Inclusive Innovation: How Disability-Focused ERGs Can Transform Company Culture

Open to All
4 min readNov 29, 2023

One in four adults in the United States reports having a disability. Yet, in 2022, only 21.3% of adults with disabilities were employed. When companies recruit, hire, and retain workers with disabilities, they unlock access to a talent pool that brings with it diverse skills and new ways of thinking. Creating a disability-focused employee resource group (ERG) brings co-workers together to establish safe spaces, develop resources, and inspire intersectional collaboration.

To further explore disability resource groups, Open to All hosted a panel discussion with two of our corporate partners: Michaels and Bath and Body Works. Leaders from these companies offered valuable insight on how ERGs can provide a safe community for people with disabilities to create awareness outside of the confines of their individual workgroups.

Establish Supportive, Safe Spaces

Fear of judgment or discrimination can leave employees with disabilities feeling isolated and alone. Employee resource groups offer a key place for workers to find solace and support when feeling overwhelmed. These groups serve as forums where employees can openly discuss their unique challenges and experiences related to disability. By sharing personal stories and insights, ERG members not only establish a sense of community but also keep the business aware of current happenings.

Pro Tip: Focus on calling people in, not out. Schedule regular conversation circles where employees can discuss what’s on their mind and how their company might be able to better support them. If your group members are comfortable, consider inviting key partners, such as senior leaders or human resources representatives, to sit in on these conversations and hear about associates’ experiences. Feedback allows ERGs to tailor their content and influence to have the greatest possible impact on members and their co-workers.

The importance lies in creating environments where employees feel comfortable expressing their unique needs and concerns to their colleagues. These safe spaces encourage employees to seek advice and problem-solve together, leading to a more harmonious workplace culture.

Learn From One Another

Being courageous means not shying away from the discomfort of hearing what others have to say. Disability ERGs can offer companies an important perspective on how to improve workplace accessibility. Learning from their first-hand experiences can create better accommodations for employees with disabilities and for their colleagues who may not yet feel comfortable self-identifying or asking for additional support.

When leaders from Human Resources, Learning and Development, and Management departments invest in Disability Resource Groups, they can use input from members to develop inclusive policies, such as streamlined accommodation applications or demystified leave requests. By actively participating in their development and refinement, ERG members can ensure processes are transparent, efficient, and accessible to all employees.

Pro Tip: Representatives from Bath and Body Works shared that they’re working cross-functionally to develop training for managers focusing on how to respond when someone requests an accommodation or leave of absence. It’s crucial to arm those on the front line with appropriate information and resources to increase the overall visibility of inclusive company practices.

Encourage Intersectional Collaboration

With over one billion individuals living with a disability, people with disabilities comprise the largest minority group in the world. Still, persons with disabilities who identify with another marginalized population, such as LGBTQ individuals with disabilities, are known to experience large gaps in employment compounded by both ableism and other forms of discrimination. Because of this, it’s critical for Disability ERGs to put forward an intersectional approach.

Recently, Bath and Body Works’ Disability ERG hosted a seminar in partnership with their Women’s Inclusion Network focusing on caregiving. This panel discussion featured representatives from multiple ERGs who shared their experiences caring for someone who needs additional support. During our panel, a leader from Michaels also highlighted the importance of hosting intersectional events. In fact, the company recently reported increasing the cross-collaboration between their Michaels Resource Groups by 108%. Most recently, Michaels SALUTE Veterans Group and Disability Resource Group hosted a panel shedding light on the lives of veterans with disabilities.

Pro Tip: Ask your members for input! Conduct a survey asking ERG participants what intersectional topics they’d like to see the group focus on. You could even vote as an ERG on an intersectional identity to connect with each quarter. By being open to recommendations from members, ERGs can tailor their programming to serve the greatest number of employees.

Not only should employee resource groups collaborate amongst each other, but ERGs also offer the opportunity for cross-departmental innovation. By participating in an ERG, workers gain the opportunity to expand their professional network. These groups offer employees the chance to reach beyond their immediate teams and interact with colleagues they might not have met otherwise.

Disability ERGs serve as catalysts for positive change by promoting empathy, acceptance, and equal opportunity within a company. Members of these resource groups serve as strategic partners in creating safe spaces, shaping accommodation processes, and building cross-company camaraderie. Disability Resource Groups play a key role in fostering work environments where every employee feels seen, heard, and respected.

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Open to All

At a time of deep divisions, we’re joining together from all walks of life and work to build a thriving and inclusive nation where all are welcome.