Network and build relationships: Networking is key to building relationships in your industry and can lead to job opportunities and mentorship. Attend industry events, join professional groups.
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 Melanie Foley.
As Executive Vice President and Chief Purpose Officer at Liberty Mutual Insurance, I lead Liberty’s People, Purpose & Brand team, composed of our Talent; Global Brand & Communications; Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI); Community Investments; Office of Sustainability; and Strategy, Insights and Experience groups. Outside of Liberty, I serve on the boards of trustees at Boston Medical Center, Bentley University and HopeWell, a nonprofit foster care agency and youth support organization.
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 proud Boston native who was raised by a single mother. My early upbringing really shaped how I valued education. I watched my mother put herself through nursing school and it inspired my own educational path from earning a B.S. in Marketing from Boston College to going on to receive an MBA from Bentley University.
I joined Liberty Mutual in1996 through a referral from a friend and was drawn to the company’s purpose of being there for people when they need it most.
Throughout my tenure, I have held a number of roles across Marketing, Distribution, Talent and HR, all of which have prepared me for my role today.
Today, as the company’s first Chief Purpose Officer, I am committed to deeply embedding the company’s purpose and values into our culture and strategy, and creating an environment where everyone can bring their full selves to work and contribute their best for our customers and communities.
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?
The three that come to mind are:
- Integrity — it’s important to do what’s right and follow through.
- Grit — working hard in the face of adversity, embodying a growth mindset and actively practicing creative problem solving.
- Empathy — walking in other’s shoes. At Liberty we call this “trying on” — consider another’s point of view in order to understand why they might think or feel differently than you and how that might shape or evolve your perspective.
Can you share a story about one of your greatest work-related struggles? Can you share what you did to overcome it?
My story is one many can likely relate to — navigating difficult conversations with a colleague. At Liberty Mutual, we call these “courageous conversations.” By giving them a name, we create intentional space for deeper, more complex issues to be talked through. By having these courageous conversations with colleagues, I’ve been able to have constructive dialogues which have led to stronger alignment, deeper trust, and more meaningful relationships.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
As the Chief Purpose Officer, I’m committed to ensuring that Liberty Mutual is a workplace where employees of all abilities and all backgrounds can bring their full selves to work and can have a long, meaningful career.
I’m excited by a number of projects including:
- Supporting the company’s seven Employee Resource Groups (ERGs), which bring our people together while strengthening our inclusive workplace, enhancing personal development and acting as a resource for our business to help meet our customers’ needs.
- Being the Co-Executive Sponsor of Able@Liberty… which supports people with disabilities, caregivers and family members and employees with lived experiences. Through Able we’re focused on several important initiatives, including:
- Policy Review: We’re reviewing our formal Accommodation Policy and Travel Policy to make sure they are inclusive of people with all forms of disabilities.
- Real Estate Revamp: We’re working with a consulting company that specializes in inclusive design as we revamp some of our offices.
- Manager Training: We’re adding our Disability Fundamentals training to the manager onboarding process.
- Self ID: We’re driving our Self-ID Campaign to increase visibility of people with a diverse range of disabilities across the company.
- Helping to build allyship across the company to strengthen relationships of trust and help others use a DEI lens in their everyday actions.
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?
An inclusive workplace is one where everyone can bring their full selves to work, feel valued for their unique perspective and supported in doing their best work. People are multi-dimensional, and at Liberty Mutual, we leverage the power of our collective differences and similarities to create a sense of belonging for all.
The foundation of this work are our Guidelines for Inclusion — nine practices that increase effective communication, collaboration and problem-solving between individuals and groups. When the Guidelines for Inclusion are practiced, they can help employees communicate in an authentic and honest way to form stronger work relationships. These guidelines provide practical advice and touch on a range of skills from being trustworthy to taking a step back, to “trying on” a different person’s perspective — all important when having courageous conversations. All U.S. employees receive our Inclusion in Action: The Mini-Series, an eLearning that teaches the nine Guidelines for Inclusion. And it’s working! We’re hearing people using the guidelines everywhere, in meetings, in the hallways.
Why it is so important for a business to have an inclusive work culture?
The data is clear — diverse, equitable and inclusive workplaces are more successful. Gartner research reveals that “differences of age, ethnicity, gender and other dimensions foster high performance.” Through 2022, Gartner found that 75 percent of organizations with frontline decision-making teams reflecting a diverse and inclusive culture will exceed their financial targets. This report is one of many that show employers who support diversity, equity and inclusive initiatives lead their industries, better support their diverse base of customers, and create a place where people of all backgrounds want to work.
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? Can you please share a few examples?
At Liberty, we are committed to creating an inclusive workplace where everyone feels seen, heard and supported. In partnership with our Able@Liberty group, we have:
- Rolled out the digital accessibility initiative to make Liberty Mutual’s digital assets more accessible to individuals with disabilities.
- Evaluated and updated Liberty Mutual’s buildings and facilities for greater accessibility.
- Expanded training programs to increase disability awareness, etiquette, disclosures, and accommodations.
- Hosted many ally awareness wheelchair events, designed to bring greater education and awareness to able-bodied allies by allowing them to experience a moment in the life of those who use wheelchairs.
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.
- Educate employees: To foster a culture of inclusion, ensure that employees have tools and guidance around how to best collaborate with people with disabilities.
- We created an interactive training course for all employees to understand disability awareness, disclosures and accommodations.
- We also held ally awareness wheelchair events designed to bring greater education and awareness to able-bodied allies, allowing them to experience a moment in the life of those who use wheelchairs.
- Create a space for all voices to be heard: Provide open forums for employees to share their experiences and concerns to drive change.
- The leaders of our employee resource group for people with disabilities hold regular meetings with Liberty Mutual’s leadership team to support the evolution of our policies, benefits, infrastructure and programing to be more inclusive.
- Remove barriers of access to make the workplace more accessible: To ensure that everyone has opportunity to thrive — both in-person and virtually — create content, systems and workplaces that are accessible.
- We established the digital accessibility initiative to make Liberty Mutual’s digital assets more accessible to individuals with disabilities.
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?
Through a multi-year accessibility action plan, we have evolved our policies, benefits, infrastructure, and programing to create a more accessible and inclusive workplace for people with disabilities. The plan is supported by four key pillars: improving culture and leadership; providing enterprise-wide access; advancing employment practices and extending supplier diversity.
Examples of some of our programs include:
- Launching a seventh employee resource group (ERG), Able@Liberty + Allies, dedicated to fostering awareness, understanding and support for people with disabilities, caregivers and family members. With over 7,000 members, Able@Liberty has been an integral part of our efforts to meet the needs of people with disabilities.
- The ERG has five advisory groups, including non-apparent illness, mental health, physical disabilities, neurodiversity and caregivers.
- Forming an accessibility council, made up of leaders across critical functions of the company.
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”?
- Network and build relationships: Networking is key to building relationships in your industry and can lead to job opportunities and mentorship. Attend industry events, join professional groups.
- Stay focused and persistent: Building a career takes time, effort, and dedication. Stay focused on your goals and be persistent in pursuing them, even when faced with setbacks or obstacles. Keep a positive attitude and believe in your abilities to succeed.
- Set long term goals & course correct along the way: Know that you may have to change the course you take to get there and that’s OK.
- Be present: Life is full of distractions. Be present to take advantage of the learning, skill building and relationship building opportunities in front of you.
- Finding balance: Life is challenging; be thoughtful about how you spend your time and do what is most important and valuable.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help: Whether it’s in your personal life or professional life, you don’t have to have all the answers. People in your networks will be willing to help you and know that if they need help in return, you will be there for them when they need it.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share a story about how that was relevant in your own life?
“Believe you can and you’re halfway there.” — Theodore Roosevelt
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. :-)
Imagine if everyone practiced kindness towards others, whether it’s through small acts of kindness or larger charitable efforts. This movement could lead to a kinder and more compassionate world, where people are empathetic and supportive of one another, regardless of their backgrounds or beliefs. It could help to reduce prejudice, discrimination, and violence, and create a more harmonious and peaceful society.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
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.
Mr. Pines has also served as a mediator for numerous federal agencies including serving a year as the Library of Congress’ in-house EEO Mediator. He has also served as an expert witness in federal court for federal employee matters. He has also worked as an EEO technical writer drafting hundreds of Final Agency Decisions for the federal sector.
Mr. Pines’ firm is headquartered in Houston, Texas and has offices in Baltimore, Maryland and Atlanta, Georgia. His first passion is his wife and five children. He plays classical and rock guitar and enjoys playing ice hockey, running, and biking. Please visit his websites at www.pinesfederal.com and www.toughinjurylawyers.com. He can also be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.