Disability Inclusion In The Workplace: Kevin Hanegan Of Qlik On How Businesses Make Accommodations For Customers and Employees Who Have a Disability

An Interview With Eric Pines

Eric L. Pines
Authority Magazine
15 min readSep 4, 2022

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Make sure you continuously learn — The world is changing so quickly; it is hard to keep up at times. Upskilling becomes an important professional development task for anyone. You cannot just settle on the fact you have a job, and you know how to do it currently. The time will come quickly where something will change, and you need to learn a new way. And this will happen many times during your career. If you adopt a mindset of continuous learning, you will be equipped and ready for all these changes. Never stop learning. It will keep you relevant.

As we all know, over the past several years there has been a great deal of discussion about inclusion and diversity in the workplace. One aspect of inclusion that is not discussed enough, is how businesses can be inclusive of people with disabilities. We know that the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) requires businesses to make reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities. What exactly does this look like in practice? What exactly are reasonable accommodations? Aside from what is legally required, what are some best practices that can make a business place feel more welcoming and inclusive of people with disabilities? To address these questions, we are talking to successful business leaders who can share stories and insights from their experience about the “How Businesses Make Accommodations For Customers and Employees Who Are Disabled “.

As a part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Kevin Hanegan, Chief Learning Officer at Qlik.

Kevin is the Chief Learning Officer at Qlik. Kevin’s passion is the intersection of business, technology, learning, and psychology. He promotes diversity and inclusion within company processes and brings a human approach to topics that may at first seem dry or intimidating.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you ended up where you are?

I’m a math guy — I hold an MS in organizational performance and workplace learning, and a BS in mathematics and computer science. I’ve authored a number of computer software and language books, including my most recent release, Turning Data into Wisdom: How We Can Collaborate with Data to Change Ourselves, Our Organizations, and Even the World. I have also taught online university courses since 2006.

I got into this line of work because of my own curiosity and my belief that we should all stay curious. It’s how we begin — as kids, we’re incredibly curious, always asking questions. School takes us in another direction with a set curriculum of facts and figures with only one right answer. If you are still curious and you challenge your teacher, it’s a sign of disrespect, you’re not supposed to do that. Consequently, we kind of suppress those skills. We spend so much time teaching reading and writing, but we don’t teach listening.

But listening is the most vital skill for making better decisions. No one knows the answer to every question, but an answer is out there — and that’s why we must remain curious and include as many voices as possible. When people fail to make smart decisions, it has nothing to do with the data or technology. We fail when we base our decisions on assumptions. We mistakenly think, “The world works like this.” Well, guess what: it changed, it doesn’t work like that any longer, if it ever did at all.

Assumptions can be very harmful, and I’ll share a personal example. When one of my kids had a disciplinary issue at school, they showed us a spreadsheet of all the behaviors and consequences to justify their assessment. On paper, the data was accurate, but my “a-ha!” moment came when I looked closer at the data. I could see a hidden pattern that revealed how, during less structured time after lunch or recess, there would be a behavior, and the consequence of that behavior was going to the principal’s office. The funny thing is — funny in hindsight, not in the moment — was that the school assumed kids don’t like going to the principal’s office. But we know our son really well; he likes adult attention. We spoke to him and he said, “Yeah, it’s great, I kicked the teacher and they sent me to the principal’s office, and she read to me for an hour. I think I’m going to kick the teacher again tomorrow.”

Extrapolate that to business. We spend all this money on technology and it’s potentially ruined by an invalid assumption that we didn’t assess. Unsaid assumptions are particularly challenging because they’re difficult to validate or invalidate. To make better decisions, write them down in a journal — act like a student, if you will, and show your work. Show your line of thinking so that you really have to consider your own logic and correct any failures and allow others to review your work and do the same. This is a good first step toward better understanding bias, how to mitigate it, and how to think creatively and curiously.

You are a successful leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

Integrity — Hands down the most important trait was integrity. Not only does it help your employees see you as credible and trusted, but it also helped me directly on my own personal journey by holding myself accountable. It gave me a compass and a set of beliefs and values that I could always review and apply situations to.

Being open minded — Having an open mindset is similar to having a growth mindset, except that open mindsets relate to the degree we are open to new ideas and suggestions. We all have opinions, but even as leaders, we all have limited experience compared to all the experiences of our collective teams. Being open minded allowed me to listen to other ideas and suggestions to solve problems. This is one reason they always say leaders should surround themselves with smart people. I will take that one step further and say that leaders should surround themselves with not just smart people, but people different than you. That will give you different perspectives and different ideas and will make you a more effective leader. This trait also made me a more resilient, especially during changing environments, like what happened during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Intellectual Humility — Intellectual Humility is the recognition that the things we believe in might in fact be wrong. This is critical for leaders as we need to know our own ignorance and admit when we are wrong. But sometimes leaders believe it is a sign of weakness to admit they either do not know something or that they made a mistake. Everyone makes mistakes. It is less about the actual mistake, and more about what you did after that. Did you learn from it? If you did, then it was a productive mistake that gets you closer to your goal. This is impossible if you do not have intellectual humility.

Can you share a story about one of your greatest work-related struggles? Can you share what you did to overcome it?

One of my big things is diversity and inclusion. To me, diversity trumps ability. I may have a preconceived notion about my business or a decision relating to my business, and I want to figure out where I have my blinders, I want to make the best decisions. I want to talk to people that have different cultures, different perspectives, different ways of thinking. Sometimes it’s hard for me — I have ADHD, it’s unmedicated, and it’s tough for me to listen. It’s been a deliberate process, not because it’s intentional, but because my mind is wandering everywhere. I’ve had to work really hard at becoming a better listener.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

I am proud to serve as the Chair of the Advisory Board for the Data Literacy Project, a global community dedicated to creating a data-literate world. The Data Literacy Project was started with the belief that we all can be data brilliant, and we can — we just first need to understand how to read, work with, analyze and argue with data.

It’s more than teaching employees a single skill. Rather, data literacy is about demonstrating a commitment to lifelong learning. I’m very proud of the success we’ve achieved so far, but we’re just getting started. There’s still much work to be done in shaping the future of data literacy.

Fantastic. Let’s now shift to our discussion about inclusion. Can you tell our readers a bit about your experience working with initiatives to promote Diversity and Inclusion? Can you share a story with us?

I’ve learned that diversity is essential to making better, data-informed decisions. In any given situation, you may think you know what to do next, but take a moment and reframe the decision. If possible, ask someone else — preferably someone who has a completely different background with different experiences — for their perspective. If this isn’t possible, I would still step back and reframe the decision yourself from another perspective. The end result may surprise you, enlightening and empowering your decision-making with an idea and perspective you may never have otherwise considered.

It’s important to remember that diversity can come in a variety of forms. My first son was diagnosed with autism at an early age, and through that experience I unknowingly embarked on a lifelong journey about perspective, bias, and lateral thinking. I learned how important it is to understand why people think in the way that they do. I read about psychology to try to understand more about my son and how I could better support and advocate for him.

This had a material impact on my abilities at work. Most notably, the question of ‘why’ became more important than the question of ‘what.’ Instead of seeing the organization as vertical silos, I began to view it as an inter-connected system. And instead of seeing performance problems as the result of the individual or their lack of knowledge, it became clear that there was more to it than that. I also began to realize how all of this positively impacts organizational culture as well as DE&I and an increase in innovation.

This may be obvious to you, but it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you articulate to our readers a few reasons why it is so important for a business or organization to have an inclusive work culture?

1) First and foremost, it’s the right thing to do. We should not live in a world where anyone feels they have to “fit in.” If the Great Resignation has taught us anything, it’s that employers can and will pack up their talents, skills and knowledge and head for the door the moment an opportunity arises.

Thus, if you want to attract and retain the best talent, you must embrace a culture of inclusivity. You must demonstrate why prospective hires should choose your firm over another. By creating a welcoming environment, and by showing the benefits of working in a diverse group, you can widen the net and inspire more people to apply.

2) Everyone says that more experiences and perspectives are necessary to form the best ideas, but it’s important to understand why. Think about an idea for a new product: you may envision how it will work, and you may have an idea for the packaging. But can you, all on your own, come up with every intricate detail for design, functionality, manufacturing and price? Do you know how to reach markets that extend beyond your own product desires? Can you convey the benefits to cultures other than your own? Maybe you can — but you can’t be sure without bringing others into the conversation. As additional experiences and perspectives are added in, the picture becomes clearer, blind spots are reduced, and you will be on your way to making a more informed decision.

3) A third benefit — but not the last or the least — is how diversity increases innovation, reduces unintended consequences, and inspires changing cultures to embrace differences.

The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) requires businesses to make reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities. For the benefit of our readers, can you help explain what this looks like in practice? What exactly are reasonable accommodations? Can you please share a few examples?

“Reasonable accommodations” varies per job and per industry. It could involve installing a ramp to allow all individuals to navigate the work environment more easily, whether someone is in a wheelchair or simply has difficulty with stairs. For knowledge workers, a business may add a screen reader and/or choose video conferences over voice-based alternatives to allow for sign language to be used. Sign language interpreters and/or closed captioning may be implemented to ensure everyone can participate in meetings and other events.

Aside from what is legally required, what are some best practices that can make a business place feel more welcoming and inclusive of people with disabilities? If you can, please share a few examples.

I would recommend that businesses consider doing more than what’s required. At Qlik, we conduct all of our meetings online, with each person in front of their own computer screen, to ensure that everyone can participate and feel included, no matter where or how they work.

Can you share a few examples of ideas that were implemented at your workplace to help promote disability inclusion? Can you share with us how the work culture was impacted as a result?

In 2021 we launched the Qlik-Able ERG (employee resource group) to combat ableism, support nontypical bodies and minds, and champion the kind of neurodiversity that can help organizations truly tap into all their talent. DE&I speaker and nonprofit leader Ruth Rathblott serves as an advisor to the ERG. She helps the group’s leadership strategize around programming to internally advance our work around disability and aid in the design of initiatives to more broadly promote our efforts within the disability space.

This is our signature question that we ask in many of our interviews. What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Started My Career”?

  1. Ask Questions — Sometimes it is seen as a bad thing to question things or people. We all start out as kids questioning, but as we go through schooling and then in the work environment, questioning many times gets a bad wrap as being difficult to work with or talking back to authority. However, we learn by questioning. This is even more important as we get into our career journey. And I am not talking about the types of questions that some people ask to show they know a given topic. In those cases, they are not really asking a question. They are making a statement about something they know and disguising it as a question. Ask questions when you do not know how the process works, or why something is happening, and when you truly want to know the answer as it will help you understand the topic better and perform better in your job.
  2. Make Connections — No matter what job you have, you will be able to do your job better if you make connections and are able to harness the collective wisdom of your colleagues, peers, and everyone else. One of the things I instituted when I started out in leadership was something we called a congress, where we would get together to plan for the next year. However, it was not just the leaders getting together, it was a representative or two from each part of the business we impacted, including our stakeholders. The ideas and actions leaving each congress were great, because not only were they ideas, but we already had some buy in from various parts of the ecosystem that would be responsible for driving the changes.
  3. Time Management– When I just started out as a leader, I found it hard to give up rolling up my sleeves and doing some of the hands-on and operational work. While it is absolutely true, it helps you understand the team when you have been able to work directly on some of the key projects, it leaves you with little time to actually pan ahead and strategize about what is next. This is what a leader should be doing, to not only continue to innovate, but to ensure that the team always has a vital role to play within the organization. We cannot add more time in the day, so it is important to balance and manage your time. In addition to my desire to keep being hands-on, I also accepted every meeting that I was invited too. It became near impossible to lead the team and strategize about the future without working 70 hours a week. Look for opportunities where you can delegate certain meetings and tasks and ensure that you have given yourself enough time to strategize and innovate for the future of your team.
  4. Make sure you continuously learn — The world is changing so quickly; it is hard to keep up at times. Upskilling becomes an important professional development task for anyone. You cannot just settle on the fact you have a job, and you know how to do it currently. The time will come quickly where something will change, and you need to learn a new way. And this will happen many times during your career. If you adopt a mindset of continuous learning, you will be equipped and ready for all these changes. Never stop learning. It will keep you relevant.
  5. Have fun — When I started out, I do not think I realized how to properly engage employees. I think I had a good work ethic, I listened to people, and I communicated out why we were doing things that we were doing. That helped to build trust, which is essential, but to really foster an environment where people feel a sense of belonging, and are more engaged, you really should try to make it fun. We used to do things when we rolled out new programs where we would do funny videos of famous movie scenes and would dub them with our own text related to our projects. Occasionally we would even make music videos where the songs related to our work and projects. The ability to be creative and make things truly engaging not only builds the sense of belonging and engagement, but it also helps people learn about our strategies and why we are doing what we are doing, in a fun way.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share a story about how that was relevant in your own life?

It’s a Disney quote from Mary Poppins. “Open different doors, you may find a you there that you never knew was yours. Anything can happen.“ As I mentioned earlier in the interview, I started out as a computer science and math geek, but I was curious about other things, like psychology and how adults learn. This led me to open up a different door, which led me to where I am today. Don’t ignore new doors that may open up during your career just because they are different or unknown. It could end up being the path you were always meant to take.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

Data is everywhere today. Don’t just think of data as numbers, but it includes written statements like customer reviews or similar. There is so much data available which we could leverage to make better decisions in life and in work. However, there is a downside to this. Information overload and misinformation. People find it hard to understand what information is relevant, what information maybe is from a trusted source, and then how to understand that information and use it to make a decision. The ability to do that is what we call data literacy. There should be a movement to have everyone in the world data literate so they can avoid information overload and avoid misinformation. Look at, for example, the COVID pandemic. There was so much data and information shared all over the media. Without data literacy, we cannot interpret that, apply it against our needs and goals, and make decisions. Should we go on vacation during the pandemic? Should I avoid going out to eat during the pandemic? Without the skills of data literacy, we will not be able to leverage all that information to make an informed decision. These are not technical skills like data science either, these are skills that are more like soft skills of critical thinking, challenging assumptions, and mitigating cognitive bias.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Blog: https://www.qlik.com/blog/kevin-hanegan/

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/kevinhanegan/

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success and good health!

About the Interviewer: Eric L. Pines is a nationally recognized federal employment lawyer, mediator, and attorney business coach. He represents federal employees and acts as in-house counsel for over fifty thousand federal employees through his work as a federal employee labor union representative. A formal federal employee himself, Mr. Pines began his federal employment law career as in-house counsel for AFGE Local 1923 which is in Social Security Administration’s headquarters and is the largest federal union local in the world. He presently serves as AFGE 1923’s Chief Counsel as well as in-house counsel for all FEMA bargaining unit employees and numerous Department of Defense and Veteran Affairs unions.

While he and his firm specialize in representing federal employees from all federal agencies and in reference to virtually all federal employee matters, his firm has placed special attention on representing Veteran Affairs doctors and nurses hired under the authority of Title. He and his firm have a particular passion in representing disabled federal employees with their requests for medical and religious reasonable accommodations when those accommodations are warranted under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (ADA). He also represents them with their requests for Federal Employee Disability Retirement (OPM) when an accommodation would not be possible.

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Eric L. Pines
Authority Magazine

Eric L. Pines is a nationally recognized federal employment lawyer, mediator, and attorney business coach