The two years Sarah Schwegel, a lifelong advocate for people with disabilities, spent at Nestlé Purina were hugely beneficial for both Sarah and the company. Sarah, who has Spinal Muscular Atrophy Type II and uses a power wheelchair, worked in Purina’s human resources department, helping us to bring the best people to our company. She put forward suggestions detailing how Purina could better support employees with disabilities, and we acted on her ideas and saw what a difference they could make.
Today, our work with Sarah to make Purina an inclusive workplace for people with disabilities continues, but in a slightly different form. Sarah is now a full-time employee with one of our partner organizations, the Starkloff Disability Institute (SDI), which is dedicated to helping people with disabilities participate fully and equally in all aspects of society. Together, we’re working to build an environment where people with disabilities have the support and resources they need to thrive in the workplace.
For us, creating an inclusive workplace is a vital business decision, as much as it is a moral one. We know our ability to innovate and grow depends on having diverse voices — including people with disabilities — in the room.
Inclusion is Everyone’s Job
With insight from Sarah and her coworkers at SDI, we’ve made our workplace more disability-welcoming. We’ve lowered elevator buttons, created signage with braille characters and improved entrances and doors.
SDI also identified a few easy steps all employees can take to develop more inclusive workplaces:
Offer Help, Respectfully
Many people with disabilities are bombarded with questions like, “Do you need help with that?” While help can be appreciated, respect a person’s ability to do things for themselves. Your colleague is much more capable of navigating their disability than you could imagine.
With that in mind, don’t be afraid to ask those questions. Your colleague with a disability may not need help this time, but they will identify you as a source of support that they can call on later.
Be Mindful of Time
Accommodating your colleagues with disabilities spans beyond work tasks to being understanding about the length of time it takes for personal tasks. People with disabilities are aware, and sometimes self-conscious, about how long it takes them to do tasks compared to able-bodied people.
By taking these easy steps, we can make our workplaces more comfortable for people with disabilities.
Supporting Inclusion Beyond Our Walls
Our partnership with SDI extends beyond supporting Purina employees and into the broader community. Our Purina Ability Advocates, a group of employees who work to support pets and people affected by disabilities, host the Starkloff Disability Institute’s “Dream Big Summer Career Camp.” At the camp, high school and college students with disabilities explore job opportunities in a variety of fields.
Purina also hosts regular SDI workshops that provide guidance and mentorship for professionals with disabilities preparing for job interviews — either with Nestlé or elsewhere in the workforce.
“Our goal at the end of each training day is to have participants feel confident in their abilities and be well prepared for interviewing,” says Eric Schmidt, Manager of Sourcing Strategies and Employment Branding at Nestlé Purina.
These efforts are part of Purina’s ongoing commitment to young people to help them gain work experience and strengthen their professional development.
I am looking forward to seeing us hire more qualified applicants with disabilities as part of our efforts for diversity, equity, and inclusion. It is our responsibility as a collective workforce to recognize and empower the potential in others.
The mindset at Purina and throughout Nestlé is that these partnerships, hiring initiatives and awareness programs, are simply not temporary. They’re ongoing and continuously evolving opportunities to help others and guarantee we attract — and keep — the best talent.
Steve Degnan, Chief HR Officer North America · Nestlé Purina
Steve Degnan is the Chief Human Resources Officer for Nestlé Purina North America, where he oversees all HR and people functions. Steve began working at Nestlé in 1991, after spending four years as an officer in the U.S. Army; Steve has an M.B.A. from Washington University in St. Louis and an undergraduate business degree from La Salle University in Philadelphia, PA, where he is proud to serve as a University Trustee. Steve is the current Chair of the Board of Directors at Starkloff Disability Institute in St Louis and serves on the Board of Directors for Tony LaRussa’s Animal Rescue Foundation and Guardian Angel Settle Association of St Louis.