Inclusively’s Co-Founder and CEO Charlotte Dales and Frances West discuss how businesses can transform their inclusion initiatives

The Zero Project aims to identify, curate, and share inclusive solutions that improve the daily lives and legal rights of all persons with disabilities. This year’s #ZeroCon22 theme was accessibility and our Co-Founder and CEO Charlotte Dales joined Frances West for a special fireside chat, ‘FrancesWestCo: Authentic Inclusion: the 2022 approach to Business Transformation’.

Charlotte Dales and Frances West discussed the importance of a holistic approach to inclusion and accessibility in the workplace. They emphasized that in order to make real change, it must come from the top down, with executives backing up their words in the market with actions internally. They also discussed the need for a new generation of leaders who understand the importance of social movements and how they impact business. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the interconnectedness of the world and the need for universal design and inclusive processes, and they called for taking the first step towards creating a more inclusive workforce, which requires a top-down and bottom-up approach.

Watch the fireside chat and read the transcript below.


Tom Butcher 0:00
Hello. This morning. Yeah, just as your projects, but I should. I know, ladies.

Tom Butcher 0:17
Good morning. Hello. Well, good afternoon for me and good morning to you. I should tell everybody that you’re actually online now.

Charlotte Dales 0:26
You’re on mute.

Tom Butcher 0:28
Can everybody hear me? Can you hear me? Yes, you can hear me. That’s really good. Well, I better introduce myself first for all the people who are on the internet. I’m Tom butcher, with the SL Foundation. But I’m not the important person here. The two important people who are ones I can see on the screen in front of me, who are in no order of preference. Frances West of Frances West Company, and Charlotte Dales of Inclusively. Welcome, welcome for joining me here at the zero project. If virtually, what I’d love to do first is ask each one of you I don’t mind which order to introduce yourselves and say a wee bit about your initiatives, your companies. And then from there I have three, I think I would consider them fairly in depth questions that I’d like to throw out to you that you can bet around with yourselves or with me. And then I’m going to stop us about five minutes towards the end, because our wonderful Flip Chartist. Petra is going to depict things visually and graphically, and we’ll go through it right at the end. Anyway, over to you to whoever wants to start.

Why don’t you go first?

Charlotte Dales 1:47
Awesome. Okay, well, I’m Charlotte Dales, and I’m the CEO and founder of Inclusively, about five years ago, I was selling my first company to American Express. And around that same time I cousin became the first licensed facialist in the state of Florida with Down syndrome. And I knew after getting my first facial from her that this would be my next company, I saw the value of an employer making an accommodation for my cousin and the impact that it had on her career. And I wanted to figure out how can we use technology to help employers provide accommodations at scale?

Tom Butcher 2:22
Great, thank you. Frances, over to you.

I’m Frances West, and founder of Frances West Co is a global strategy advisory company working with both private and nonprofit and also startup creating digital accessibility and digital inclusion strategy from the top so that

it’s not just a compliance or philanthropy, for ethical initiative, but really a business imperatives. It’s really based on some of the experience and work I did at IBM as IBM first Chief Accessibility Officer, and really look forward to sharing this kind of a journey with both the zero project audience and also especially a start up as, as they innovate, to really transform the disability and digital inclusion industry.

Tom Butcher 3:24
Great, thank you very much indeed. And I’d like to pick up on a word which I think both of you use, but you particularly Frances, which is transform and transformational.

Tom Butcher 3:36
And this is something I’m I have a wee bit of experience in what I do. But could you share with me what you think the senior executives role is in leading, transformational business and work, place change, post, academic or non academic post pandemic? Frances?

Thank, thank you very much. Actually, the word transformation is I think the word, especially post pandemic, I think one thing the pandemic has taught us is that, you know, every human being on this planet, we are interconnected. And at any given point, we could be impacted in such an extent, and the closeness of the individual as humans, I think is coming into the foreground. And the second thing is, the technology is underpinning our connection, as a society as the world and because of that, the topic of disability or digital inclusion become that important. In my work, as I mentioned, I’m really a technology first person, because I spent 30 plus years at IBM. What I realized is that a lot of times when we talk about technology, we actually have

have not really put center in the center the human needs and human wants. And I think pandemic really taught us that we need to be very, very conscious of the human human needs and also the individual differences in us. So I think for the executives, either at the boardroom level or the C suite level, some of them but many of them are still not making the connection that the digital transformation, which by the way, is or word in the boardroom, everybody’s talking about digital transformation as competitive strategy. But many of them have now made the connection over to digital inclusion. And that’s why I think it’s so important that if we can combine or build our digital transformation strategy based on digital inclusion, that that’s truly transformative for all humans, not just some people.

Tom Butcher 5:57
Wonderful, thank you so much. And to go to a senior executive, indeed, CEO, Charlotte, what would you say?

Charlotte Dales 6:08
Um, so I would say that, you know, in the work that I’m doing, Inclusively is an inclusion platform that helps connect candidates who are requesting accommodations to employers in a way where they can scale up li upgrade their existing processes to be to provide more inclusive interview process and screening process. And so what I’ve seen and how I view the role of an executive is that companies who are really serious about inclusion have to do the upfront work to reap the benefits of sustainable, scalable and replicable success. Companies who are focused on getting access to pipeline and placement out the gate, or not laying the foundation required to have success long term. I think a common misconception we see across all organizations is that the current state of disability employment and really diversity for that matter, is because candidates are not applying to jobs. But candidates aren’t just sitting around not applying for jobs, the problem is that they are applying and companies traditional screening and interview processes are built upon exclusionary algorithms that are filtering out candidates for things like a gap in their resume. And if they’re not being filtered out, they’re being put through an interview process, that’s the exact same for every single person in meaning only certain types of candidates can succeed. So real change requires change management. And I think, you know, transformation is a nicer way where in the, you know, employer speak, it’s really changed management. And that requires a C suite, to be the executive sponsor, and the escalation point for ensuring the change happens, and most importantly, that its employees are not resisting the change and see the long term benefit to the company by making the change.

Tom Butcher 7:57
Thanks so much. And I think this brings us on to on to the next point, which is how, how can we make people understand that disability is more than just an inclusion label? How can we how can we enable a new way of let’s call it work place productivity and, and really purpose for all? Charlotte? Can I start with you on that, and then over to Frances thereafter?

Charlotte Dales 8:31
Yeah, so, um, when I started out, you know, working on this company, I met Frances very early on and she’s definitely the person who’s really pushed me and opened my eyes to see this but designing for people with disabilities is really just designing for everyone and so that everyone can be included. And Universal Design benefits everyone and for businesses, it doesn’t just open you up to an incredibly valuable talent pool. But it also means you’re creating and marketing products and services to include the one in four to five people who have a disability it actually means more customers as well. So I think that you know, inclusion is is part of it, but inclusion just means accessible to everyone. So designing for people with disabilities is actually creating a an upgraded process for everyone.

Tom Butcher 9:21
Thank you, Francis?

Yeah, I mean, I want to add on to what Charlotte just said that you know, certainly universal design is the kind of the central theme here and in addition, if you think about it because we are at zero project Summit, which focused on disability, it I think if you look across there’s two things that are common thread, which is aging and disability if we if we say as human as you gain, you know, as you get older, you’re going to acquire disability or if you live through your life, you’re going to acquire disabilities. You

Through accidents or sickness and all that. So there is such a common theme about disabilities lived experience that I think the executives or the C suite or have not really thought about, and that if you are for for exam, for example, human centered design, which is a catchword everybody’s talking about, then how can you not include people with disabilities because they are the what I call, you know, the ultimate human experience in on human ability that will give us the knowledge to create a better product and better

differentiation. So all in all, I think there is this, there’s still this, what I call the cultural gap or perception gap about when you think about working in a digital inclusion or accessibility, you’re working on them, you know, versus us by have afraid that it’s not about them, it’s about all of us. Once you start making that kind of thinking, or attitudinal or cultural shift is about all of us, then all of a sudden, you will realize at the C suite at the business at top, the decision maker level that by focusing on this, and also just to echo what Charlotte just mentioned earlier, that you really need to have a holistic approach to this in the technology term, you need to have a platform that’s sustainable. Otherwise, frankly, we have seen a lot of companies will publish for example statements, right, either is accessibility statement or inclusion statement. But it could potentially sound hollow, or in authentic if you’re not backed up by real investment into a infrastructure, technology, such as you know, in Charlotte’s case, the employment platform to really sustain and auto scale in your business.

Tom Butcher 12:00
Great. And that brings me to my last, my last question. You mentioned the word platform, and you mentioned word investment. So what do you think of the kinds of workplace platforms that enterprise companies need to invest in? If we’re going to lay which one must do a special significance on flexibility, adaptability, and scalability? Charlotte?

Charlotte Dales 12:34
I can jump in. So I think that it’s kind of, you know, going off the the previous question that the benefits of creating an inclusive screening and interviewing process lays the foundation for the flexibility, adaptability and scalability that all employees are in candidates are really looking for now. So people have been attributing the great resignation and the war on talent to the pandemic. But these cultural changes started happening way before the pandemic. So in 2016, millennials became the largest generation in the workforce. And this demographic started changing the criteria upon which they assess jobs. So they want to work for companies that have work life balance that value soft skills, like a work ethic on the same playing field as hard skills. And ultimately, they want to work for companies that are innovative and have values. And this is really different from historical workforce generations, who were looking for jobs more based on salary and title, this generations now looking for companies with culture, and money doesn’t really buy you culture. So you really have to invest in in the platforms that are going to help you get there. And the pandemic just really accelerated this movement. And now people are self disclosing at far higher rates than before, so about 25% More year on year, and in general, everyone wants to customize their employment, and essentially work for companies that are accommodating and have values and promote equality. And so I think investments need to be made in in platforms that help you build that infrastructure to be flexible, to help big organizations be a bit more nimble and flexible, like salt, smaller organizations, and bringing accommodations and your flexibility and your process and your benefits right to the front door. So that everyone who’s looking at your company can see that and it makes you really competitive to attract and retain the best talent and the most diverse talent, especially in the new generation in the workforce. And I think an inclusion is just the best example of demonstrating to people that you have a positive company culture.

Tom Butcher 14:38
Great. Thank you so much, and I couldn’t agree more. Frances?

Yeah, I think I mean, Charlotte pointed out, we are in apandemic shift. We are also in generational shift, right? I mean, Charlotte, certainly not just talking about millennial she is a millennial. And so, so her perspective in building into her platform, just like many of her compatriots, is viewing the world very differently, right? I mean, the gig economy, for example, is is booming, and partially because again, pandemic kind of celebrated that remote working gig economy. So I think the C suite leaders is, especially if you’re a growth growth oriented company, senior executive decision makers, you really have to listen very, very intentionally and and also learn that there is a completely different expectation. And in addition to, I think, a different value the millennial is looking for, and therefore you if you are a growth company, you need to acquire talent, you really have to think about what is your best effective employment platform. And in this case, a lot of times we think about employment platform is just kind of a one off as a recruiting, you know, platform. But I’ve got in this case, we’re talking about end to end, right. And it’s not just recruitment, but how do you enable a candidate to join your company, and throughout the process to gain knowledge and insight, and also training for your own HR staff, as they, you know, learn to deal with a new breed or new kinds of workers, some of them remote, some hybrid, and all these differences, you know, it needs to be even though it’s nuanced needs to be taken into a platform consideration. So a platform decision, in this case to technology, the criteria has to be built upon whether it’s very nimble and agile and adaptable platform, a lot more sophisticated, frankly, than the last generation of employment platform that we have seen or have experienced. And last but not least, I will say that, I think the new generation, or collective, even the old generation, like myself, we’re looking, we’re looking at purpose, right? We’re looking at a company that is purpose driven, and also principally have a principal in integrative, especially now we live in a world where everything is so supposed to be fluid, but that actually translate into lacking sometimes the core. So I think it’s a perfect time for this, the C suite to really look at this, the topic in this case, inclusion as the foundational to the for example, the some of the discussion of the highest level ESG environment, social and governance, a model as a measurement of a company’s authentic, you know, adherence to their responsibility, and then translate that into afternoon investment of a platform we start with the talent acquisition is just, it’s not just nice to have, but a must, must do.

Tom Butcher 18:07
Absolutely. Well, you know, I just draw one issue with you there, Frances was where you describe yourself as the older generation, I have many years on you. So I don’t know what that puts me out as a kind of Geriatric, I think, as I say, in the States, I shall take that on advisement.

Tom Butcher 18:27
I’d like to kind of try. We not up yet on time, but I wanted to kind of bring everything together in the way and just ask you, whether you would agree with me on one thing, which is what we’ve looked at, in these three topics, is and the how we’ve looked at it shows you something which is immensely complex. It is also something that you pointed out, Frances requires to be looked at holistically and in my experience, whether it’s Inclusion Accessibility, or as you mentioned, ESG. In companies anyway, the only people who rarely do or indeed should have that sort of purview, are the CEOs, the people right at the very top. So would you agree that actually, in order to get anything to work anywhere, you have to get buy in right from the top, and if you don’t, you’re going to face an uphill battle.

Charlotte Dales 19:46
I think if you’re looking for systemic to change, you know, systemic issues, it has to come from the top, you know, choosing which this platform or this platform those can be made you know, down within the appropriate teams, but the decision to make the change and the end the person who’s going to ensure that change happens, it needs to be from the top.

Tom Butcher 20:11
Right. And Frances, would you agree?

Yeah, absolutely. And I think that’s why going back to when we started, I think post pandemic, we really have to, not just to change, but to rethink and reframe, right and regenerate a new breed of, frankly, leaders that can understand that, that we are at a different point where at a very different also the business maturity right now, I think in the past, even just five years ago, you can kind of separate you know, the business from a social, you know, movements, but we know that social movement, like me to or George Floyd, situation here in the United States has a profound impact on business. So the new breed of leaders in the C suite really has to have a broader perspective. But just because the business responsibility now is expanded beyond just profit, you know, not we hearing the term stakeholder in addition to shareholders, that doesn’t mean that it’s going to be it, it almost sounds complex, and it is in cases can be complex. But on the other hand, it’s one step at a time. But I mean, this is one of those things, you can start and be very intentional. And start, for example, in one area, it could be employment platform, you could be a communication platform, it could be your development platform, just get started, take some action, I think this is one thing that I would like to stress is that this is a topic at a C suite level has to be top down. But at the same time, it takes implementation and execution action at the ground level. And everybody can start with one step at a time.

Tom Butcher 22:04
Great. Thank you, you, you really jumped in there. Before I even had a chance to ask my very final question to each of you. You’ve answered it, which would be what would be your call to action be? So Frances, your call to action is take the first step, go from there. But there’s got to be commitment. Charlotte, what would your call to action be?

Charlotte Dales 22:30
Um, I would say it’s similar. It’s, you know, don’t wait until you’re ready, just get started. But I also think the main call to action from an executive perspective is to backup what you’re saying in the market with what you’re doing internally.

Tom Butcher 22:47
Great. Thank you very much, indeed. And at that point, we’re approaching the end of our time. So I would like to call across Petra, who is going to show us how she has depicted all your incredible wisdom, graphically, and it is, and Frances will be able to tell you, because I’m sure she has seen this before at our conference, but maybe you haven’t Charlotte. It’s just wonderful. Okay, here we go.

Petra, artist 23:14
Really cool. Thank you. Well, well, a lot of innovative, innovation driven things that are happening. I tried to catch it all, but I probably missed some of it. Let me start right here. The question was what changed post pandemic? And while yes, there was a lot of change going on post pandemic, but actually, change started much earlier than that. We are facing new generations on the market on the workforce. And that’s why change already started before the pandemic. But the pandemic showed us that we’re all interconnected all around the world. So there’s a big mind shift going on. And that’s why we have to make sure that this one size fits all, like job interviews, jobs, but also products. That’s not state of the art anymore.

Petra, artist 24:09
Rather than that, we should better have universal design. So we make an inclusive process so that everybody is included. And we have inclusive design, talking about platforms like finding new stuff, but also HR platforms for other information and create a mind shift in leaders and HR responsible people. I caught the word purpose. I think that’s one of the words we are looking for when we’re looking about integrating people with disabilities into the workforce. And from a business success point of view. I think I can summarize it with we walk up the success, up to success together, taking the first step and then continue going and it’s a top down but also a bottom up approach. So all together we can create this transformation that is necessary to have a business life for all. Thank you.

Tom Butcher 25:07
Petra, thank you. Oh, it is absolutely superb.

Charlotte Dales 25:11
Do we get a copy of this picture?

Tom Butcher 25:14
Yes, indeed you do. Both, both of you do. Ladies, thank you so much for your time today. I have thoroughly enjoyed our discussion. I hope it’s been okay for you. I’m absolutely sure that the people who have joined me online, have enjoyed it as well. Great Call to Action, great substance behind that call to action. And both your personal experiences, you know, just adds an imprimatur to everything you’ve said. Thank you so much. I know it’s first thing in the morning at home. Have yourself a very, very good day. And thanks so much for being with us again. Bye. Yeah. My pleasure.


Charlotte Dales 25:58