As a Disability Consultant, our employer partners often ask me what are some of the best practices we've seen other companies implement, in order to be more disability inclusive. Often, it's hard to find someone who will speak up not only about their disability, but about how inclusive their company is.
Recently, I had the pleasure of sitting down with Linda Zhao, an employee of Pfizer who had disclosed her disability, and wanted to share her story. Linda disclosed that she has Transverse Myelitis, a disorder caused by inflammation of the spinal cord, often characterized by symptoms and signs of neurologic dysfunction in motor and sensory tracts on both sides of the spinal cord. Symptoms often include, but are not limited to, sharp pains, abnormal sensations/numbness, weakness in the arms and legs, and mobility issues, limiting major life activities.
Sarah: Why is disability inclusion important to you?
Linda: As someone with a visible physical disability, disability inclusion is personal. It’s important because I want to be valued for my strengths and abilities and have the same opportunities to succeed and grow professionally.
Sarah: Why is it important for companies to make disability inclusion a priority and/or have disability inclusive workplaces?
Linda: Disability inclusion should be a priority for all companies because it makes good business sense. Everyone gains from disability inclusion because it requires the breaking down of existing barriers so people with or without disabilities can do their best work. Other benefits of inclusive workplaces include access to an untapped pool of talent, increased innovation (employees with diverse experiences have different approaches to problem solving), increased engagement and retention and better reputation because customers value companies that demonstrates a commitment towards inclusion.
Sarah: How is Pfizer creating a more inclusive workplace for disability?
Linda: As one of the most patient-centric companies, Pfizer is committed to the purpose of bringing breakthroughs that change patients’ lives. Diversity inclusion is part of the organizational DNA. One of Pfizer’s core values is Equity which is about being inclusive, act with integrity and reduce healthcare disparities. This is not only reflected in the important work that we do every day but the interactions with internal and external stakeholders.
Sarah: How has Pfizer supported you in your career?
Linda: Pfizer has provided a really welcoming work environment in terms of providing any resources or support needed so I can work comfortably. Mostly having access to any accommodations that I may need to perform my work. Whether it's getting special setup for my workspace or be able to work remotely on days when it's a challenge for me to come into the office. Everyone here makes me feel comfortable to ask for any type of special accommodations that I might need. Also, Pfizer is really good at making any type of work gathering and events accessible for me. This has never been a concern.
I’m also currently part of Pfizer’s disAbility Leadership Team (Employee Resource Group) which provides great support in terms of personal and professional development. I think it ultimately comes down to Pfizer’s inclusive culture which makes me feel a sense of belonging.
Sarah: What advice do you have for others who are thinking of sharing their story/disclosing?
Linda:I think being your authentic self requires vulnerability and transparency and disclosing your disability definitely requires tremendous courage. However, I strongly believe it is only when you share your story in an empowering way, you remind yourself and the people around you that you’re human. In order to be the best version of yourself, you need to not be afraid to show your true self.
Sarah: What’s one thing that you want people to remember about people with disabilities?
Linda: I think it’s important to understand, acknowledge and embrace the widespread nature of disability. Disability touches every demographic category – gender, age, race, sexual orientation, etc. and impacts most people eventually through accident, illness or aging. When you consider this huge sector of our population then the movement of disability inclusion becomes a lot more significant.
The Pfizer disAbility Colleague Resource Group, believes in leveraging each employee's unique abilities, raise awareness, value differences, and remove barriers for those who have a disability or are caregivers.