Future of Work Podcast, Episode 19.
In celebration of the ADA, Frances West joined PEAT to discuss how companies can use inclusion in their business to drive disruptive innovation. Frances formerly served as IBM’s first Chief Accessibility Officer and is the founder of FrancesWestCo.
This podcast is developed in partnership with Workology.com as part of PEAT’s Future of Work series, which works to start conversations around how emerging workplace technology trends are impacting people with disabilities.
Intro: [00:00:00] Welcome to the Workology Podcast, a podcast for the disruptive workplace leader. Join host Jessica Miller Merrill, founder of Workology Dot com, as she sits down and guest to the bottom of trends, tools and case studies for the business leader, H.R. and recruiting professional who is tired of the status quo. Now here’s Jessica with this episode of Workology.
Jessica: [00:00:26] The world is moving quickly and changes are happening in the way we live and work. Fueled by technology and combined with a new awareness, we are more conscious of other types of people and lifestyles of our fellow citizens who are not just citizens of the United States, but of Earth. Our responsibilities as business leaders and H.R. is to create workplaces that are inclusive, and many of us struggle with how to get started and how to get the executive support to make that happen. This podcast is sponsored by Clear Company and it is part of our Future of Work series in partnership with PEAT. They are the partnership, unemployment and accessible technology. Today, I’m joined by Frances West. Frances West is an internationally recognized thought leader, keynote speaker, strategy advisor and women in technology executive. Frances has held many global executive positions from marketing sales to business development and strategic partner management. She was IBM’s first chief accessibility officer and received an honorary doctor of Science Degree from the University of Massachusetts in Boston for her work and accessible research and digital inclusion.
Jessica: [00:01:43] Frances, welcome to the Workology podcast.
Frances: [00:01:46] Well, thank you very much, Jessica.
Jessica: [00:01:48] I’m so excited to have you on the podcast nerding at a little bit. You have so much information, I think that you can share it to our audience. But before we kind of dive into the work that you’ve been doing. Can you tell us a little bit about your background?
Frances: [00:02:07] Well, actually, I start with a little bit of a personal background. I’m actually a first generation Chinese immigrant, born in Taiwan, raised in Hong Kong. And I came to this country. Sophomore year in colleges as an exchange student. And I just love the freedom of to pursue anything I can and decided to stay in the U.S.. And when I graduated from college, I had this good fortune to join a great company, truly authentic company, IBM. So I started my my job with IBM right out of college. And for the next 30 plus years, I helped many different positions start all you. Yeah, well, we called the mainframe sales kind of a position all the way through until my last job, which like you mention, was IBM, the chief accessibility officer. But during the 30 plus years, it’s been a very, very interesting and very rewarding journey. So I think that journey brought me here today.
Jessica: [00:03:19] Well, let’s talk a little bit about your book, which is called Authentic Inclusion Drives Digital Disruption. Can you talk to us first about what authentic inclusion is?
Frances: [00:03:28] Actually is authentic included, drives disruptive innovation. So it is a book that’s written for C suite and also for board members, because I feel very strongly that the topic with inclusion has been talked about a lot, but in many cases is far more from the H.R. perspective. And I really wanted to shift the perspective and for especially the senior leaders at any institution to understand that diversity is really the core of driving disruptive innovation, which is really the kind of the first idea. And the second thing is that I really want to push forward, especially in the tech industry, that we are at a point where the technology has evolved to such extend that we really have to think human first and that you really have to design with a human and with human in the process. And last but last but not the least, is that we have to think about aligning the humanities value along with, you know, companies pursuit of profit, which means that you really have to think about principle and also purpose so that you can have a sustained business. So that kind of made up the definition of authentic inclusion when I think of inclusion or diversity.
Jessica: [00:04:51] I don’t often associate that with technology. Can you talk to us about how a little bit more about maybe how authentic inclusion ties directly to that?
Frances: [00:05:02] Yeah. Well, this essentially one of the kind of self discovery almost when I took on the job as IBM. I had this ability at the time. I really knew very little about disability or disability or to some extent some of the human resources. Issues of, for example, Tallinn and employment. I was really a complete technologist first and foremost. But this job of a digital inclusion or accessibility gave me the insight that as we evolve as a society, because technology’s underpinning everything we do, when we talk about the topic, we inclusion, we actually have to think about technology at the same time, because if you think about human first, every human naturally act differently. And if you go by gender, for example, men and women, you know, use, you know, different kinds of technology. They use technology differently. And then if you kind of extend that beyond to say, let’s say person who is aging or a person with a disabilities. So this very diverse straw swap of people all have different experiences and then therefore have a different capabilities and therefore will require different technologies. So I think as we go into a technology driven world, technology has to be part of the inclusion discussion, not just discussion, but has to be underpinning that, the inclusion initiative.
Jessica: [00:06:44] I think this is pretty innovative because a lot of people are focused like on terms like the employee experience or is you’re talking about the human experience and human first. But they don’t they think of, I guess, maybe kind of face to face or traditional sort of human interaction. They don’t associate that with technology. But I think about how much I use technology every day, and probably you do, too. It makes sense that people use technology in very different ways.
Frances: [00:07:12] Yeah, I think we. You agree that I mean, we are actually connecting very different way in the old days. You know, face to face is the primary means. And then it was through letters, you know, and now, of course, for example, social media. I mean, you could be just you and I are talking we actually being collaborating with. But we have never met each other. It’s all made possible through technology. And so so therefore, one I really have to think about, is this technology usable, for example, for everybody, everybody who want to participate in, let’s say, this kind of a discussion. Right. If I’m deaf or I’m blind or my cut, if I’m cognitive challenge, can I also have access? So that’s actually the underpinning to me of the new way of thinking about inclusion or maybe inclusion 2.0 is what I call a T plus T. It’s has to be about talon or human. But then on the other hand, has to be technology.
Jessica: [00:08:11] I like that the mindset is focused on on inclusion first and building technology or selecting technology to for everyone. And then by default, those that don’t need accessible technologies or tools will be satisfied, correct? Absolutely. How do emerging technologies like artificial intelligence play into authentic inclusion?
Frances: [00:08:38] I think the are artificial intelligence. This is a very exciting area because if we do it right, it really can help augment some of the more. I would say mundane task is just like, you know, we are now. Some people will call it, you know, Industrial Revolution 4.0, where the technology can begin to, you know, help simplify or in many cases increase the productivity of human because the technology has been trained to think like human or act like human. I mean, we’re seeing the first generation of that through, for example, the, you know, école or, you know, some of these home assistant devices. But at the same time, just if you look at the word artificial intelligence. Right. So it’s trying to mimic human intelligence. So on one hand, we have to be very mindful of that definition of the intelligence and what kind of intelligence, because all the technology by itself. They don’t exist is still through the programming of a human. That’s why the input of the intelligence programming has to be diverse, has to, you know, have a different kind of think about it as, you know, different thinking pattern or different nuance of interpretation that all has to be built into the artificial intelligence. Otherwise, we really risk the what we call the bias, you know, kind of a scenario where the future artificial intelligence will be making decisions based on perhaps very one sided or maybe very odd on the intentions. But prejudice, prejudicial kind of a point of view.
Jessica: [00:10:29] We’ve started to see some of that. I was just talking about Amazon and they’re sourcing quite a matching technology that they built in 2014, but that technology started to source and qualify talent based on the algorithm, the data that they put in that it was predominantly male.
Frances: [00:10:48] Correct , even the verbiage, you know, use of words like could potentially be what they call the semantic can be potentially bias or even discriminatory. Now, again, I don’t think any of the technology is intentionally want to do that, but they don’t know what they don’t. Oh, so so that’s why the call to action, especially now when we talk about inclusion, it’s not just about employee relationship. We really have to think about, you know, what is inclusion meaning in the technology construct? Because the technology underpinning in the workplace will affect everything that a talent or a person or a human will do in the workplace and beyond.
Jessica: [00:11:38] I wanted to you to talk about some of the work that you’ve been doing with the United Nations focused in this area. Can you kind of talk about the differences maybe you’re seeing in how countries are approaching A.I. and inclusion?
Frances: [00:11:51] Sure. Yeah. I actually started getting involved with the United Nations backing into a 0 5 on the eve of the U.S. United Nations signing or signing of the U.N. Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities. So it’s been quite a interesting journey to see how a body like the United Nations really kind of gone out and pull all the countries. I think right now, the last count there, over one hundred seventy two countries has signed up to uphold the UN Convention on the Rights of People Disability. So COPD in this case is is a treaty that really promote that you quality of, especially in this case of people with disabilities. And what I see in the U.N. action is that the reason they pass this treaty, they really feel that this is a societal and global topic, just like environment, like the Green Movement, which was also, you know, originally initiated and organized by U.N.. So now we just passed the 12th year of the C.R. PD, the Convention on Rights, People, Disabilities. And what I see is you have countries beyond United States really taking a very strong and very focused approach to digital inclusion, even though twelve years ago the CPD actually based on American Disability Act and you look at Europe, for example, you have zero project coming out of Austria and then you have valuable 500 coming out of. Caroline Casey, who’s basing Ireland. And last year I was invited to China because they had their first industry based accessibility to digital inclusion conference. So we see that around the world, perhaps due to the U.N. conventions work. But the countries are realizing that digital inclusion is not just a feel good kind of initiative. And there also is not just a legislative mandate like what we have hearing a D.A., because it translate into a certain kind of legal actions in countries like China. They don’t really have a D.A., but they recognize that this is actually very important, is that economic issue is a societal issue. And in this case, a society harmonious society issue. That’s why they’re taking a very strong and very focused actions.
Jessica: [00:14:25] One of the key points I took from your book is that authentic inclusion is a top down initiative. You talked about your audience being board of directors, board members and CEOs. My question to you is how do we get the personal commitment from our senior leadership to incorporate inclusion into our business strategies?
Frances: [00:14:46] The best way to get to the senior executive. This actually came from my property, probably my former sales experience to say you kind of have to meet them where they are. Right, because they are people who are really focused on creating, for example, a value for multiple stakeholders, employees, shareholders and all that. And so one really has to kind of articulate the value proposition of the topic. For example, like inclusion in the context of where their mindset is. And. And so that’s one of the reason I actually feel, not just feel, but I’ve witnessed and and I truly believe that inclusion in this case is directly tied to innovation. And I think every CEO, every board of directors actually think about innovation as one of their top priorities, because innovation is what keeps business going. Not just going, but differentiate the business. Innovation is something that helps, too. It helps to acquire, you know, new marketshare. Innovation help to drive, you know, employee kind of participation. So I think it’s time that we really look at inclusion and and and change. The understanding with inclusion far more often are just an H.R. initiative over to a innovation perspective. If we can engage the executive level thinking in the way that they think about the business. Then we have a much better chance of getting their attention. And in this case, not just kind of, you know, kind of feel good attention, but authentic attention and actions.
Break: [00:16:43] Let’s take a reset. This is Jessica Miller Merrill. And you’re listening to the work also podcast today. We are talking with Frances West about authentic inclusion. This podcast is sponsored by Claire Company and it is part of our Future Work series in partnership with PEAT. The Partnership, Unemployment and Accessible Technology. This episode has been sponsored by Claire Company, a complete talent management software provider. Claire Company Software Solutions include award winning, applicant tracking, onboarding and performance management solutions. Power retain and engage more top talent with Clear Company.
Jessica: [00:17:19] I want to go back to your book. Talk to me a bit about your framework to creating an inclusive environment that is focused on technology. How can people get started and not be overwhelmed?
Frances: [00:17:29] Well, I think this is one of those things actually. You can start actually. You don’t want to start very big, the whole thing. LDC, my view of inclusion is actually to first to make sure you really have the intention. Right. So I actually have like a kind of a six steps process that I always ask either my clients or people who are interesting operationalizing inclusion. Is that first? Can you really point to a very senior in this case, ideally the CE CEO that really not just understand but embrace this topic at the top? Right. So the first E’s embrace and then can you envision. Can you articulate in your view or your organization, institution view? What is the strategy to do that? Can you envision it? So that’s the second need. And then once you can envision and articulate your strategy, then the third E, which is in list that comes in, meaning then you need to have a team.
Frances: [00:18:42] You can you have to decide, for example, where do you start? Where do you start with? For example, your product development and you start with your marketing. Do you start with your innovation research? So this the team that can really come together and then the fourth E is to enable. Right. Then you need to have different kind of education, different kind of training to help people understand what is the new or inclusion 2.0. In my case, I call it, you know, means, you know, are you involved in your CTO? The CIO is in the discussion and then you want to execute. And then last but not the least, you want to ensure meaning you want to have measurement in place, because I truly believe that in order for inclusion to be operationalize, it has to be viewed as a business imperative. And if it is a business imperative, then you need to have metrics that you actually track, you follow and you adjust, you know, up and down, you know, sideways so that it gets gets the same kind of attention as same kind of, frankly, measurement. Just like any other initiatives. So it’s it’s actually start with a mindset. And then in this situation, it depends on where the organization is and where do they want to go. Then we can take pieces in and begin to build all the framework.
Jessica: [00:20:09] The week this podcast goes live is the week of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Twenty ninth anniversary. We have come so far, and yet we have so far to go. Can you talk to us about what you’re reflecting on for the 88 anniversary?
Frances: [00:20:23] Sure. Atul? I was at the White House in the South Lawn, I think during the 20th anniversary, and and I was just thinking about that the other day, I think nine years ago, at least for me as a technologist at that time, you know, we were spending a lot of our time and resources thinking about how to make the web more sensible. And also that was a beginning or introduction of the kind of a national video captioning acts or we’re thinking about with all the video coming online. You know, how do we how do we caption? And then five years later, I mean, about in the mid 20, 15 time frame, mobile just went wild. Right now, mobile devices like iPhone using everybody’s hand.
Frances: [00:21:15] So I look at the ADA journey and I look at what the technology journey is coming has been. And I just again, you just further reinforce this point of view that we have push. I mean, we have 88 was started as a humanity, kind of a human act or human focused legislation. And we have to be very mindful as technologists moving. And of course, today you see that all kinds of discussion about privacy, security and accessibility has to be part of it. And I think you will see more and more this kind of a convergence of legislation on the humanities side, such as A D.A. and also on the technology side. So that means that we actually have a huge opportunity in front of us, especially for professionals in the H.R. business. You know, I think that exciting times ahead of us, because technology cannot come to new or be really be responsible without the participation of human first. So this interaction, the collaboration between human resources and technologists is going to become even more important.
Jessica: [00:22:32] Perfect. I also wanted to ask you, do you see any policy changes on the horizon that maybe our podcast listeners should be aware of?
Frances: [00:22:41] Yeah, there’s all kinds of legislation in this case. Many cases actually is a push from the legislative kind of. I want to say I don’t want to use the war kind of a penalty, but but it is more of a kind of enforcement, you know, or compliance based legislation coming out week. Everybody’s aware of the, you know, at least in the US, you know, section five away, which is a procure federal procurement act that is actually triggering into many leading states, whether it’s the state of Massachusetts or California. Meaning that when a state or federal government, when they procure goods and services, one of the first thing they’re going to check is to see whether it’s accessible or not. And if it’s not, you know, your company could lose the opportunity over revenue. So and then also there is a section I think it’s five fold for where there’s aspiration goal that companies expected to hire, I think is seven point five percent of employees to be a to say two to be people with disabilities, similar kind of kind of accessibility acts being pushed out in Europe. We also saw Canadian government pursuing the same thing.
Frances: [00:24:03] I know in China, in Japan, in Brazil, all these countries are beginning to, you know, establishes the similar, in some cases even more stringent legislation. So I think as the H.R. professionals be very mindful, this is quickly moving beyond just say, employee engagement or a recruitment topic. This is actually could potentially direct not potentially we know it will affect the bottom line of business. So it’s very important. Our, you know, H.R. professional get very creative in a proactive in engaging the technologists in this discussion and making sure your companies product policies and also your employment policies is is truly, in this case, authentically inclusive, because if not, there will be consequences.
Jessica: [00:25:02] So in order to stay ahead of the curve, talk to the technologists, learn from them. Do you have any other advice or suggestions for for H.R. leaders to be able to stay ahead and really be able to walk the talk when it comes to an authentic inclusion?
Frances: [00:25:19] Well, I would just say that I really want to encourage H.R. I know some H.R. professions and they. They get a little kind of a timid, you know, when it comes to technology or thinking that technologists, you know, technologies is just a kind of a you know, it’s so different from their day to day. But I can tell you that the reason I’m here still pushing this, not this inclusion agenda after my career with IBM and also why I wrote the book, if I trace back, it was because to H.R. professor and the IBM fundamentally transform my thinking and my view of the world in one person is I’m going to call her out, you know, Milly, Debbie and she was are people with disability kind of a support program manager? And what she taught me about what technology means to people with disabilities was so profound it changed my life. And another person is still with IBM right now, even if lawyer based in Belgium. He taught me how to think about using technology to enable our employees around the world. So in this case, he really challenged me and my team to build the right system to support in this case accommodation of all employees, whether they are in in New York City or they’re in Bangalore, India. And to think that as scale how a technology system can support everybody without any disparity 24/7, it’s actually the H.R. profession that gave me the big challenge. But then at the same time transformed me. So the H.R. profession had that kind of power at their in their hands. So they just have to use it.
Jessica: [00:27:14] Well, Frances, thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me and share some insights. Where can people go to learn more about you and what you do?
Frances: [00:27:24] Well, the best places to go to my Web site. Frances West dot co. Not dot com, but dot co also can follow me on Twitter. My twitter hand Twitter handle is F West 3 4. I also publish blogs on LinkedIn. I’m just, you know, Frances West on Linked In and I. Forward to really continue this discussion with the audience.
Jessica: [00:27:52] Absolutely. Thank you again. It’s been great. Thank you.
Closing: [00:27:56] The Workology Podcast Future of Work series is supported by PEAT, the Partnership on Employment and Accessible Technology. PEAT’s initiative is to foster collaboration and action around accessible technology in the workplace. PEATr’s funded by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy. Odep. Learn more about PEAT and PEAT works dot org. That’s PEAT w o r.k. s dot org.
Jessica: [00:28:25] We need to start with an inclusion first mindset serving all employees. Technology is Frances talked about is an important part of that. I love her focus on educating executives and board members on the importance of having an inclusive business combined with the fact that it was to H.R. leaders who helped inspire her in her work on inclusion and accessibility. I will link to Frances’s Twitter, LinkedIn and her Web site. FrancesWestCo. On the transcript of this podcast on work ology dot com. The Future of Work series is in partnership with PEAT. And this interview in particular is one of my favorites. Thank you to PEAT as well as our podcast sponsor. As always, we love you. Please support them. Clear Company.
Closing: [00:29:10] Production Services for the Workology podcast with Jessica Miller. Merrell provided by Total Picture Dot.com.