This blog is provided by the IPR Center for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

As part of a collaboration between The Harkin Institute for Public Policy & Citizen Engagement and Voya Financial, we are sharing a paper that explores the connection between competitive, integrated employment for persons with disabilities and creating long-term value for companies, investors and society.

Entitled Disability Inclusion and Long-Term Value Creation, the paper provides an actionable roadmap for how the environment, social, and governance (ESG) frameworks used by investors can help companies and organizations to better utilize the talents of employees with disabilities. Better employment outcomes for persons with disabilities can allow companies to access a market in excess of 3.4 billion people, helping to innovate cutting-edge products, and solve some of society’s most pressing challenges.

For the Institute for Public Relations (IPR) audience, anecdotal results observed by Voya over a five-year period indicate that disability inclusion – presented authentically and genuinely – within communications, branding and marketing contributes to improved stakeholder perceptions. An IPR research project on this topic is currently underway.

Investors Positioned to be Advocates for Disability Inclusion
Investors can be effective champions for competitive, integrated employment for persons with disabilities across the private sector by equipping themselves with relevant and impactful information and data. Through ESG frameworks, many investors are on the forefront of engaging with companies on how they are recruiting, mentoring and retaining skilled talent.

Rather than passively accepting information provided by companies, investors are having direct conversations with board members and senior executives. Many investment firms have teams of analysts whose job is to sift through vast amounts of information about companies, industry trends and market opportunities. That research then forms the basis of direct conversations between senior members of the investment firm and C-suite executives and board members of companies. Summing up the approach and the mindset of investors, Cheryl Smith, a U.S. equity portfolio manager with Trillium Asset Management said, “We’re performing deep fundamental analysis to seek to find the best companies and challenging those companies to do better.”

Engagement with the most senior leadership – the C-suite and boards of directors – of companies on disability inclusion can be of vital importance to achieve competitive, integrated employment. Executive leadership sets the vision and expectations for the entire organization. Middle management – often the ones who hire and manage people and their work on a day-to-day basis – follow the lead of executive management. Therefore, together, the investors and the executives create the opportunity for competitive, integrated employment, while middle management makes an inclusive work environment a reality. Middle managers lead the hiring decisions, decide on compensation and promotion, and ensure that employees have the tools and resources needed to excel in their responsibilities.

Helping Investors Engage on ESG and Disability Inclusion
When investors engage companies on ESG issues, they increasingly want to see a connection between ESG, the company’s long-term business strategy, and the steps in place for that strategy to be realized. Initially, the engagement could be on a broad level, focused on topics such as:

  • Does the company have a dedicated ESG strategy?
  • Is ESG strategy part of the agenda for board meetings?
  • Is there a dedicated team overseeing ESG?
  • What is the connection between ESG, the purpose of the business, and long-term value creation?
  • What is the connection between ESG and enterprise risk management?

Over time, there is an opportunity for the ESG engagement to become specific to disability inclusion. In that stage of the engagement process, investors can ask questions such as:

  • Is disability inclusion part of the company’s ESG strategy?
  • Is disability inclusion on the board agenda?
  • Who on the executive team has direct oversight of creating a diverse and inclusive workforce?
  • What metrics are used to measure progress towards competitive, integrated employment?
  • Does the company have a strategy to broaden its appeal to the global disability market?
  • Are there brand, reputational, and bottom-line risks posed to the company by not focusing on competitive, integrated employment and creating products that meet the needs of the global disability market?

However, the reality is that currently few investors are in a position to use their engagement efforts to be effective advocates for disability inclusion. A reoccurring theme in interviews for Disability Inclusion and Long-Term Value Creation is the lack of awareness among investors about the connection between ESG, business value, and competitive, integrated employment. In research for the paper, investors expressed the need for educating them about the value proposition of disability inclusion and why it must be part of their ESG agenda. Investors generally expressed support for greater disability inclusion; they are looking for companies that they invest in to take action and be transparent.

Collaborating with Investors to Achieve Competitive, Integrated Employment
Disability Inclusion and Long-Term Value Creation outlines a series of actionable steps that the disability community and its allies can take to help prepare investors to engage with companies on the intersection of ESG and competitive, integrated employment. Examples of the steps include:

  • Broadening the coalition of organizations acting in support of competitive, integrated employment.
  • Creating better, more actionable data to be used by investors, policymakers, and the disability community to drive competitive, integrated employment in the private sector.
  • Developing more-effective metrics to measure the progress of disability inclusion in the workforce.
  • Encouraging companies to use their purchasing power in global supply chains to advance competitive, integrated employment.
  • Working with executives to better understand both the nature of disability in their company and what a more-inclusive workforce looks like.

The disability community cannot expect investors to take up the cause of competitive, integrated employment on their own. Disability Inclusion and Long-Term Value Creation also provides a roadmap to foster better collaboration between the disability community, investors and the private sector to help permanently change the nature of our workforce and create lasting value for everyone.

To further illustrate the need for urgent action, according to the U.S. Labor Department, the May labor force participation rate for people with disabilities was 23% — compared to 68% for people without disabilities — an alarming difference that should be troubling to everyone.

For an IPR audience, whose profession collaborates with Investor Relations and other corporate functions to protect, preserve and enhance corporate reputation – and the character of the brand – Disability Inclusion and Long-Term Value Creation can provide an important, timely and valuable perspective with which to do our jobs effectively.


Return on Disability, Insights. (2014). The disability market is larger than China and is emerging as other markets have in the past—1.85 billion people and $1.9 trillion in annual disposable income.

Office of Disability Employment Policy. (2022). Disability Employment Statistics.

2019 Voya Copy Test, Kantar, August 2019; 2020 Voya Copy Test, August 2020; Voya social media post comments, Q1 2021.

Gillani, K. and Smith, C.I. (2017). Active engagement: how top ESG managers make a difference. John Hancock Investment Management.

Office of Disability Employment Policy. (2022). Disability Employment Statistics.

Robert (Bob) Ludke is the Founder of Ludke Consulting and a Fellow of The Harkin Institute for Public Policy and Citizen Engagement. Over his career, he has advised policymakers in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, taught at the United States International University in Nairobi, Kenya, and provided counsel on sustainability, social impact, and ESG strategies for companies in the retail, oil, and gas, transportation, and finance industries.


Paul J. Gennaro is an IPR Trustee and senior vice president, Brand and Corporate Communications, and chief brand and communications officer for Voya Financial (NYSE: VOYA). Mr. Gennaro oversees internal and external communications, brand, advertising, research and consumer insights, meetings and events for Voya. He is a strategic advisor to senior management, protecting the company’s reputation with stakeholders. He also serves in a chief of staff capacity, managing Voya’s Executive Committee and Enterprise Leadership Team (ELT).

Heidy Modarelli handles Growth & Marketing for IPR. She has previously written for Entrepreneur, TechCrunch, The Next Web, and VentureBeat.
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