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A New Approach to Inclusive Hiring with Charlotte Dales

September 23, 2022


Welcome to 3Play Media’s Allied Podcast, a show on all things accessibility. This month’s episode features Charlotte Dales and is about inclusive hiring.

Charlotte Dales is the Co-Founder and CEO of Inclusively, a workforce inclusion platform that connects job seekers with employers who are committed to attracting and retaining people with disabilities. Charlotte’s cousin Cameron became the first licensed aesthetician in the state of Florida with Down syndrome, and after witnessing Cameron’s career fulfillment, Charlotte became passionate about replicating her employment success story for disabled talent and started Inclusively.

Under Charlotte’s leadership, Inclusively is proud to be modernizing recruitment by creating structure and transparency around accommodations, which benefits all job seekers. Charlotte graduated from the University of Colorado, Boulder, and lives in Richmond, Virginia with her husband and 2 children. This is her second start-up venture; she sold the first to American Express.

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Episode transcript

ELISA LEWIS: Welcome to Allied, the podcast for everything you need to know about web and video accessibility. I’m your host, Elisa Lewis, and I sit down with an accessibility expert each month to learn about their work. Every episode has a transcript published with it, which can be viewed by accessing the episode on the 3Play Media website.

If you like what you hear on Allied, please subscribe or leave a review. Allied is brought to you by 3Play Media, your video accessibility partner. Visit us at www.3playmedia.com to learn why thousands of customers trust us to make their video and media accessible.

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Today, we’re joined by Charlotte Dales, co-founder and CEO of Inclusively, a workforce inclusion platform that connects job seekers with employers who are committed to attracting and retaining people with disabilities. After witnessing her cousin Cameron’s career fulfillment, Charlotte became passionate about replicating her employment success story for disabled talent and started Inclusively. Under Charlotte’s leadership, Inclusively is proud to be modernizing recruitment by creating structure and transparency around accommodations, which benefits all job seekers.

Charlotte graduated from the University of Colorado Boulder and lives in Richmond, Virginia, with her husband and two children. This is her second startup venture. She sold the first to American Express.

Welcome, Charlotte. We’re so excited to have you on Allied to talk about inclusive hiring. I’m really looking forward to this conversation. I think we’ve been hearing more and more about what an inclusive work environment looks like, but I’m really excited to take a step back and talk more about the hiring process itself.

CHARLOTTE DALES: I’m excited to be here. Thanks for having me.

ELISA LEWIS: Yeah, thank you. Before we dive into our theme for today, I’d love to know a little bit more about you. And I love to ask, what’s something important about who you are that’s not covered in your formal bio?

CHARLOTTE DALES: I would say that I was a journalism major at the University of Colorado. And I only say that because most of my bio is typically around startups and technology, and I actually had no experience in any of these things before starting my first company and when I started Inclusively, no experience besides personal experience with someone with a disability, a relative. So I think it’s always important for people to know that if they have an idea, you don’t really need to know much more about it other than the desire to go do it.

ELISA LEWIS: Awesome. Yeah, that’s a great little motivation to start this conversation, so I love it. That’s also a great segue. I’d love to know a little bit more, if you can share, about where your interest in this line of work came from and how you did transition and get started in the accessibility space.

CHARLOTTE DALES: Yeah, so my first cousin, Cameron, is only a couple months younger than me, and she was born with Down syndrome. And so I’ve grown up with her my entire life, especially since we were similar ages. And she’s always been sort of like the family celebrity.

And she always seems to kick down the doors that are put up in front of her just throughout her life. And she’s always just been incredibly impressive and an inspiration to me. But while I had another startup over in London, which we sold to Amex at the end of 2017, and while I was selling that company, she became the first licensed facialist in the state of Florida with Down syndrome. So she gives facials at a local salon.

And ultimately, after getting my first facial from her, I knew this would be my next company. It was just incredibly clear to me that her company only had to make some slight adjustments to her working environment that were also free to make, and obviously, the incredible impact it had on her career. And so I wanted to figure out how we could use technology to make that more scalable for employers to be able to accommodate anyone with a disability’s unique requests at scale.

ELISA LEWIS: That’s such a great story, and I think it’s something that’s really interesting. We definitely saw it when we all moved to a remote world, that really everyone can use different tools, whether we think of them as accommodations or not.

CHARLOTTE DALES: Right.

ELISA LEWIS: But just some minor shifts that help you do your job. For me, really, setting up– having certain things to set up a home office. And I think if we think about it in that approach, and it sounds like your cousin experienced something similar where it was really small changes that made a huge difference.

CHARLOTTE DALES: Yeah. And I think that you’re exactly correct, how our vision and mission for this company is to create one front door for everyone. So accommodations don’t just benefit the disability community. Certain accommodations could help benefit first-generation college grads, caregivers of people with disabilities, single parents.

And as you said, the pandemic showed us that everyone has different working conditions upon which they can thrive. And so if we can create and normalize the ability for people to ask for those things, we can hopefully bring more productive and happy employees into the workforce.

ELISA LEWIS: Absolutely.

CHARLOTTE DALES: And then that just levels the playing field for people with disabilities if everyone’s going through an accommodations process instead of just them.

ELISA LEWIS: So I want to take a step back. And for anyone listening who may not already be familiar with Inclusively, are you able to share, one, a little bit more about what Inclusively does. And you touched a little bit on your mission, but a little bit more about the mission. And then I’d also love to hear a little bit more about the founding story.

And again, we got there a little bit. But I think it’s so unique. So I’d love to just take a deeper dive into Inclusively.

CHARLOTTE DALES: Yeah. So we’re an employment platform that makes it really easy for employers to accommodate candidates at scale. And how we do this is we normalize the ability for candidates to request accommodations ahead of an interview or ahead of even applying for a job. So when a candidate registers for our site, they can upload their existing credentials, or we can generate a resume for them. But the real unique value is that they’re trusting us to disclose their accommodations before ever even applying for a job.

So they can request from a list of multiple different accommodations to make them more successful both for an interview and on the job. And once they choose those accommodations, employers are able to see those as they’re searching through candidates’ profiles. And historically, candidates have been told not to disclose anything unless they absolutely have to until after getting a job offer. But this doesn’t create a great experience for them or for the employer.

And they’re trusting us because they know that we’re only working with employers who, one, want to access this demographic, but two, we’re shipping that data over to the employer with micro-training so that they can actually respond. So on the employer’s end, candidates are able to actively apply for their jobs, and our algorithm is also recommending candidates for positions as well.

Whenever they’re looking at a candidate’s profile, they’re not only able to see what accommodations they need, but also information about how to provide them and why someone might ask for them and what’s the benefit of someone who may ask for this is also really good at these types of things. And so really giving people the context that they need to provide an inclusive experience at the front door instead of always sending people through an accommodation– like a legal and compliance process simply for asking not to have a panel interview.

So we really believe the value of our platform is not just in curating a list of candidates with disabilities, but actually how we’re personalizing the content to the employer so that they’re actually learning when it’s relevant instead of relying on annual trainings to change people’s behavior.

And then I guess you asked about the founding story. So as I said, it was my cousin who inspired me to start this. And my co-founder and our COO, Sarah Bernard, quickly sort of joined me on the process. We were friends from a while ago, and she came over to visit me, actually, when I had my first child. I was still living in London.

And I told her about this idea, and she just asked me, how can I help? And I told her I couldn’t pay her anything, and she was fine with that. So we just got started. And I think one of the most memorable parts of starting this company was initially thinking that what we needed to build was a way to map people’s symptoms back to functions and skills that make up the workforce so that they could identify what jobs would be best for them.

But what we quickly realized, both in speaking with candidates and on the employer side, is that there’s hundreds of thousands of nonprofits, government agencies, training programs, all these companies out there and organizations that are giving candidates the skills and mentoring and trying to help them get jobs, and they’re still not getting jobs.

And really, if you want to fix this problem, it’s not about just sending pipeline to employers. That would imply that these candidates aren’t already applying for jobs. The problem is that they are, and they’re getting filtered out of the process in various different stages, whether it’s applicant tracking system algorithms that are shoving their resumes down at the bottom because maybe they have gaps in their resume, or it could be that they’re being put through an interview process that’s the same for every single person.

And so one of the most memorable experiences is just the shift of understanding, like, wow, we’re not actually building a product for candidates with disabilities. We need to help employers fix the processes that have been historically repeated over decades in hiring and adjust those so that they can hire people with disabilities. Because they’re already out there, and they’re already skilled, and they’re already looking for jobs, and they already can do the jobs that we have available. But the existing pattern matching that’s evolved over time with hiring is really the problem that needs to be fixed.

ELISA LEWIS: Yeah, that’s a really insightful shift, and I think really interesting to hear the story of how the business evolved from what you thought it might look like to what it actually does look like. I’m curious, how do you go about, and how has it been getting the buy in from organizations, particularly those who are not innately in the accessibility space? What has that looked like? And have you seen a shift over the last few years, certainly with the pandemic and with this rise in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion efforts?

CHARLOTTE DALES: Yeah, so I would say three to four years ago when we started looking at this and talking to companies, disability really wasn’t included in the DEI narrative. And now, fast forward to today, if it’s not already been included, they know they’re behind in including it. So they’re very motivated to start taking action.

But I think that it’s completely different than when we started. And I think there’s reasons attributed to the pandemic. I think it’s the generational shift in the workforce, so Gen Zs to millennials, who are 10 times more likely to leave their job because of culture over compensation and title. I think a lot of– and the cultural movements that have happened over the past 24 months– I think it’s been amazing to watch how companies have shifted from, I don’t know if this is one of our priorities to this is a priority and we’re behind, or this is a priority and we want to move faster.

So not to say that there isn’t still a lot of education that needs to happen in the market for people to really understand what the commitment is they have to make on their end to get this done. You can’t just turn on Inclusively and a bunch of candidates will get hired at your company. But the trend is happening in the right direction.

ELISA LEWIS: Yeah, I imagine it’s been a really interesting few years to see that shift for all of the reasons that you mentioned. And I think that’s a really good point that you make. Yes, this is a great start, but you also need to be willing to do the work once those individuals are hired and in the workforce. So it’s definitely a commitment, but it’s certainly one that’s worth making and necessary.

And I think a lot of people, both employees and consumers, if it’s an organization that has consumers and is a little bit more B to C, consumers are really putting more pressure on organizations to put their values– put their money where their mouth is.

CHARLOTTE DALES: And demonstrate real progress, not just statements.

ELISA LEWIS: Exactly. Yeah. I’m curious, could you give some examples of the types of accommodations or support that employers should provide for candidates and maybe including those with invisible or nonapparent disabilities?

CHARLOTTE DALES: Yeah, so I think one that we see a lot– I think one thing that’s always been overlooked in this whole process in the past has been the actual interview accommodations because if someone is not being set up for success for the interview, they’re not entering the organization. And therefore, all the other subsequent accommodations become irrelevant. So I think one that we see a lot is preferring not to have a panel interview.

A lot of people who might have ADHD or are neurodiverse would do better under a one-to-one scenario. And if public speaking isn’t part of the role, it’s not really necessary to mandate that there needs to be a panel interview. Others is getting information ahead of time. So for people who might use a screen reader, being able to review things ahead of time and not have to be trying to do two things at once on an interview is also incredibly helpful.

I think also that can help with other types of disabilities where social anxieties are prevalent in terms of just being able to feel a little bit more prepared in a scenario where you might not always feel super comfortable answering things on the fly. From an on-the-job perspective, I think having a job mentor on site or some type of coaching that’s readily available. There’s so many cool benefits and services that are also popping up that actually serve as accommodations.

So there’s a lot of companies out there that are providing digital job coaching and executive leadership coaching that make it really affordable for large companies to just offer this as a service to their employees. That’s a perfect example of this not just helping people with disabilities, but also helping the wider employee base. I think having flexible schedule, remote work, we all know that.

And then other things that I think pertain maybe more to the disability community is being able to have certain set break times. There’s different things around lighting and noise-canceling headphones. It’s really about what is– for us, we don’t really define what the disability is. It’s what skills do you have, and what accommodations do you need?

And from the employer’s perspective, it’s what skills do you need, and what accommodations can be made for those positions, and really stripping disability out of the middle of it because even two people with the same disability potentially don’t need the same accommodations.

ELISA LEWIS: Yeah, I think that’s a great point. And a question that’s come up recently in other conversations within the accessibility and disability community is this idea of what is considered a disability. And I’ve heard people kind of struggling with, is something like anxiety or even chronic pain, is that considered a disability?

And when these things come up about, well, do I really need an accommodation? It’s not maybe, quote, “as bad” as somebody who has some other type of disability and this inner conflict. And I think, to your point, it’s not about the disability. It’s about the skills, and it’s about the needs. And I think that’s a really important way to think of it. Everybody has different needs and different ways that they can succeed. And it’s just really great to hear that that’s where the focus is.

CHARLOTTE DALES: Yeah, and I think for any person who’s requesting an accommodation, no matter how they perceive the significance of their disability or not, every time an employer is making an accommodation for someone is progress for everybody. And I think that that should be– lots of employers will ask, well, how do we know if they really have a disability, or can we verify this? And it’s like, why does that even matter?

Every time you’re making an accommodation for someone and they are successful, you’re just broadening the pathways for more diverse talent to come work here.

ELISA LEWIS: Absolutely. Earlier this year, Inclusively commissioned Forrester to research and report on the benefits of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, or DEI, with a specific focus on disability. The report found that most organizations have basic DEI practices, but employees don’t feel equipped above and beyond these goals. Inclusive hiring practices could be considered phase one of a more deep-rooted structural change. But how can organizations ensure that they continue to support employees once onboarding is over?

CHARLOTTE DALES: So I think that one of the things that we would argue on that is that there currently exists a highly centralized accommodations process. So it means that the hiring manager and the recruiter and the people actually meeting the candidate and potentially working with the candidate aren’t really responsible for understanding these accommodations and providing them and making decisions around them. And I think that by decentralizing the accommodations process and making it part of everyone’s responsibility to create this inclusion, that’s how you’re going to get companies to take ownership on beyond the hire.

How is the actual onboarding and the actual experience for the employee? It needs to be genuinely driven by the people that the candidate is going to interact with. And there needs to be an empathy there for both the hiring manager and the team that the candidate will be working with and not have it be viewed as kind of this legal and compliance thing that no one else has to talk about or address, but everyone being sort of open to this new way of working with a teammate and potentially learning a better way to do things.

ELISA LEWIS: I’m curious if you could share some of the other top takeaways from this report, and specifically, did the research look into the impact of having a diverse workforce and of providing accommodations to those who could benefit from them in terms of meeting company goals or even impacting bottom line?

CHARLOTTE DALES: Yes, so the Forrester report mainly focused on what is the intention behind DEI practices and how has it changed over time. So initially, it was very much compliance driven, and now it’s more leadership driven. And then from a disability-specific standpoint, looking at companies who have disability not only included, but actually incentivizations to make more progress in that as a diversity category.

I think one of the biggest highlights for us is that only 40% of people said that they have an accommodations process that is clear and easy to understand. I think I’ve talked about accommodations this entire podcast, but I think that really is the key to getting people in the door is understanding those, having a really streamlined process, making sure people on the ground actually hiring are aware of them and can make interview accommodations on the spot and don’t have to run people through separate processes, and ultimately, that they understand that there is a process at the company and that it’s easy to execute on.

I thought that just given the amount of companies that reported that they are really focused on this, only 40% having a process to actually make it happen was quite low. In terms of the benefits beyond just diversity, equity, and inclusion– and I think that this is, for us, I initially started this thinking, everyone will just want to do this because it’s the right thing to do.

But ultimately, unless you make a business case for something, that’s not a sustainable way to make progress on this initiative. And I think really bringing to the front not only the benefits to having a more diverse workforce, which come with revenue, customer satisfaction, candidate satisfaction, and retention, but also the consequences of not doing it, which is something that we measured in this report around employee satisfaction, employee retention, brand value, customer satisfaction, and revenue.

Basically, across all of these categories, the question that was asked was that if you don’t invest in this or aim to improve it, how do you expect the following to change by 2025? And across all of these categories, it was a decrease in the company’s overall success across the most important categories of the business.

ELISA LEWIS: Yeah. I think that’s really interesting and definitely goes back to what we touched on earlier is that there’s this pressure now, both internally and externally, to support the values of your employees and of those who are interacting with your business. And yeah, I think it’s like we’re now forcing that it should be done because it’s the right thing to do. And we’re kind of forcing that into the business and into the success of the business.

CHARLOTTE DALES: Yeah, and saying that it’s not only the right thing to do, but you’ll have to do it. Generationally, candidates are more likely to leave their job if they are working for a company that’s not enforcing DEI from a real data-driven perspective, not just a statement. So ultimately, if you want to be an employer of choice for the next generation of the workforce, you have to start making progress towards this because the market and the candidates will walk if you don’t.

ELISA LEWIS: Do you have any recommendations on how accessibility professionals can introduce this subject to relevant decision makers, be it the human resources department or C-suite executive team?

CHARLOTTE DALES: I think it’s trying to focus on these business cases ahead of the feel-good and altruistic piece around DEI. Why is DEI important to the company’s bottom line? People and attracting and retaining talent and being able to tap into untapped talent is a huge benefit for companies. Ultimately, your people are what make up the success or lack of success of your company.

And I also just think that to the extent that it makes sense, and it will make sense with a lot of organizations, that this is an entirely disregarded customer segment when it comes to building products and services really geared towards them. And there’s one in four to five people that have a disability in the United States. And so creating products that better serve this demographic not only opens you up to this market, but the trillions of dollars in disposable income that they, alongside their families, have.

And so I think it’s really doing your homework on what’s the business case for your company specifically so that you’re really– you’re pitching an initiative that’s sustainable and that’s going to last.

ELISA LEWIS: Are there any resources you would recommend, on that note, to educate and maybe even persuade leaders to pursue inclusive hiring and employee support initiatives?

CHARLOTTE DALES: I think there’s a ton of resources out there. Accenture regularly produces reports on this. The Valuable 500 does a lot of good research on this. Our Forrester report is a good indicator on where the market is shifting on how HR officials in particular feel about it. I think that there is a lot more research recently done in this space than there has been in the past, but I would say those two.

Harvard Business Review has done a really good report. You really can pick up some not just random Google links, but if you start googling this, you’ll find some very credible reports that can help. Really, I think you can find pretty much a justification for any business on this planet about why this is better for business.

ELISA LEWIS: Yeah. Yeah, it’s great that there have been some really big-name organizations backing this research and really providing the evidence. As we wrap up the conversation, I’m curious if you have any final either pieces of advice or just anything else you’d like to share with our audience in inclusive hiring.

CHARLOTTE DALES: Yeah. So I think that the biggest piece of advice that I can give in terms of– especially people who are wanting to make this change at their organization, is that it can literally start with one person who cares about this. I think that a lot of times, especially in large companies, you feel like there’s all this process and initiatives and things that you have to do to get things across the line.

But ultimately, if you are someone who’s working at a company and start speaking about this, and if you’re going to make a hire and try and actively find someone with a disability to prove to the people sitting around you that you’ve hired someone with a disability and they’re incredibly successful, it really does spread much faster than people think. And I think that it really takes one person at a company to care about this to start evangelizing and advocating.

And I think that the best advice is that you can be that one person. Anyone, really, can be at any company. And it doesn’t need to be such a heavy lift, which is often how many people approach large problems at big companies.

ELISA LEWIS: Yeah. Thank you. I think that’s a great reminder. I think we get wrapped up in accessibility and accommodations and some of these huge buzzwords, and they feel a little bit insurmountable. But I think you make a really great point that it’s possible, and it comes with small, incremental steps. So that’s–

CHARLOTTE DALES: Yeah. Just ask everyone that you interview if they need an accommodation, and you may open the door for someone who maybe wouldn’t have disclosed otherwise.

ELISA LEWIS: Yeah. Absolutely. Well, thank you so much, Charlotte. I really appreciate you taking the time.

CHARLOTTE DALES: Yeah. Thanks for having me.

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ELISA LEWIS: Thanks for listening to Allied. If you enjoyed this episode and you’d like to help support the podcast, please share it with others, post about it on social media, or leave us a rating and review. To catch all the latest on accessibility, visit www.3playmedia.com/alliedpodcast. Thanks again, and I’ll see you next time.

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