now we are accepting of so many more people in that community. And it's the same I think with disability. It's like once we get comfortable with, "Hey, depression is a normal part of life." We saw Jason Kander pull out of his mayoral race yesterday because he had to admit for the first time out loud that he has PTSD and he's suffering from major depression. We say it's okay to take care of you, and you have a value in the workplace. Then that's when we start to overcome some of those barriers and we start to really push people who have more significant disabilities to be able to have opportunities. But until we normalize even the most basic or well known disabilities, then the rest of the people have no chance.

Chad: Okay. So let's flip that real quick. So I've actually seen organizations who focus on specific disabilities. So let's say, for instance, autism.

Julie: Yes.

Chad: I mean, so that's one of the things like with veterans. It's like, okay, we want to hire just this segment of veterans because we think they're perfect for our jobs, and that, to me, is a bunch of bullshit. So from your standpoint, is it the same? I mean, so let's say for instance like some of these autism types of ... Not that you shouldn't hire individuals with autism, but what do you think about just focusing narrowly on one disability for positions within your organization?

Julie: So that's a tough question to answer. First, I have to put two different hats on when I think about it. The first one is my consultant hat, and the consultant in me says there are roughly a million and a half Americans with an autism diagnosis. 80% of those are under the age of 22. So if I'm thinking about quantity and quality of people that I need to fill my jobs, that's a pretty limited talent pool, and most of them are not even to working age yet.

Chad: Right.

Julie: There are roughly 45 million Americans, one in five, who have a mental illness. One in four Americans overall has a disability. So you're setting yourself up for some failure.

Chad: So 25% of Americans have a disability.

Julie: Yes. Yep. And I just got updated last month by the CDC.

Chad: Okay.

Julie: So when you're thinking about how to make impact, how to actually change

the world because that's what these kind of programs are doing. They want to change the world for people with autism or with a certain disability. If they focus on the larger population, they could have so much more impact as a company, but they would also get a much better business return. And then from a branding perspective, it's pretty damn frustrating.

Chad: So yeah, from your standpoint, I mean, because you're an individual with disability but you don't have autism. So if a company actually says, "Yeah, we're really just focusing on individuals with autism," what does that do to the really the line share of individuals who disabilities who literally could do that job?

Julie: Yeah, I mean, you're talking about such a small percentage of the disability population that it's pretty insulting. As a person with a disability, it's pretty insulting and it's incredibly off putting to the rest of us who just want to go to work, who want to have opportunities.

Chad: Right.

Julie: It also very much reinforces stereotypes that we would like to break down. It says that people with autism are only good at maybe IT or finance jobs, that they can only work in these four or five positions within a company or that they need special programs where they have job coaches and etc., etc. The point is if you've met a person with a disability, you've met one person with a disability, and trying to shove a certain disability into a certain job classification, it reinforces very, very bad stereotypes within the working world, within employers that we have a limited number of jobs that we can do. But it also then from a consumer perspective and a job seeker perspective, I don't want to go work for those companies. I don't suffer from autism.