PEAT Talks Transcript: Fostering a Culture of Inclusion and Accessibility in the Workplace

Introduction

My name is Josh Christianson. I'm the Project Director for PEAT, and I will be hosting today's talk. Before we get started and bring on our guest, I'm going to quickly review some logistics. We will have time for question and answer, so please enter your questions into the Chat window. We will keep track of them and hold them and make sure they get answered at the end here. You can also use the Chat window if you're having any technical difficulties, and we'll do our best to resolve any issue.

You can download the presentation on www.PEATWorks.org, and an archived recording will be posted online. You'll see the slide on the screen here has some information of where you can dial in and listen, that you can submit questions, and use other forums to communicate with us. Also, the closed captioning we have here at Adobe Connect; but you can get it directly via the link if that works better for you.

We'll also be tweeting today's event, and it will be from @PEATWorks, that's P-E-A-T-W-o-r-k-s; and feel free to join us there, follow along, answer/ask questions. If you use the hashtag #PEATTalks -- that's PEATTalks with two "Ts" and the "s" – you can follow along the conversation there.

So without further ado, we are very, very excited to welcome Jenny Lay-Flurrie, the Chief Accessibility Officer at Microsoft. While she has a British accent and I have no training in French, I always want to give her last name a little bit of a French flair. She's super, and we're excited to have her. She leads many, many initiatives to empower people with disabilities, including Disability at Microsoft, employee working groups, Microsoft's annual Ability Summit, the Disability Answer Desk, the city's Unlocked Project, and (inaudible) Hackathon, to name a few.

She was recognized by the White House as a champion of change recently. I saw her speak at the White House, I think earlier this week. Just this morning, I came from an event called Tech Up DC that's looking at bringing in underrepresented groups into technology; and they said they asked Jenny to be a speaker but she couldn't make it. While I knew it probably was a travel schedule, I held in my heart the belief that maybe it was because of PEAT Talks that she couldn't join. We're super excited to have her.

Today Jenny is going to be sharing valuable guidance on creating a workplace culture focused on access and inclusion. You'll have the opportunity to learn from her insight on key strategies to encourage employees at every level to embrace and promote accessibility and take away best practices to apply in your workplace. We appreciate Jenny, who has been instrumental and active in PEAT, in our think tank; and I'm just really happy to have her here today and joining us.

Without further ado, I will turn it over to you, Jenny, for the presentation.

Presentation

Thank you so much for the introduction.

I'm going to kick in straightaway to this and hopefully share a little bit, and I look forward to the questions; keep them going.

By means of background, I am Jenny Lay-Flurrie. I am a Brit from background and spent the first 30 years in the U.K. I'm actually from a small place in the middle of the country, about 15 miles from Birmingham, which is pronounced a little differently to how Birmingham is pronounced here in the U.S. There is no "ham" in our Birmingham.

I was and am the daughter of two teachers. I would say that my sister and I – I have a slightly younger sister – learned a lot from that. We learned a lot of the ethics and values that we still have today. We also learned a lot from a very early age about special needs, since it was an area of passion for both my parents. My dad actually went on to be a special needs advisor before he retired, which is also important because our house was a comedic one in some ways; but in all seriousness, it was quite a deaf house.

My sister was born with congenital deafness. I developed deafness. My dad has the kind of deafness where he hears certain things but does not hear others; he hears, though he doesn't hear chores, is the analogy I've been using. Mom has perfectly great and normal hearing. So my mom got very tolerant, I would say, with us on all the noise because we would all go in and switch on a radio, switch on a TV, switch on a music player of some kind, but leave the room. We would just blatantly forget that we'd left everything running. So my mom would walk in and go around switching everything off and making it just very clear in our minds that we needed to get on it.

They did implant one important thing in both me and my sister, which was you can do anything you set your mind to; there is no ceiling. In fact, deafness was just a part of being a kid. It was never a special thing. We both went to classic education (audio break). I went on to get a music degree and become a clarinetist; well, that was my goal. I think the realism coming out of music college was that I was never going to be a classical, beautiful clarinetist. I was okay, but I wasn't great at it; and I was starving, as a lot of musicians are. So I really fell into IT to pay the rent.

At that time, I fell into a media company in London called The Daily Mirror, which is a very reputable newspaper if folks are aware of it; and from there learned that I absolutely adored IT.  As I went forward from there, I worked for a variety of companies, including T-Mobile and a few others, and landed at Microsoft 12 years ago.

At that point, I didn't really know – I had no foresight to imagine where I'd be today. I came as someone very focused on providing technical support in Europe. Six years later, after becoming part of the employee grid and really facing up to the fact that I was struggling with employment as a result of my deafness, I shifted to become a full-time on accessibility and became the CAO at Microsoft in January of this year. So that's a little bit about me.

In terms of what my role is and what my role has been for the last six-seven years and, honestly, what I would never have imagined my career going back to music school, I couldn't have found a better job. I'm very humble to do the job I do today because it is representing the community that many of you on the webcast, and probably all of you, are very, very familiar with. It's huge. I'm proud to be a part of it; and I'm proud to be part of helping folks make sure that our products and services really support customers with disabilities, which is global, which is over one billion, which is something that all of us hit on some part in our lives. Whether it's got anything to do with a permanent disability – it could be just getting in the car and not being able to text and drive or not – or shouldn't be texting and driving I should say.

So this is a sector that is important for us as a private company to be working with and working for and developing products that are essentially part of all of us. Disability is part of being human; and if Microsoft wants to live into its mission, which we clearly are and clearly do, which is to empower people and organizations to achieve more, we have got to get on this. We've got a long history here; we've been working on it a long time, but it's definitely been a reenergized focus in the last few years as we really grasp this opportunity. It's a marketplace that has money. It's a marketplace that has sentiment and passion. The one thing that I have learned my 12 years here is that people at Microsoft have bloody big hearts; and we really do want to make sure, from all lenses, that we deliver products that are great for everyone.

There are a couple of things, just in terms of how this has impact. One of the things that I'm a huge advocate of is that in order for us to deliver products and services that are truly accessible, you've got to have folks with disabilities in the company that truly reflect the diversity of the population out there.

What does that mean?

That means its talent. We all know the unemployment statistics; they're miserable, and there's a lot of people out there that could be helping us in our charge that might not necessarily be in the workforce or be in a job that is appropriate for their talent.

One area that we really have been going after in the last couple of years is our autism hiring. Some may be familiar with this; there was a Fast Company article recently. What it basically means is that it was a very humble journey. It came from myself and the exec sponsor of that disability community, and both of us are parents of kiddos with autism. Both of us know that they're stupidly talented kids but are going to struggle with some of the classic ways that we interview and hire folks.

So we've ditched it; we've ditched the interview. We work with local social agencies. We bring folks into an academy over a number of weeks, and we work with them to make sure that we're bringing the right talent into the organization. Blake and Kyle are working in the company; they're two of the crew. It's small; we've got over 20 now. I'd say that 17 of the ones that we have hired had previously applied to Microsoft and not got in. I share that transparently because that's definitely been a learning. If we hadn't have done this, we would be missing out on talent; and so our goal is to expand it.

The other thing that we've really learned with this is it's not just the crazy experience they bring to the areas they're working on -- Kyle is working on Xbox – but also just how important it is to spread the learning from this to other areas of disabilities and broader than that. With autism hiring, what we do is we support these folks with a number of different things. They have mentors within their own teams. They have mentors within their division; and from the community, there's a parent for persons with autism. Then they have external coaches as well that can say things like, yeah, you might need to go to bed at 2:00 a.m. because you've got to get up at 8:00 a.m. So that combination and those support circles have become instrumental in how we not just hire great talent, but retain and support great talent.

The bottom line is all of us can benefit from this. This is not just an autism thing, and I think that's one of the key principles. If you listen to the hiring managers and folks that are working alongside these guys and gals every day, they say to us that they're surprised by the lack of accommodations. This isn't a space where we have to do a lot, other than tech phones and situating desks and screens. It varies by person, but the accommodations are not big. And the principle of working with someone with autism benefits the whole team. A lot of it is about clear expectations. Who doesn't like to have clear expectations in their job?

So the managers are benefiting from these hires in ways that they did not imagine, as well as the key principle of bringing in talent that helps us think about cognitive products, and products that work great for folks on any degree of spectrum.

The other example I'll call out is Anne. Folks in the industry may know Anne Taylor. Anne Taylor was 15 years at the National Federation of the Blind, and the folks at the NFB and (inaudible) reminded me at an event at the White House that she is on loan to me, which is not true. I hired her. I'm jesting; there's no loan agreement. She is wickedly talented and making an amazing impact here at Microsoft.

When she came in and joined my team, our focus was to work alongside product engineers to really look at the experience that they were putting out, and to go through what was providing great experience and what was not, and to build not just the empathy but real pragmatic skills about how to embed (inaudible) into the website, how to think through the flow of going through e-mail in Office 365.

The impact of have that kind of level of conversation – and Anne is just a genius at it. She walks in the room. She's able to give really hard feedback in a way that people still come back to her and praise and want to spent more time. It's a collaborative way of really making sure that we're prioritizing not just a compliance bar but a usable bar, and that is the direction that we're moving in.

Office 365 – which is anything from Word, PowerPoint to Outlook, Mail, Sway, OneNote -- has gone through a massive investment in accessibility this year and continuing every month because it's a cloud project. We can launch this thing every month with new features. You'll see even in the next two months another wave of investment in these products. Anne is one person; there's a whole gang, and there's a large number of engineers and authors working on this. Because of this approach, you're going to see real tangible features that are improvements on how (inaudible) to work to Office 365, how it is accessible to those with blind and low vision.

I think the other one to check out is our hiring website. This is another one that was something that was a clear partnership with our IT group here because this is ultimately a lifecycle where you have to look at all the aspects of the circle here – sorry, we're flipping around, apologies – which is creating that inclusive environment, bringing someone in, empowering them and seeing them as a person of strength and experience and math skills – math being a good word, making sure that they're working and embedded with products, embedded with people who drive things whether it's a website, a SharePoint, or a product or anything else. And that circle continues by empowering them in the right way.

The work on our career site really stemmed from this principle – Anne sitting down with the teams, working alongside with them, then realizing that what they'd done is hit a bar that they didn't want to hit. They wanted to hit something way bigger and better than that. We want people with disabilities clearly to be able to apply for a job independently, in a great way, and have a great experience. It's not just about can you get through it; it's is the experience good and that they have a great representation of Microsoft in their minds, and they want to complete the job application. We are fighting for talent here. So then that basically is a wave of investments into those websites, which has then resulted in that team hiring more folks onto their group. It's a sustained effort in this space. So it really will come down to how you create a lifecycle that empowers and enables all of these different pieces.

We're learning a lot as we go through and continue to drive hard on this work. One of the things that we've been doing is really looking at how we share a lot of that. We ourselves learn a lot from collaborations with other partners, with other people; and the way that we keep doing that is through some of the websites. So we've been starting to put a lot of our resources online so that we can share all of the different approaches, programs, strategies, products. All the information on Office 365 is linked from there. We're separating it by disability type.

For those who remember our old website, we are decommissioning that soon where everything is moving to Microsoft.com/accessibility. Making sure that is also a best practice for us (audio break) website design, particularly around inclusive hiring, was to be very transparent about what we're doing.

We're not perfect by any way, shape or form. We learn daily on the things that we can do to improve the experience. One of those just even in the last couple of months has been working alongside with Seattle Lighthouse for the Blind here in Redmond, where we have about 50,000 staff. We've had a bunch of great folks at DI joining different departments at Microsoft, but making sure that our shuttle service was really good, dropping people off at the same points in every building – we have nearly 100 buildings here – and training each one of those shuttle drivers on how to work with someone who may be visually impaired, who may have any kind of disability. What's the appropriate language? What's the appropriate protocol? How do you respond to certain questions that we know that folks are going to have.

So those kind of learnings at a micro level blow up into bigger programs that we can move forward. So we're putting all of that best practice onto our inclusive hiring site, which includes accommodations and, again, just trying to be transparent about everything – how a recruitment process works, how to self-identify because that is the most important thing to the recruitment process.

Then in terms of our products, you're going to see a lot more about our products coming through in following weeks and months as we march towards the monthly releases coming out of Office 365; and also the next wave of Windows releases next year.

As I close this up, the one thing that I wanted to end with before any questions was a video. I'll just give you the quick context on this while they set it up. The lifecycle that we're aiming to build will give us sustained durable growth in our approach to accessibility and ensuring that we deliver products and services that work for all. You've got to position disability in a different way; and I say you – I just mean we, Microsoft, and hopefully others. Disability is a strength, and it's something that if you don't have it in your company and you haven't got the right accessible inclusive environment for it, you're not going to reap the benefits. So we put this together to help get that message across.

[Video begins]

Microsoft inclusive hiring.

Microsoft's mission is to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more. We want to open doors to everyone. That includes people with disabilities. There are 1.2 billion people in the world with disabilities. These are our employees, our customers, our friends, our family. We need to empower people with disabilities to come to work as they are, everything of who they are. To go for it, whether that's building a product, a service, a website or innovating something crazy that's going to reimagine the future for people with disabilities.

People with disabilities have amazing skills. People with disabilities are a strength for this company. We need talent that really understands accessibility to drive innovation.

Microsoft is a place where you can be who you are every day, and being who you are is the best skill that any of us can have. To learn more, go to www.Microsoft.com/inclusivehiring.

[Closing music]

There we go, folks. That's my quick overview. I think we have time for questions if there are any.

Great, thank you, Jenny.

Q&A

Pardon us, folks, for the spotty video. That's an Adobe issue, not a Microsoft problem; but we will have our links up to the deck and the video so you can watch it again later as well. Thank you.

I want to encourage folks to use the Chat function. We have time with Jenny for a few more minutes, and we can take some questions. I see there is one that came through now. It says: "Is Microsoft looking at ways to branch out in hiring those with intellectual/developmental disabilities, or would that be more a case-by-case process through hiring?"

Actually, there is already a program. I think if I take a step up, the whole hiring approach is really threefold. There are other little hiring programs, but let me talk about the three big ones. One is the autism program, which is the dedicated program. Another is how we look at the broad improvements needed across the whole spectrum of disability, and making that easier to access and get information on. The third actually is our Supported Employment Program, which is in Puget Sound right now. It's up in Seattle. It doesn't rain here all the time, just some.

We had a target of hiring 200 folks with IDD into vendor positions here at Microsoft to work on all of our kitchens and yards and mail are outsourced, so seven partners that we work with in the Seattle area. So we hit 200; we hit that goal. We found that the attrition number was – I need to check the actual statistics to where we landed at final, but it was around 1%, which was unbelievable. That attrition rate is significantly higher in other areas, so just a big success and now looking at next steps with that.

Awesome, and kind of as a follow up -- and then I'll circle back to another question I see: "For those individuals, autistic individuals, are they looking to hire outside of programming to areas such as design, finance or legal that you're aware of?"

Yes, that's already part of it. There were certain roles – and just looking at the resumes, when we first put out this program, we put it out as a very tentative blog saying, hey, we're planning to do something on Autism Awareness Day last April. Within a couple of weeks, we had 800 resumes in our mailbox and an insane number of media request as well, which we turned down at the time. We didn't have a lot to talk to, and we don't generally talk about stuff until we have a lot to talk to.

We had a huge bucket of resumes. A lot of them came into the developer and engineer sector, which is where we went. Now, we still continue to look at roles way outside that. We've got folks that are in data science, folks that are support roles, there's paralegal. It's a variety of different roles. Microsoft is a very big company, and we can expect to continue that.

Great, thank you. Another question about how does Microsoft encourage or doesn't encourage employees to self-identify, and what is Microsoft saying is a benefit if an employee chooses to do that or maybe doesn't choose? I wonder if you could speak to that at all.

Yeah, self-identification is something I very strongly believe in. That's not to – I speak to that from personal experience, and I also don't want to disregard how tough it is to self-identify. When I joined 12 years ago, I shared with my hiring manager that I had hearing loss. I didn't share with him that I couldn't hear speech and I was severely, profoundly deaf. I didn't share with him that I needed captioning or interpreting. I didn't – and that was all on me. It was my history and worries that contributed to that, and it meant that honestly I hit some obstacles really heavy and really fast.

Because I was in a role that demanded lots of actions and speeches and languages and fast-paced company, I didn't believe I was capable. I wasn't set up for success, and it really just took a lot of conversation with the right people to get me on the straight and narrow. That was my experience, and that's personal. We all have a personal journey with self-identification.

I now firmly believe if I could go back and change time, I would have honestly stated what I needed to be successful. I wouldn't have guessed my way through those interviews. They're never going to know, right? My deafness is invisible; my deafness is deceptive.

With others, that's a journey you have to tread down. The benefit to you in self-identification is that you are set up for success from the get-go. We treat disability as a strength in this company. You're interviewed; your job should never be about whether or not you have what you need to be successful in that room. It's about really the toughness of the topic they've got to talk about.

I don't walk into a room now worried about whether I have an interpreter or captioning set up. I know that it is, and my manager -- because it's centralized accommodations that's paid for by HR – my manager never sees how expensive I am; and I'm worth it by the way.

So I do really believe that self-identification is the right route to go, and I appreciate the difficulties. It's a tough one. There are a lot of disabilities that are still in the closet in some ways. I hope over time that changes because diversity is big. We need that talent, and we need that understanding to help us as we go forward.

Thank you for sharing that with the individual and the organizational slant to that. I have a question around accessible workplace technology and how this fits into the inclusion of people with disabilities in the workplace. What is Microsoft doing both maybe from a product perspective, or even internally, to make sure that the software that people have is as accessible as possible so that employees can do their job?

Yeah, I think that clearly I mentioned some of the products which we all use as an employee. We all use PowerPoint, Outlook, Word, OneNote, Sway. These are products that we internally use all day long. So the benefit to us putting the investment into those products aren't just for customers; we reap the benefits of them internally. Your internal disability groups are as important, if not more important in some ways, if you understand how good those products are.

Our groups here are big dog fooders; and by dog food I mean testing new products, beta testing things that we do. They're often the ones that are the instigators of how to improve things and make them more usable. They're the instigators of innovation as well because it's not just about what you have every day when you sit down with your cup of coffee to do your job. It's about how we, as a company, can change the future of what's possible with technology.

So I really do believe that actually if you empower that base and you give them the access to the toolset, whether that's current or future, you'll reap the benefits in feedback. That just is another cycle that just loops back into your products.

Now, I still have to say again, we're not perfect. We've got tools that we want to improve, where the accessibility isn't what we want it to be. One of the great things about growing our base here is that you can test as much as you like; until you have a user who needs the tool, the feedback is never going to be at the right depth. You can test and test and test; but feedback from somebody who uses a screen reader every day, day in and day out, is gold dust. So I'd say our tools again are, again, getting benefit from growing the number of folks that we have in the company; and the goals that we have aren't just Office. There's Windows; there's our cloud products as well embedded in that and our website. So it's a very broad program that we're driving hard on. Does that help?

That is helpful, thank you.

We have time for another question or two maybe. I see some coming in. If you can continue to write them, we'll do our best get some shared.

Can you speak to maybe, Jenny, some of the hesitations that an organization might have around hiring people with disabilities and maybe ways to get over and beyond that? I know you talked a little bit about self-identifying, but any other things – a question came in about that.

Hesitations – I think with most things, there is a fear of the unknown. People say, well, how can I learn? I say, hire someone; you'll really fast. I mean, that is the ultimate flippant advice that I give. I do think that there is fear, and education can assist a lot. Here we had mandated training across the company on accessibility issues this year. The whole of the global employee base took training on accessibility.

We also have a lot of training on 101 and etiquette and language and all the really simple, simple common sense things. For me, as someone who is deaf, I know never to call someone mute; but depending on your education and your background in your country, that might not be inherently known. So we teach on everything from the basics right through to how is that tool going to work for that individual.

Then it's about empowering the individual to speak up. I see another question on here about the challenge of making a work environment. I do think you have to empower folks that you bring in or are in the company or develop disability to advocate for what they need without any concerns or worries. It's always hard to put up your hand and say this doesn't work for me; but if you don't put up your hand, you're never going to get what you need to be successful. The only person who will lose out is you. So that's part culture though; I mean you've got to grow that.

I do think there are a lot of unknowns; and I think education, training, open mind, right away from basics all the way through are really important. Some of our training that we've been doing internally – again, in the spirit of one of our values is transparency – we do want to share that over time. We're working on a plan to get that out in the near future.

Great, thank you.

Conclusion

Well, we need to wrap up for time. I will say to folks I think next year our PEAT Talks are going to be a little longer so we can have more Q&A.

Before we leave, I wanted to ask maybe, Jenny or Will, if you can, are you able to write the URL for the video in the Chat box? We're going to add it to the link on our website for people. If you're able to put it in the Chat box, that would be great.

Otherwise, I want to thank you, Jenny, so much for today, for being a part of PEAT and our think tank in general. Also for the advocacy that you do in the field all the time and the energy that you bring, it's contagious and I think really makes a difference.

If it's okay, Josh, we'll make sure all the links – there are two Twitter handles for those that are tweeters. There's Microsoft (@MSFTEnable). In fact, they've been live tweeting while this is being recorded. You'll find mine out there as well. Mine is [JennyLayFluffy] – no giggling allowed. We'll make sure that all the links are up on Twitter later on today.

Awesome because it's a great video, and I'm sorry we had it clunky. Thank you again, thanks so much.

Thanks for everyone who joined us today. I do want to make a plug. Next month, we have another webinar. We're putting out some resources that are really focused on implementing accessible workplace technology. We'll have Gian Wild from Accessibility Oz, who is going to cover how to ensure that website images are both accessible and usable for people with disabilities. So if you're interested in some hands-on knowledge about how to make that possible, please join us.

Otherwise, a big special thanks to Jenny for speaking with us today and all of you who took the time to join, and I hope you enjoy the rest of your afternoon. Thanks so much.