For many people, work can be stressful. Between the deadlines, meetings, presentations and other responsibilities to be managed, the professional world can be tough to navigate. And it can be made that much harder for people who suffer from a disability.
Alan Grantham ’05 knows how that is. And in his organization, he’s working to make it a little easier.
Grantham is executive director of leveraged finance at Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation (SMBC) and co-head of the Recruitment and Workforce Committee for UNIQUE, a program that focuses on engaging people in the workplace to both understand and support those with disabilities.
“What is important to understand is not all disabilities come in the same size, shape or form. Education and awareness are key components to ensuring we as a firm have the appropriate accommodations and level of empathy to foster a safe, healthy, and productive workplace,” Grantham says.
Disabilities impact one in four adults – roughly 61 million Americans, according to the CDC. And not all of them are readily apparent to others.
Grantham says he noticed that some staff members were under the impression that disabilities were strictly physical, whereas there are many disabilities that you cannot see. “We cannot effect change if we do not work on self-development. UNIQUE offers a variety of programming to positively impact our company culture and inclusivity resulting in an elevated level of involvement across the firm.”
In addition to raising awareness among team members, UNIQUE also seeks to determine how the workplace might be made accessible for all employees. And it works to create an environment where employees feel secure in talking about their disabilities. “[The program] has led to a lot of our employees themselves saying, ‘Hey, you know what? I didn’t disclose it when I joined, but I suffer from this [disability] and this is how you can help me have a better experience.’ And that, for me, has been the most impactful transformation,” Grantham says.
As organizations work to become more inclusive, Grantham says he’s proud of the work UNIQUE is doing. But, he adds, there is more work ahead. “There are still areas in which unconscious biases impact individuals,” he says. “In a world where technology is rapidly driving change and information flow, we must be conscious of what messages we are putting out there.”
As an executive at SMBC, Grantham says he’s mindful about messaging. He says others should be as well.
“At most companies, the culture is heavily predicated on what we hear from the highest ranks in the company. From an inclusivity perspective, our senior leaders across all industries must pride themselves on being well-rounded and well-educated from an inclusivity standpoint. That’s how we can begin to level the playing field for those who have been marginalized in the past,” he says. “Fostering a culture of inclusivity coupled with educating employees on avoiding inherent biases will allow for a more inclusive business world overall.”
–By Erica Spaeth. Spaeth is a 2023 MBA Candidate and a Forté and Smith Fellow. Originally from Potomac, Md., Spaeth worked in digital marketing, publishing, and most recently operations management, leading her to come to Maryland Smith.
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