How We Enable People of All Abilities to Thrive at Work

Equinix ConnectAbilities creates a culture of inclusion and empowerment for disabled, neurodivergent, chronic illness and caregiver communities

Claire Macland
Jules Johnston
How We Enable People of All Abilities to Thrive at Work

A billion people, or 15% of the world’s population, experience some form of disability. According to the World Bank, “Persons with disabilities are more likely to experience adverse socioeconomic outcomes such as less education, poorer health outcomes, lower levels of employment and higher poverty rates.”[1] People with disabilities are twice as likely to be unemployed as those without disabilities.[2]

While diversity, equity and inclusion have received significant attention in the last several years, disability has been a missing piece in the puzzle.[3] Now, more companies, C-suite leaders and investors are starting to pay attention and recognize the importance of disability inclusion. As the stories below will demonstrate, many disabilities are invisible, and workers often don’t speak up about their experiences and challenges, for fear that their employers won’t be supportive. It’s time for this pattern to shift. With greater awareness and understanding of disability, we can create a culture of inclusion where every worker can thrive and feel safe talking about their experience.

Equinix has nine employee-led Equinix Employee Connection Networks (EECNs) that are organized around marginalized identities and communities that have faced historical discrimination or share unique challenges. ConnectAbilities, an Equinix EECN, encompasses people who identify with disability, chronic illness, neurodivergent or caregiver populations—as well as their allies. Together, we’re working to shine a light on the challenges many of us face; to advocate for hiring and business practices that support people of diverse abilities; and to enable everyone to realize their maximum potential.

Do meaningful work that impacts the world

Achieve, learn, adapt and be comfortable building a fulfilling career. We are here to help you unlock your potential.

BEGIN YOUR JOB SEARCH
careers-hero-internship-collage-7@2x

ConnectAbilities was launched as a global EECN in November 2021. We are building an inclusive environment for colleagues with diverse abilities. Our goal is to remove barriers and support creative approaches to work. We focus on three core values:

  • Education — Encouraging fact-based conversations to raise awareness of the stigmas and bias disabled people face, and then eliminating the bias
  • Empowerment — Developing working environments that are inclusive to diverse abilities, and emphasizing the value of that diversity
  • Community – Creating safe spaces where we can focus on belonging, to build a network that empowers everyone

We partner with the nonprofit Disability:IN, which created a flagship program to help companies measure how much progress is being made on disability inclusion—and it’s helping hundreds of companies like us.

ConnectAbilities also puts an emphasis on allyship because it’s a powerful way to support people with disabilities. We’ve had personal experiences of people advocating for us—and it makes a world of difference. So, we welcome everyone to join ConnectAbilities and support our mission.

To give you a sense of why we created ConnectAbilities and what it means to our employees, we wanted to share some perspectives from ConnectAbilities leaders and members:

Seeking to understand without judgment

Jennifer Ethridge, EECN Lead and Senior Manager, Global Technical Sales Strategic Initiatives

My whole life, I’d been known as clumsy, and growing up I was often told to pay attention to my surroundings. As an adult, my vision deteriorated, and one night, I was blinded by oncoming headlights and drove into a ditch—which led me on a two-year journey seeking a diagnostic explanation. Eventually I was diagnosed with a rare genetic disorder that was destroying the light receptors in my eyes. Statistically, there’s a 50/50 chance that I’ll go completely blind.

I worried how my visual impairment might affect my career. While I knew I could continue to perform at the same level, I wasn’t sure others would believe it. I feared I’d lose respect or be skipped over for career advancement opportunities—and unfortunately my fears weren’t unfounded. At times, I was held back by people who believed they were helping, but instead were making decisions on my behalf without consulting me. I learned, like many others, to hide my disability so that people wouldn’t make assumptions about what I could or couldn’t do. Stories like mine are common in the disability community—we know that being different doesn’t equate to being less, but not everyone else does.

When I joined Equinix, things began to change. I had a manager who believed in my abilities and created an environment where I could thrive. I felt more comfortable showing up at work as I am, and I decided to lead this EECN to share my journey and help others share theirs. ConnectAbilities is a place where people can share their stories if they’re comfortable doing so, but we also have members who participate quietly, as well as allies who’ve joined to learn and show support. We want to get people thinking, to recognize that many disabilities aren’t visible, and to understand and learn from each other. Our community is built around listening, humbly seeking to understand our differences without judgment, and showing empathy to others. These qualities are driving positive changes for our employees, like creating quiet rooms in our offices, sharing best practices on creating accessible presentations and allowing flexible schedules for caregivers.

Finding camaraderie and increasing awareness

Jim Poole, Vice President, Business Development

I joined ConnectAbilities because I’m neurodivergent, and I was inspired by seeing community members’ openness and support of each other. Because of stigmas associated with disabilities, we often hide. Prior to ConnectAbilities, I’d shared my neurodivergence with only a few close friends, but in this EECN, I feel safe to be myself. I also want to stand up and represent for the neurodivergence community.

As someone with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), I wish people understood how we’re different from neurotypical people. We don’t process information the same way—that includes sight, sound, touch, temperature and more. This means we perceive, experience and react to the world differently. What you might perceive as rude or standoffish behavior is our attempt to balance wanting to be at your party but needing to step out of the room occasionally to decompress from sensory overload. Our differences define us as people. So, if you meet an autistic person, embrace the difference!

Everyone in ConnectAbilities is genuinely kind and supportive. People have reached out to me to share and compare their experiences with mine. It feels amazing to know I’m not alone and even more amazing when I can share things about experiences that may help someone else. In addition to the camaraderie with my fellow members, I’m excited about collaborating with our membership and sponsors to make Equinix a better place to work for all our communities: disabled, chronically ill, neurodivergent and caregivers. Equinix is an amazing company and celebrates diversity more than any place I’ve ever worked; however, there’s more we can do. Together, we can make Equinix even better!

Focusing on what people can do rather than what they can’t

Danielle Brown, Field Marketing Specialist

Like many people with disabilities, I grew up living in fear: I worried that nobody would be able to see past my crutches and wheelchair and see the value I had to offer. I worried that this would throw up barriers for my future and I’d find it impossible to climb the employment ladder. The lack of disabled role models, the underrepresentation and the misrepresentation of disability contributed to these fears, and we still have a long way to go to make the world a more equal place for people with disabilities.

I got involved with ConnectAbilities because nobody should have to live in fear. Everybody should be given opportunities to succeed, and to achieve this we have to work together. I wanted to join a group of like-minded people who are committed to making a difference and finding ways for disabled people in Equinix to be seen, heard and valued—and I’ve found that in ConnectAbilities!

I’ve met the most amazing people through this EECN—from different regions and in different job roles—and they’ve taught me a lot. The simple act of sharing stories about how disability affects our day-to-day experiences and how to adapt has helped me think a little bit more creatively and gain a better understanding of the support available.

Disability is complicated. There are many different conditions, and each one affects an individual differently. I find it powerful to focus on ability and what a person can do rather than what they can’t—for me, this is a great starting point to breaking down some of the barriers and starting to level up.

I look forward to seeing this community grow and ensuring that disability is firmly on the agenda. I’m particularly excited about meeting more people and getting involved with different initiatives to spread awareness and support more people with disabilities at Equinix.

Cultivating empathy, respect and patience

Raj Sundaram, Lead Sales Engineer

When I was growing up, disabilities were largely hidden. My father developed a limp around age 10, and his parents forbade him to socialize with houseguests for fear that it may be perceived as something genetic that would compromise his sisters’ eligibility for marriage. These attitudes nurtured a culture of ignorance and apathy to disabilities.

When we adopted our daughter 15 years ago, she’d had a history of recurring ear infections, which we managed with antibiotics and specialist care. As she was growing up, she often had trouble finding me during hide-and-seek even when I made loud noises to direct her, and she would shout “Dad, where are you?” She also struggled with speech delays and had difficulty expressing herself. When she was nine, an ENT determined that she had total hearing loss in her right ear. She then underwent a successful tympanoplasty to repair her eardrum and restore most of her hearing. Now she’s 16 and growing up like other teenagers.

When my daughter’s unilateral hearing loss was diagnosed, I realized that I’d been ignorant about her disability. Since then, I’ve developed immense empathy and respect for folks who live with disabilities. This is why I decided to get involved with ConnectAbilities. This EECN has allowed me to be vulnerable to share my experience and listen to others to broaden my horizons and connect with those who’ve had similar experiences as caregivers.

The one thing I wish people knew—or reinforced within themselves—is that caregiving requires patience and empathy. We have to remember that people may be experiencing pain that we don’t understand or recognize.

Learn more about creating a welcoming workplace

ConnectAbilities is building momentum around empowerment and allyship for the disability community. Alongside other Equinix Employee Connection Networks—such as PrideConnect, FaithConnect, GenteConnect and YoungProfessionalsConnect—we’re fighting for a more welcoming workplace for everyone.

To learn more about joining the inclusive talent network at Equinix, explore our careers webpage.

You might also be interested in reading more about Equinix Employee Connection Networks.

 

 

[1]Disability Inclusion,” World Bank, April 14, 2022.

[2]Persons with a Disability: Labor Force Characteristics Summary,” U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, February 24, 2022.

[3] FastCo Works, “Disability is the missing piece in the DEI Puzzle,” Fast Company, November 2, 2021.

 

Claire Macland
Claire Macland Senior Vice President, Global Marketing
Jules Johnston
Jules Johnston Senior Vice President, Global Channel
Subscribe to the Equinix Blog