The SC Interview Series is an effort to highlight the work creative professionals are doing that “move the needle” in how we work and perceive the world around us. The first interview in our series features Rich Luby of Talk the Walk LLC. Rich is a charismatic individual who offers a unique ability to communicate the benefits of workplace diversity while implementing them in a variety of creative methods. Not only is Rich a professional colleague in the world of workforce consulting, he is also a partner with Scarantino Consulting when opportunities arise for us to collaborate. Rich joins Scarantino Consulting from his office in Connecticut.
Josef Scarantino: Rich, welcome and thanks for participating in the SC Interview Series. Let’s start by telling the readers a little about yourself.
Rich Luby: Thank you for that introduction and I truly appreciate your time to have a conversation. To your readers, I am the Founder of Talk the Walk Disability and Inclusion Consulting. I have over 10 years of professional experience within Disability and Inclusion (D&I) as well as a long personal connection to the disability community. I leverage my knowledge and use disability as a value-added necessity for corporations to excel their business drivers and exceed their goals.
As an individual born with the “Abilities” of Cerebral Palsy and later diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), I have had the opportunity to experience life from very differing perspectives. It’s these life experiences, “Abilities”, that have help me overcome nontraditional challenges and drove me to develop into the man I am today. Growing up as a capable individual with both a noticeable and hidden disability I felt very fortunate and knew from a young age that I was going to take these abilities as a given advantage to better advocate for not only myself but the entire disability community.
JS: You got your start at Ability Beyond, demonstrating your capability to not only build partnerships with businesses and local organizations, but also to work across abilities through supportive employment efforts. How did that experience prepare you for going into consulting?
RL: Working at Ability Beyond was a great opportunity. I gained a variety of knowledge that allowed me to identify my strengths and enhance my weaknesses. I was able to fine tune my expertise which put me in a position to celebrate my personal qualities and grow as a D&I professional.
JS: While at Ability Beyond, you also played a major role in developing Pepsi ACT, a major disability employment initiative at PepsiCo. What did that initiative entail and what kind of results came out of that program?
RL: Yes, this was my proudest position while at Ability Beyond. As Director of Partnership Development I was one of the founding members of Disability Solutions which is a consulting arm of Ability Beyond. I played a strategic part in establishing the structure, approach and core services behind Disability Solutions. Once the consulting arm went live we then built a partnership with PepsiCo’s North American Beverages (NAB), collaboratively developing a full scale national disability hiring initiative known as Pepsi ACT: Achieving Change Together.
I assisted PepsiCo in strategically building the initiative and then providing the hands on execution of resources such as: candidate sourcing, employee development, and partnership development. All of which have resulted in a replicable model that continues to flourish as an award winning multi state hiring initiative.
JS: You’ve been offering consulting services for a couple of years now through Talk the Walk LLC in addition to launching Talk the Walk TV, a video series on Youtube. What are you hoping to achieve through Talk the Walk and why is it important to employers?
RL:Talk the Walk has 2 primary functions. The first is to celebrate the ability in us all! Too many times society tends to subconsciously and even consciously label individuals by differences (black, white, rich, poor, educated, uneducated) the same goes for an individual with a differing ability. The thought that one is not able or completely disadvantaged because of a disability is not acceptable to me. I am looking to divest social misconceptions and stigmas surrounding the disability community.
The thought that one is not able or completely disadvantaged because of a disability is not acceptable to me.
The second function of Talk the Walk is to then utilize these shifts in thought to impact corporate cultures by maximizing the untapped abilities within the disability community to deliver business drivers. This is important to employers because society’s needs, trends and wants are always changing. In a world of instant gratification and social media, driven consumer companies are craving new revenue and niche service areas that increase their profits. “Disability” is the most sustainable niche.
A disability does not discriminate, it encompasses every ethnicity, gender, age and lifestyle. So if a company embraces the disability community they are actually capturing a population of fully diverse employees and customers. That is a return on investment that goes well beyond the disability and the dollar amount.
JS: On Talk the Walk, you outline a very comprehensive approach for employers to identify, recruit, train and retain employees with disabilities. In your experience, what are the biggest hurdles for employers to get past to initiate these types of programs?
RL: In my experiences there is no one size fits all solution to D&I initiatives. That being said, the 3 most common hurdles I have noticed in developing sustainable initiatives are: leaders have to lead, acceptance and accountability are key, and the importance of leveraging your own resources to your advantage.
Leaders have to lead
First and foremost, organizational executives have to lead by example and commit to the D&I initiative. If the individuals responsible for the overall integrity and stability of a company do not hold an initiative in high regard why would any other employee?
Acceptance and accountability are key
This second hurdle is one that at times is addressed but rarely maintained. People, organizations and communities tend to forget that a D&I initiative lives and dies with the individuals who are already included. If you do not educate your staff through training supports, effectively communication and encourage acceptance from your employees then the willingness to execute the initiative stops right in its tracks.
Accountability is the key behind sustaining a D&I initiative. Companies big and small can claim that they are D&I focused, and that may be, but are they D&I committed? Many past movements usually get their start because of a personal connection or experience that is driving the change (laws, foundations, initiatives, organizations). If that driving force no longer exist these initiatives lose their momentum and stall.
D&I committed companies establish identified, measurable accountability that does not allow initiatives to be disrupted. The accountability is carefully distributed throughout departments, policies and personnel. This can range from initiative champions, benchmarked within employee reviews even valued as an on-boarding necessity. Simply saying, D&I committed companies realize that a self-sustaining initiative is not attained by one person, one thought, or one role, but through universally embodied responsibilities.
Leveraging your own resources to your advantage
The third hurdle that I have noticed is the lack of leveraging your current resources to attain D&I goals. Just because you are not use to a specific initiative or process does not mean you do not have the resources to be effective. Going along with the past 2 hurdles, your most important assets in any productive initiative are the people who are already within that environment.
The executive leaders, managers, and other employees are the lifeline to any accomplishment.
Companies need to look in the mirror and assess themselves. Viewing your organizational reflection will help identify the strengths and weaknesses that directly dictate initiative accomplishments. Many of your current strengths can be harnessed to champion the initiative and the pre existing resources can be utilized as tools to progress weaknesses. Some of the opportunities to take advantage of are:
Employee Resource Groups (ERG) – Include them all in the commitment and ownership of the initiative. This could help with springboarding ideas, identifying individual champions and promoting the vision of the project.
Local Community Partners – Leveraging community outreach to colleges, non-profits and government agencies are resources that can assist in a variety of ways from attaining new recruiting efforts to capturing reasonable accommodations and incentives related to the initiative.
Incorporating the customer – If you sell a service, then you have a customer, so why not utilize them beyond the dollar of a sale. Communicating with your customers provides a fresh transparent connection to the buyer. This allows a business to better understand the fluctuating wants and needs of their consumers. When your organization best represents the communities they serve then a customer is valued, and if there is value there is profit.
JS: As a follow-up question, with diversity being such a hot-button topic among employers and HR professionals, one area that still needs an incredible amount of work is the inclusion of disability in the definition of diversity. How important is it for employers to think more broadly when building a diverse workforce?
RL: I feel it is very important for many of the reasons we already discussed. It is a sustainable necessity for organizations to broaden the scope and definition of a diverse workforce.
A disability does not discriminate; it encompasses every ethnicity, gender, age and lifestyle.
Every employee is a diverse asset to your diversity goals and not a single one of these employees is immune to the possibility of one day being considered disabled. Sometimes I think there is a gap in thought, companies seem to unintentionally view diversity by color and gender. This neglects a number of diverse disabled and value-added subsets within those two categories.
JS: Your bio on Talk the Walk speaks strongly to disability being a gift to advocate, educate, build, and unite individuals. What would you tell other individuals with a disability who are experiencing difficulty getting hired or finding the right employer-employee fit? Also, what advice would you have for those following in your footsteps who are considering entering consulting, entrepreneurship, or self-employment?
RL: Job seekers and future consultants need to be proactively patient in their search. Take time to assess yourself and organize your thoughts. A lot of the times a job search does not best reflect our personal expertise. From television, to magazines, and, of course social media, society has a way of framing what we think is interesting, worthwhile or even successful. I encourage people to identify their own individualized interest.
Once you have developed goals, you need to be proactive in marketing your strengths and branding yourself in the field. Whether this is marketing via volunteering or taking a less desired job, use every interaction as a mission to develop relationships, new perspectives and mentors. The more you are active in the field the more you are building individualized value. Branding follows in line, you have the ability to capture all that you do and promote it to your advantage. Social media is a great example. You can take pictures, write articles, post videos and brand yourself as a qualified candidate in the field of your choice. The more you stay relevant the more you stay fresh in the mind of a hiring manager and client.
The more you are active in the field the more you are building individualized value.
JS: For companies or organizations who are apprehensive about starting a D&I initiative, what would you tell them? How do they get started?
RL: Apprehension is just a fear of the unknown, so the first step is to educate the organization on inclusion. What is it? How will it look within your organization? It will not be an overnight transition. This shift will take time and need commitment, so establish accountability to effectively progress with small attainable steps toward an ultimate goal.
JS: Would you like to offer any closing thoughts to our readers?
RL: I would like to thank you once again for this opportunity and I wish you the best with future interviews. It is always a pleasure to share my passion. I hope that this interview sparks inclusive actions among your readers. Whether you are an individual, company or community you are one step away from bring us all closer to a fully inclusive environment.