The first Plenary Panel of the 4th Harkin International Disability Employment Summit was a high energy discussion aimed to motivate and mobilize participants to accelerate global change in the business marketplace.

Panel facilitator Caroline Casey, Founder of Valuable 500, kicked off the session.

“We are all very aware of the disability and equality crisis. We know that. We are also aware that the most powerful force on the planet is business. It must be at the table in a meaningful way to resolve the inequality crisis,” Casey said.

Deborah France-Massin, director of the Bureau for Employer’s Activities for the International Labour Organization (ILO), spoke to the vital role that trade unions play in advocating for equality in the work place. The ILO plays an integral role in the development of international labor standards. However, it is vital that there are efforts at the micro level aimed at attracting talent with disabilities that has lasting impact.

Oliver Faust, Director of Corporate Social Responsibility at the Renault Group, spoke to the role of mobility in addressing barriers to employment.

“My idea of mobility is that it should be the link with economic and social matters. It’s about bringing people together to make people less isolated. Mobility is a tool to fight against exclusion,” he said, noting that Renault considers it a corporate priority to actively contribute to an inclusive society.

Speaking to Microsoft’s legacy as a pioneer in ensuring that all citizens have access to technology, Carlo Purassanta, president of Microsoft France, shared several examples of technological innovation – including the use of artificial intelligence – to encourage participation in learning, creation, communication, and collaboration. In addition to developing tools that can be used to make communities more accessible, Microsoft is also committed to being a leader in employing people with disabilities.

“We try to implement a culture of inclusion. Because we are producing technology, we want to be the no. 1 ambassadors. Through technology, you can work on accessibility and inclusion,” he said.

Jean-Michel Guillon, executive director of the Michelin Group, shared that international corporations have a responsibility to set global goals that can be implemented within local contexts, noting, “As a corporation, we understand we have different countries, different cultures, different jobs. What’s the role that the corporation can play to push policies to include disability?

“The first thing is that we go very high” Guillon said. “The second point is to say what our purpose is. There’s a third point. We have to have a mandate on the corporate level. We have to make people responsible. You have to tell every manager that they are responsible for putting in place the policy. Every country, according to their own culture, takes charge of the backbone given by the group. We are here to guarantee that it happens.”

Finally, Mike Ellis, global vice president of accessibility at Sprint, spoke to corporate responsibility to develop products that meet business needs that make hiring people with disabilities possible. To this end, Ellis stressed the importance of bringing all stakeholders to the table from the beginning, to ensure that solutions are appropriate and effective.

“We would never have been successful if we didn’t start listening first and act second,” he said. “It’s about sitting down and listening to the needs.”

– Written by Julie Christensen, The Harkin Institute

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