Leadership (n) — the action of leading a group of people or an organization.
I would like to sincerely congratulate the 18 winners of the 2016 Ruderman Best in Business award. They have successfully demonstrated that being a socially just company is not mutually exclusive with being a profitable company. In fact, they have demonstrated that the opposite is true.
Right now, unemployment in the U.S. has hit an eight-year low. While businesses across the nation are struggling to attract and retain top qualified candidates in an increasingly competitive market, the mark of our award winners is that they proactively identified a traditionally untapped talent pool. More than 65 percent of people with disabilities are unemployed. In addition to the moral obligation to give such a historically marginalized group a chance, the truly best in business recognize that people with disabilities are incredibly loyal and hard-working employees. The businesses not only get the benefit of their employees’ skills, but also strengthen the loyalty of their workforce altogether because people feel more engaged in working for a socially just company.
Moreover, the skill sets people with disabilities can add to a business can be truly exceptional. For example, the Israel Defense Forces have been hiring people with autism in certain units that require high attention to detail. Businesses have realized that employees who are deaf do better than their hearing counterparts in particularly noisy manufacturing environments that require much concentration. The success of companies lies in finding the right person for the right job and our winners have recognized that preconceived notions about ability can often stand in the way of doing just that. They have recognized that inclusion is not a matter of charity, but a matter of common sense, social justice, and above all, a matter of success.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, approximately 20 percent of the U.S. population has a disability, making it the largest minority group in our country. Furthermore, unlike other minority groups, this is one that every one of us can join at any moment. When we consider this scope, and add in the families of people with disabilities, we arrive at a plurality of customers. This is an incredibly large market-share—estimated at over $200 billion of discretionary spending for people with disabilities alone—and the best businesses are aware of it. Seeing businesses integrating people with disabilities builds respect and customer loyalty throughout the customer base in every community. That is why we are seeing more and more people with disabilities appearing in commercials.
We are also seeing more attention being paid to people with disabilities in political discussions. Our government recognizes the benefits of ensuring equal employment for a fifth of our population. But we need economic leaders to step up and lead by example. Ultimately, that is what the Best in Business award is about, and our foundation is proud to have partnered with the Jewish Week Media Group to make it happen. I would also like to thank everyone who has nominated a business which excels in the training, supporting, and hiring of people with disabilities.
Most of all, I would like to thank our 18 winners for leading by example. For being models to the rest of the business community and demonstrating the immense benefits of inclusive employment. I have no doubt that others will follow suit thanks to their leadership.
Jay Ruderman is President of the Ruderman Family Foundation.
Follow him on Twitter @JayRuderman