I first came across the author of this book by hearing him being interviewed on radio. Randy Lewis talked about his son, Austin, and Austin’s struggle with autism, and how much Austin taught Randy about love and life. And about the value that all kinds of disabled people bring to society. His experiences with Austin inspired him to explore the issue of inclusion in the workplace, and he set himself a seemingly impossible target of employing 200 disabled people within the 600 people needed in a new distribution facility at Walgreen’s, where he worked.
This is, of course, a subject very close to my heart, so I made contact with Randy and immediately ordered a copy of his book “No Greatness Without Goodness” which tells the whole amazing story.
My experience tells me that people who have some personal relationship with disability (either being disabled themselves, or having a disabled friend or relative) tend to be the most motivated to make the world a more inclusive place, and Randy was clearly strongly influenced by his experiences of watching his amazing son grow up.
The first part of the book revolves around Austin, and the journey his parents embarked on once he was diagnosed with Autism. They had a steep learning curve, and were supported by family and friends and experts, but it seems the greatest teacher of all was Austin himself.
One of the key learnings for Randy was how important it is for disabled people to be able to contribute and participate in society and in the workplace in the same way as everyone else. The second part of the book takes the reader through a very honest journey of an attempt to “mainstream” disabled people into the workplace. In this case the workplace was Walgreen’s – one of the largest and fastest growing retailers in America. Randy visited other organisations who had worked on inclusion, and decided that Walgreen’s would be ideal.
His position held a degree of power, and he believes that “what’s the use of having power if you don’t use it to do good?” (wouldn’t it be fantastic if every person who held power felt like that?). His goal was to create an inclusive workplace where disabled people could thrive in jobs with equal pay and conditions and be held to the same standards as non-disabled employees.
Randy describes his personal journey as moving from duty (including disabled people is the right thing to do), to compassion (the way we treat disabled people is unfair) to justice (this isn’t about charity, it’s about challenging unjust stereotypes). His anger about injustice turned into resolve – to do something positive to make a difference.
The book talks about individuals that went on to be employed in Randy’s experiment. Each employee would respond to different motivations and had different learning styles – something which is true for all employees. It was important to Randy that the disabled employees would be held to the same standards as the non-disabled employees. This resulted in four employees being sacked fairly early on in the process. However, 85% of the original disabled workers hired are still there, seven years on. A much higher retention rate than for non-disabled employees.
Walgreen’s brought in outside experts to analyse the performance of the organisations. Their findings confirm what we already know. The disabled workers performed their jobs just as well as other employees, and had less time off sick and a higher retention rate. Randy states, “One surprising finding was that deaf forklift truck drivers, whom everybody had worried about initially, had substantially fewer accidents than drivers who could hear.”
After the first distribution centre was opened in Anderson, with the 30% of disabled employees, a second distribution centre was opened in Hartford. Some years on, those distribution centres employ 40% and 50% of disabled people respectively. And those two centres became the most efficient distribution centres in the entire history of Walgreen’s. Co-incidence? I doubt it!
The overall impression of this book is that inclusion works – whichever way you look at it. Through the love of fellow man, through the drive to do the right thing, and from a purely commercial viewpoint, including disabled people as a mainstream part of the workforce is a “no-brainer”.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book, and it served to reinforce that working towards a more inclusive and accessible workforce should be high on everyone’s agenda.
Find it here at Amazon.
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