Charlotte Dales, CEO of Inclusively, discusses the potential of algorithm-based networking tools to transform how employers reach candidates with disabilities, mental health conditions, and chronic illness.


Intro: [00:00:00.21] Welcome to the Workology Podcast, a podcast for the disruptive workplace leader. Join host Jessica Miller-Merrell, founder of, as she sits down and gets to the bottom of trends, tools and case studies for the business leader, HR and recruiting professional who is tired of the status quo. Now, here’s Jessica with this episode of Workology.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:00:25.86] This episode of the Workology podcast is sponsored by ACE the HR Exam and Upskill HR. This episode is also part of our Future of Work series, powered by PEAT, the Partnership on Employment and Accessible Technology. PEAT works to start conversations around how emerging workplace technology trends are impacting people with disabilities. Today, I’m joined by Charlotte Dales. She’s an entrepreneur and visionary for impactful change. Charlotte co-founded Cake Technologies, a mobile payment app that was acquired by American Express in 2017. She also co-founded Inclusively, a professional network connecting candidates with disabilities to employers who are cultivating diverse and inclusive workplaces. Inclusively was inspired by Charlotte’s cousin, Cameron Northup, who became the first licensed esthetician in Florida with Down syndrome. Charlotte, welcome to the Workology Podcast.

Charlotte Dales: [00:01:21.55] Thank you. I’m excited to be chatting to you guys.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:01:24.60] Talk to us a little bit about your background and more about how you got involved in inclusivity and accessibility.

Charlotte Dales: [00:01:33.15] So I started out my career in finance in London and about five years in, I decided to quit my job and start a company with one of my best friends, Cake Technologies, and we ended up selling that to AMEX. And at that very same time was when my cousin became the first licensed facialist in the state of Florida with Down syndrome. And so, my cousin Cameron is undoubtedly the inspiration behind Inclusively. After getting my first facial from her, I knew this would be my next company. It was just so clear to me that the career path she has always been told her whole life was far different than what she was actually able to achieve on her own. She’d always been interested in hair and makeup and anything to do with beauty and, for a very long time, was washing and folding towels at a local salon. And of course, everyone has to start somewhere. But it seems often with disability, people view their starting point as also their ending point. And what is, what about career progression? Just like everyone else. And so, yeah, I started looking into, sort of, how can we use technology to bridge this gap between employers and candidates like Cameron to make her story more common and hopefully one day even the norm.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:02:55.29] What a great story. And I love that you’re taking inspiration from your family and people that you love and, and then building technology to help others like Cameron. That’s awesome.

Charlotte Dales: [00:03:07.20] Yeah, I think that this demographic has traditionally been served by, you know, government agencies and charities and nonprofits, which all work really hard to work with the candidate. But there’s probably a lot of efficiencies if we could scale them up, make opportunities more available.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:03:26.28] On your website, I noted this statistic: out of the 50 million working age Americans who are disabled, only 29% participate in the workforce compared to 75% without a disability. What is the piece we’re missing on the employer side?

Charlotte Dales: [00:03:44.76] I would say there’s a few things. When I first started looking into how I could help solve this problem, I was looking at, you know, how I would go about looking for a job and then what would be missing in that process if I had, you know, specific accommodations that I needed or really specific skill set. And ultimately what I found is that search criteria on mainstream job platforms really hasn’t evolved in a meaningful way. And so, the personalization that’s penetrated and pretty much disrupted every other industry, such as travel, media, et cetera, really hasn’t hit the recruitment space, which is quite ironic given that the majority of people spend their most of their time at their jobs. But without this personalization and the ability to really filter down on job opportunities, that’ll be the most likely for success. It means that, you know, people have to rely on non-profits and charities and government agencies, which all do amazing work to support candidates, but they are often incredibly fragmented and localized networks. So, this means that if employers only have access to this talent pool through a really fragmented and localized network of non-profits, it’s really hard for them to hire this demographic and scale, and so you see companies start doing what they can, which is they’ll cherry pick a couple of jobs and give them to a non-profit. And the intention there is great, but this only really further marginalizes people into specific roles and limits the amount of opportunities that are really available. So, I think what, what is missing, you know, from the employer side is a really streamlined and efficient way to access this talent pool, just like they access other talent pools and, you know, getting rid of some of the misconceptions, disability is a, you know, there’s a large spectrum and we sometimes get asked, well, what can these people actually do? And, you know, someone with a disability can do any job at your company, it just depends on what they want to do and what their capabilities are.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:05:55.19] How does your background in tech impact the way you think about disability in the workplace?

Charlotte Dales: [00:06:01.99] So I think I’m probably the first person to say that I’m not the expert in the disability industry. You know, I come from the tech background and I’m still learning so much. And I just surround myself with experts that know a lot more than I do. But I think that my background in technology and building things from the ground up really provides a different lens that maybe hasn’t traditionally been available in historically in solving this problem. I’m always thinking about how do we automate this? How do we make it more scalable? How do we make it sustainable? And really how do we make this completely mindless for the employers so that hiring talent on Inclusively is the exact same as hiring talent on other platforms? I think a lot of emphasis in the past has been around, you know, how can we upscale these candidates? How can we help them to be more attractive to companies? But 50% of the problem is on the employer side and the average hiring manager doesn’t know how to conduct an interview that’s going to be successful for someone with autism. And changing people’s culture and process can be a really hard task. And so, from a technology perspective, I’m constantly thinking, how do we get this knowledge into the hands of the people at the right time in a way that scales and can be replicated, you know, throughout the hiring industry?

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:07:32.05] I love that you mention this because this is a huge challenge, an opportunity for employers because they don’t know what they don’t know. I’ll give you an example. I have a friend and she was the head of Talent Attraction for a very large Fortune 10 company. And they brought in some interns for the summer to do some video work and they were diagnosed with autism. I think there was two that came in. And so, the first day they brought them in, here’s the lay of the land, here’s what we want you to do, we want you to work on these videos. So about three or four days later, one of the team members from my friend that was managing these interns came in and said, I have some problems with one of the employees. They are falling asleep at their desk. They’re looking like they haven’t showered. I don’t know what to do. I think we might need to let this person go. And so, my friend was like, well, let’s have a conversation with him. Let’s talk to him and figure out what’s going on. And so, through the course of conversation, what was found is that when they, they said, hey, we need you to work on these videos to the intern, they took it literally. And that was all they did for four days straight, 24 hours a day, pretty much all they did was work on this project of these videos thinking that this should be their sole focus. So, making sure that we do have resources and tools and training for employees and managers to have access to, so that they can have these kinds of conversations or be equipped to have these kinds of conversations is really important because the way we work is all very different.

Charlotte Dales: [00:09:17.11] Exactly. And I think the way these sort of annual diversity trainings are great to bring awareness, but if you really want to drive change in action, it needs to be, you know, consistent. And, and hiring managers, just as you highlighted, they need to have experiences that are timely and relevant so that they can create learnings and continue on the journey and not just be required to take an annual diversity training and then think, OK, that was great, now what? Like, where do I find people? How do I source them? And, you know, everyone’s different, not just disability or not. You know, everyone’s going to have certain things that make them more or less comfortable just in an interview process. And how could we, you know, modulize that and make it so that interviews are personalized to every single person?

Break: [00:10:09.94] Let’s take a reset. This is Jessica Miller-Merrell, and you were listening to the Workology Podcast sponsored by Upskill HR and ACE the HR Exam. Today we are talking with Charlotte Dales about technology and the disability employment gap. This podcast is part of our Future of Work series with PEAT, the Partnership on Employment and Accessible Technology.

Break: [00:10:30.76] 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. PEAT is funded by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy, ODEP. Learn more about PEAT at That’s