‘Once upon a time, society thought disabled people couldn’t have jobs like ‘normal’ people. Thus, the government provided for them by means of welfare for their entire lives. Luckily, those days are far behind us,’ states Bert van Boggelen of De Normaalste Zaak (DNZ), a network of companies striving for employee inclusion and diversity in Dutch organizations.
‘Today, people and companies are becoming increasingly aware of the fact that disabled people can have jobs, too. Moreover, they can make a great contribution to society.’ The partnership between Accenture and DNZ, established in 2012, sets out to promote inclusiveness in Dutch organizations in order to help people with disabilities find their way in the labor market.
The ‘Perfect’ Employee vs. People with Disabilities
‘Over the last decade, there has been a strong focus on how companies could contribute to society. It’s not just about profit anymore; people and the planet are important, too,’ Bert continues. ‘Initially, employees were somewhat overlooked, but some organizations were dedicated to breaking barriers for disabled people. Accenture is a prime example here and a frontrunner in the movement, too.’
‘I get to see these people live their lives to the fullest’
‘Considering the economy today and the movement towards improving the quality of life for all citizens, it simply doesn’t make sense to exclude disabled people. Moreover, seeing people thrive in an organization that they thought was exclusionary is simply incredible. That’s one of the main reason why I do what I do - because it means I get to see these people live their lives to the fullest.’
Working Like “Everyone Else”
Barbara Galvacs (41) is one of the said flourishing individuals. Born in Hungary, she moved to the Netherlands ten years ago. Until four and a half years ago, she worked like “everyone else”. Her problems started when she took on a project management job for a big company, and a crisis situation resulted in her working more than a 40-hour week. ‘I ended up taking on the workload of three people. When the stress started taking its toll, I requested to perhaps work part-time, but was told it wasn’t an option. It was all downhill from there.’
Today, Barbara’s physical condition only allows her to work 24 (28 maximum) hours per week. ‘My disability is hormone-related and, unfortunately, very unpredictable. One week I will suffer severe migraine attacks that only allow me to put in a few hours work, while other weeks are smooth sailing for the most part. For three years I tried everything I could to find a job, albeit part-time, even on a voluntary basis - but to no avail. I wanted to work again - not only because that’s just who I am, but also because I felt that work would improve my overall quality of life.’
Inclusive Business Masterclasses
‘It was June 2016 at a meet-and-greet event for disabled people when I met Laura van den Hurk from Accenture. We had a nice chat, and she suggested there might be something I could do at Accenture. I got involved in organizing Inclusive Business Masterclasses, as well as network events Accenture hosted. That’s how I became familiar with De Normaalste Zaak, which co-organizes these masterclasses with Accenture. It was great to finally be working again. Not only did it mean that I could support myself financially, but I could foster a sense of belonging thanks to the inclusive environment at Accenture. It did wonders for my confidence!’
Inclusive Teams Perform Better
Barbara is convinced that people like herself can add unique skills to any work environment or organization. ‘A shift in perception is crucial: society needs to stop thinking that people with disabilities are not capable or willing to work. What’s more, we need to promote the fact that disabled people can make positive contribution in the workplace and world in general. The truth of the matter is that disabled people often have developed skills that “healthy” people lack. It’s a proven fact that inclusive teams perform better, thanks to the diversity in people, talents and perspectives.’
Why is that, you ask? ‘Well, you will usually find that disabled people apply their talents more and, thus, become incredibly valuable, creative and efficient employees. My disability forced me to become the quick-thinking and super efficient person that I am today - that’s just my “fate” as a disabled employee, I guess.’
Skills to Succeed
Robert-Paul Doove, senior manager in Accenture’s Health & Public Service practice driving the Accenture-DNZ partnership. ‘Having always worked in the Health & Public Service Industry, I am extremely aware of the need of a more personalized approach to reintegrate the unemployed population, and especially those with a distance to the labor market. We believe there is ample opportunity to leverage experience and technology from other domains, like digital marketing and customer service, to improve the effectiveness of reintegration services. We are very excited to explore these opportunities with our partners like DNZ.’
Our corporate citizenship initiative, Skills to Succeed, uses cutting-edge technology to encourage and inspire entrepreneurship. The program's goal is to equip three million disabled people, including refugees, youngsters and people living in places where education or work is scarce, with the necessary skills to get them closer to the labor market and help them find employment or empower them to start their own business.
‘In order to achieve this goal, a solid collaboration with our partners is needed. For us, De Normaalste Zaak is not only a very valuable sparring partner, but also a gateway to organizations that are willing to commit to a more inclusive workforce. DNZ has deep insight and expertise in the problems currently hindering people with disabilities finding work, as well as connections with hundreds of organizations and companies that are key players in various fields.’
Shift Focus from Structures to People
Ensuring that organizations fully understand what it means to be more inclusive is a core responsibility of DNZ. Bert: ‘Organizations often want to hire people with disabilities, but aren’t sure how to go about this. Of course, it requires some reorganizing in the company; certain processes will most likely have to be reconfigured. An inclusive organization can only thrive if the focus shifts from structures and roles to people.’
‘At the end of the day, a fundamental change in mindset and attitude is required; what companies need to embrace is what people are capable of instead of trying to box them into set profiles. DNZ plays a vital role in guiding organizations through this transformation and showing them that diverse teams are effective and more productive.’
Success Story #1: Ahold
Over the past years, several milestones were achieved. The collaboration between Accenture, DNZ and Ahold is a prime example. The large Dutch retailer - owner of 650 of Albert Heijn supermarkets throughout the country - wanted to hire young people with a disability, but indicated they experienced serious problems reaching the target audience. The UWV - the Dutch Employee Insurance Agency responsible for providing labor market and data services still needed to streamline some of its processes. Research conducted by Accenture, DNZ and Ahold exposed several hurdles hindering an otherwise adequate recruitment process. Suggestions for improvements were made, resulting in no less than 1800 people with disabilities getting jobs at Ahold to date.
Success Story #2: PostNL
Another success story is PostNL - Holland’s largest postal company. Every year, new sorting centers are opened, potentially providing work to hundreds of people with disabilities. Because of the decentralization of responsibilities from central government to municipalities, PostNL needs to adapt its collaborative model for sourcing people with disabilities to whichever municipality it finds itself in. In a joint initiative, Accenture, DNZ and PostNL, have analyzed and excavated best practices and viable financial models that underpin successful collaboration initiatives. These best practices and financial models can now be replicated at the other locations so that the sourcing process for people with disabilities can be streamlined. This could possibly lead to hundreds of people finding a job every year. A business case like the PostNL one is highly scalable: it can easily be utilized by other organizations and municipalities and, thus, providing many other people with a disability with jobs, too.
From Hurdle to Facilitator
‘The partnership with Accenture is impactful for many different reasons,’ Bert says. ‘There is still so much work that needs to be done on a grassroots level: more organizations need to get with the program, so to speak, and the government needs to become more of an active component. Instead of hindering things with bureaucracy and complex legislation, they should become facilitators for inclusive employee policies. The onus lies on the government to set the tone so that organizations can follow in the blink of an eye.’
‘For DNZ, in a discourse that often appears to be dominated by opinions, assumptions and arguments, having a business partner like Accenture makes a huge difference. Accenture helps us balance subjective elements, translating it into a transparent, analytical and precise concept, topped off with valuable, concrete suggestions for improvement. Without that addition, our impact would surely not be half as big as it is today. Together, we can stand tall and make a difference.’
The partnership with De Normaalste Zaak (DNZ) is part of the Corporate Social Responsibility program at Accenture Netherlands. We share a number of articles that highlight our social ambitions, read here the previous article on CodeMasters 4 Refugee Talent or the story about Accenture’s partnership with Plan International. Next up: “Strengthening the access to labor through the Refugee Talent Hub”.