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Disability employment fosters diversity and inclusion

Breaking down barriers to create opportunity for all

Disability inclusion in the workplace is an unfamiliar topic to many people, and Lifeworks Services, Inc. is striving to change that — with help from Securian Financial and other corporate partners.

Recently, Securian Financial hosted the opening of Work|Life™, a traveling display Lifeworks created to raise awareness of employment experiences for people with disabilities. The exhibit uses personal accounts, photographs, data and design to expose barriers to inclusion for people with disabilities and to show the value of a diverse workforce.

“At Securian Financial, we strive to create a workplace and culture where all dimensions of diversity are embraced — including disability,” says Dexter Davis, Securian’s chief diversity officer.

Life works exhibit
Securian Financial employees take in the Work|Life™ exhibit, created by Lifeworks Services, Inc. to raise awareness of disability inclusion.

Since 1965, Lifeworks has been a champion for inclusion. It was founded by families who recognized the importance of advocacy and removing barriers for people with disabilities to be part of the community. As a leader for disability inclusion, Lifeworks is committed to self-determined support, careers with competitive wages, and developing innovative opportunities that enhance lives.

“In order for the Work|Life exhibit to successfully raise awareness, we knew we needed the participation and support of our local employers,” explains Ashley Oolman, Lifeworks’ disability and inclusion consultant. “Our longstanding relationship with Securian Financial and their willingness to learn and innovate alongside us made them a natural fit for the exhibit opening.”

Securian Financial and Lifeworks are celebrating a 25-year relationship this year. In addition to being a long-time financial supporter, Securian Financial currently has seven full-time employees who are supported by Lifeworks — one of whom recently celebrated her 20-year anniversary with the company.

Facilitating employee engagement

In conjunction with the Work|Life exhibit, Oolman moderated a panel discussion, “Engaging in Disability Inclusion,” with members of Securian Financial’s disability workforce and their advocates. The discussion was open to all Securian employees and covered:

  • What has worked and what hasn’t in the broad scheme of disability inclusion
  • The impact of the Lifeworks-Securian Financial collaboration
  • Ideas for continued inclusion efforts
  • How to be allies with employees who have disabilities

“Disability inclusion has made Securian Financial a better place to work,” says Rachel Lytwyn, who chairs the company’s Lifeworks Advocates Committee and participated on the panel. “It fosters our culture of collaboration and helps everyone connect.”

Citing the disproportionate unemployment rate for those with disabilities — only 40 percent of working-age adults (ages 25-54) with disabilities are employed, compared to 79 percent of working-age adults without disabilities1 — the panelists also discussed the impact employment has for people with disabilities.

“Gainful employment provides a sense of purpose,” says Jodi Utech, another panelist and Securian Financial’s manager of corporate document services. “As an employer, it’s on us to be open to hiring people with disabilities and identify ways we can help them build on the skills they have.”

Tips to foster disability inclusion

It takes a village to raise disability inclusion awareness. Here are some ways you can help:

  • Get to know someone with a disability and learn about their life
  • Challenge your own perceptions and biases — often, this is the hardest part of inclusion
  • Find an accountability partner to talk through your observations, experiences and questions
  • Be open to trying things differently when hiring

Securian Financial employees have a financial connection to Securian Financial. The statements were given freely.

1. Ross, Martha and Bateman, Nicole. “Only four out of ten working-age adults with disabilities are employed,” Brookings, July 2018.    

DOFU 10-2019