A familiar resource may offer untapped potential for professional development opportunities for disabled leaders in the private sector. Companies looking for strong disabled leaders should invest in disability-focused Employee or Business Resource Groups (ERB/BRGs).
ERB/BRGs are voluntary, employee-led affinity groups that can play an important role in intra-company leadership development as well as have a greater cultural impact. They typically focus on marginalized identities such as race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, or on groups such as veterans or young professionals. ERG/BRGs are venues for in-house support and learning while offering opportunities for employees to network and address common concerns. They may do more than improve internal policies: they may also lead to improved products and services.
While about 88 percent of companies have these affinity groups for diversity in general, only 70 percent of companies offer ERG/BRGs that are disability specific.
Disability-focused affinity groups, crucially, can offer a range of benefits, such as advancing disability outreach and recruitment; enhancing career development opportunities for disabled employees; boosting retention of disabled employees; better serving existing customers and reaching new ones.
We spoke with three of our Members to get the inside scoop on how disability ERG/BRGs are an underutilized corporate asset.
“It shows employees that the firm puts emphasis on addressing issues of the disability community, so that everyone can come to work fully as themselves. BRG leaders are able to point staff towards benefits that they may not have been aware of. It also shows our customers and clients that the firm supports its employees with disabilities and the disability community as a whole.”
- Laura Isaacs, JPMorgan Chase
“Because Sprout is a product-based company, Accessibility@Sprout refers to both disability and product accessibility. Our group works with our product team to make sure we maintain accessibility excellence. We help them improve our products, office environment, and company culture. Not only do we build awareness through educating and learning, we also increase accessibility and inclusivity by identifying, fixing, and even preventing inequities in our products and services.”
- Amy Johnson, Sprout Social
“I think there are still a lot of people who think BRGs are nice to have, but that they don’t really contribute to the success of the company. What they don’t realize is that BRG leaders are engaging in project management, budget planning, and developing leadership skills. All these transferrable skills are needed in every area of the business, and I think they are still an untapped market. As for employees, getting engaged in leading your BRG is a low-risk way to engage in public speaking, leading meetings and developing leadership skills that you may not otherwise have an opportunity to develop at your job.”
-Laura Isaacs, JPMorgan Chase
“During the first year of the pandemic, individual members of our group challenged the agency to consider the unique accessibility challenges of remote work, and to think about all disability types as we began to reemerge in a hybrid work environment. We found members with areas of expertise who helped create educational content we could share with the agency, such as Digital Accessibility and Disability in the Media.”
-Lori Goddard, FCB
“In my opinion, the thing that makes our BRGs unique is that they are all aligned with a Center of Excellence, which is led by senior leaders. We all know that BRGs are more impactful when they have the support of senior leadership. By aligning BRGs with Centers of Excellence, all BRGs are given equal attention, eliminating the issue of smaller groups getting lost in the shuffle.”
- Laura Isaacs, JPMorgan Chase.
“There may be questions of how many people within an organization have a disability. Because of privacy, this is often hard to quantify. Many people are not aware that 1 in 4 people have a disability, and that there is a range of disabilities included in those numbers. If you can’t physically see people within your company who are disabled, it’s easy to dismiss. It takes time and persistence, but the more people are exposed to disability and why it’s so critical to acknowledge us, the more it starts to make its way into the culture.”
-Lori Goddard, FCB
This fall, Disability Lead is hosting a Symposium for disabled employees who participate in their organization’s ERG/BRG to connect and learn with a national cohort of peers and colleagues from across sectors. Make sure you're signed up for our emails to get the latest on this event!
Laura Isaacs is a Senior Executive Assistant on the Corporate Responsibility team at JPMorgan Chase. There, she co-leads the Marketing, Communications and Membership pillar of the Non-Visible Conditions community within their Access Ability BRG.
Amy Johnson is a Senior Product Designer at Sprout Social, where she is working to start a Neurodiversity group within their Accessibility BRG.
Lori Goddard is Vice President and Management Director of FCB Chicago, where she is a founding member and co-lead of their Disability Forward ERG.