Three Questions for Misha Gonzalez and Emalynn Robinson

October 30, 2020

This October is the 75th observance of National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM). To celebrate, All Access Employee Resource Group co-chairs Misha Gonzalez and Emalynn Robinson share the benefits of an inclusive workplace and their vision for Berkeley Lab.

What is the purpose of the All Access ERG, and why might I want to get involved?

Misha: The All Access Employee Resource Group represents members of the disability community and their allies. We seek to advance inclusion and equality for everyone in the Berkeley Lab community.

One in four people have a disability according to the Centers for Disease Control and people can acquire a disability at any point in life. Whether we experience disability directly or indirectly through those we care about, everyone benefits when we make the spaces we share more accessible.

All Access provides a safe space to connect with the community at the Lab, while offering a learning space for its members. There are no prerequisites or minimum time requirements for joining and it offers a great way to learn leadership skills. As an ERG, we also learn and share about existing resources and the diversity of the community itself in a collaborative, team environment.

Inclusion is so important from a civil rights perspective, but why else is it beneficial to have an inclusive workplace and engage in inclusive hiring?

Emalynn: An inclusive workplace for people of all abilities reduces employee turnover, increases productivity, and leverages untapped talent. People with disabilities come up with innovative solutions on a daily basis in order to navigate a world that is not designed with their basic needs in mind. This creativity and knack for problem solving is often brought into their work as well. And since these natural innovators make up about 20% of the American workforce, they are a huge source of talent that all employers can benefit from.

A diverse workforce also improves job engagement and organizational culture. If an employee feels included and welcome in their organization, they are much more likely to succeed, bring their best self to work, and stay with the organization.

By providing accommodations in the hiring process and at the organization, employers can broaden their talent pool. Many accommodations are at no cost to the organization and help other employees. For example, typing up notes before and after meetings or providing captions in slide presentations from Google Slides. At Berkeley Lab, we have the Integrated Disability and Absence Management (IDAM) team, who supports employee requests for accommodations and tailor the accommodations to individual employee needs. They are a wonderful resource and I’m glad the Berkeley Lab provides this confidential and crucial need to our employees.

What is your vision for the Lab's future?

Emalynn: I would love to see the Lab become a champion of fostering an environment where people of all abilities, gender, sexual orientation, and ethnicities can feel welcome and encouraged to be their best selves at work. My goal is for the Lab to be a place where employees can feel psychologically safe to self-identify their confidential disability status in UCPath and feel empowered to request accommodations through IDAM should the need ever arise. I want the Lab to be a place where people with disabilities feel respected, valued, heard, and supported to be their best. I would love to see the Lab become a leader in accessibility, both in our websites and technology as well.

Misha: My vision for the Lab's future is one where Berkeley Lab leads the Department of Energy's national laboratory complex in accessibility and disability inclusion. Innovation and team science thrive when individuals with diverse perspectives and creative problem-solving skills are empowered to collaborate to the fullest extent of their abilities.

Our Initiatives for 2021 are focused on developing resources and building awareness in the areas of hearing resources, accessible meetings, and mental health. Through these efforts we aim to advance in our mission is to make a more inclusive workplace by reducing stigma and increasing awareness about the experiences of individuals with disabilities. Our members’ passion makes me believe that this vision is achievable.

Check out the resources and webinars from this year's 30th anniversary celebration of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Connect with other employees at the Lab by joining the All Access Employee Resource Group.