By Nancy Di Dia, Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer, BI USA 

In honor of Global Diversity Awareness Month and National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM), PrideVMC shines a spotlight on PrideVMC Diamond Partner Boehringer Ingelheim.

It may surprise you to know that people with disabilities constitute the nation’s largest minority group. It’s a group that any of us can become a “member” of at any time. In fact, 75 percent of disabilities are not visible, such as arthritis, diabetes, learning disabilities, mental illness, visual impairment, hearing loss, cancer, COPD, etc.

The Realities of Disabilities

  • A disability can happen to anyone at any point in his or her life;
  • A disability can be temporary, long-term or permanent;
  • People with disabilities can participate and/or contribute more to an activity when barriers are removed or accommodations are provided;
  • Everyone benefits when an inclusive culture and mindset is created for all people.

In today’s environment, businesses need people with agility and the ability to adapt to different situations and circumstances.  Perhaps more than any other group, people with disabilities possess precisely these attributes. On a daily basis, they must think creatively about how to solve problems and accomplish tasks that people without disabilities might take for granted. In the workplace, this may translate into innovative thinking and diverse approaches to confront challenges and achieve success.

So, how do you create an inclusive culture that engages all colleagues? It’s about encouraging employees to have their voices heard and understood. When people feel included, invited and welcomed to be authentic, they have a sense of engagement and empowerment that is transcending.

Here are a few tips:

Be Mindful to Create Team Building Events that are Inclusive

When planning team events, it’s important to consider the needs of all your employees and create opportunities that invite full engagement. It’s easy to think you are planning something fun for your team, such as a hike or community service project, and not realize that you’re inadvertently excluding others. Even things like walking to a meeting, traveling from one location to another or speaking in a loud room can create barriers for some employees. So, when you think about team building and business activities, make sure you consider options for different needs, and ask your team for clear feedback through discrete channels. If not, persons with disabilities may opt out of activities that are not easily accessible, require physical capabilities beyond their strength or which have the potential to cause embarrassment or unnecessary spotlighting. 

Establish a Business Resource Group

At Boehringer Ingelheim, among our many Business Resource Groups (BRG), we have a Combining Abilities for Business Success (CABS) BRG that has been instrumental in raising awareness of varied abilities and making our Company a more inclusive and accommodating environment for our employees and guests. The CABS BRG has helped our employees better understand colleagues with disabilities and some of the challenges and opportunities they face. Members have shared their own personal experiences and created connections within the Boehringer Ingelheim community, in particular by providing support and inviting outside speakers into our Company to share their experiences. The BRG  has also been helpful in providing different perspectives to our teams about the challenges our patients might be facing, which has helped our Company better serve them. Companies tend to have BRGs focused on generations, gender, race, etc., and although a great place to start, having a rich and varying set of BRGs can help propel diversity and inclusion through the organization and drive change quickly. CABS is among one of our most active groups and continues to grow.

Lead by Example

Managers set the tone for their teams and need to lead by example. They play an important role in creating a supportive and inclusive workplace. Managers have the power to ensure a positive work culture by demonstrating how to be empathetic without isolating employees with disabilities, encouraging collaborative relationships and fostering an environment that focuses on their capabilities rather than what they cannot do. It’s especially important to encourage appropriate and welcome interactions where employees can learn about co-workers with disabilities so they can see them as people first, rather than making assumptions or highlighting their challenges. Another key point is to keep medical and requested information confidential. Work to ensure that employees with disabilities have the right to request reasonable workplace accommodations and feel comfortable asking for them. Most importantly, don’t tolerate biased behavior or stereotyping of persons with disabilities in the workplace. Speak up!

Create Experience-Based Immersions for Employees

As the Native American phrase goes, [before you judge] “walk a mile in my moccasins,” which I believe to be so very true. Many of us take for granted inherent privileges of our lives across all dimensions of diversity. We have no idea what someone is feeling until we experience it ourselves. Companies should create immersion sessions to help employees and managers see the world through the eyes of others. For example, you can bring crutches or wheelchairs into an office and have employees use them for a day, and then have them share what they learned. This is just one example of many ways employees can experience challenges that persons with disabilities face. You can also direct an improvisation scene or interactive theatre, acting out the undesired behaviors and equipping the audience with steps they can take to mitigate bias or ignorance. 

Use Inclusive Language

When referring to persons with disabilities in the workplace, it is important to avoid words that make a distinction between employees. Don’t define a person as a diabetic, blind, handicapped, etc. – a disability is not who they are. Think about referring to chronic illnesses as conditions rather than diseases. This is not simply about etiquette or political correctness; it’s about respect and empowerment. If you’re unsure about the best language to use, ask the person for his or her preference.

Go Beyond What Regulation Requires

I like to say, anyone can be compliant, but it’s noble to go beyond what’s required. Companies should view the regulations as the floor, not the ceiling to ensure appropriate accommodations for their employees. One way to do so is by being progressive with office design. Organizations that are preemptive with architectural designs, and have workplace spaces that accommodate everyone create a more supportive, inviting workplace. For example, we have adjustable desks that rise high and low. Regardless of your abilities, some people like to stand and work. Office space should reflect the diverse needs of your employees. Thinking broadly could make what’s seemingly an impossible situation now more achievable.   

By ensuring an inclusive environment, that is both accessible and equitable, you’re also creating a workplace that is engaging and motivating to all employees. Companies continue to evolve and advance their diversity and inclusion efforts, but we can all make a difference every day simply by being open, respectful and encouraging others to do the same.

For more information on Boehringer Ingelheim’s approach to diversity and inclusion, visit:

Share This