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Seeing the possibilities: HR professors advocate inclusion for workers with disabilities

Tuesday, February 8, 2011
Seeing the possibilities: HR professors advocate inclusion for workers with disabilities

A pair of Oakland University SBA professors, known for their research in human resources, is influencing future employees and employers alike.


Professor of Management Lizabeth Barclay and Associate Professor of Management and Director of Business Programs and Strategic Initiatives Karen Markel put the spotlight on workers with disabilities. In doing so, they are encouraging employers to tap an underutilized resource and remind them of the value of every employee.


“There are case studies that show an employee with a disability is often more committed and loyal to an organization,” Barclay explains. “Hiring a worker with a disability can be a competitive advantage.”


Barclay's and Markel's recently published articles point out that those with disabilities have higher rates of poverty and examine the factors contributing to their underemployment.


Considering the whole picture


By sharing what these professors have learned with the profession and with their students, they hope to develop a model for a more effective and welcoming workplace. In their work, Barclay and Markel generated questions organizations should consider as both a matter of social responsibility and as a chance to reduce the underemployment of those with disabilities. Of the 33 million people with disabilities aged 16 to 64, only 18.5 million are employed, the 2000 U.S. Census indicates.


Their research is pertinent even to those without disabilities. According to the Social Security Administration, a 20-year-old worker has a three in 10 chance of becoming impaired or disabled before retirement. Furthermore, about one in five U.S. residents  ̶ 19 percent  ̶  reported some level of disability in 2005. 


Markel admits getting businesses to open their eyes to the potential of employees with disabilities isn’t always easy. “When the labor market is tighter, organizations feel like they shouldn’t have to make accommodations for any employee because competition is so fierce for jobs,” she says. Markel is quick to point out that costs of any accommodation tends to be minimal, if any, at all.



Molding the future


The work the professors are doing is important, says Nancy A. Woolever, director of academic initiatives for the Virginia-based Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), a global human resources professional organization. “It’s critical for professors to do research, to influence practice by creating the science behind it, and get it in the hands of those who can put it to practice,” she adds.


One of SHRM’s main objectives is to help professors shape the future professional worker. Markel's involvement in SHRM committees helps her coordinate the SBA's HRM curriculum, ensuring it’s at the forefront of the industry. Both professors also are certified as senior professionals of human resources (SPHR). This involvement helps their graduates walk out into a career ready to work from day one, and that reflects well on the university, and the breadth and depth of its curriculum in HR, Woolever explains.


“By staying current, we provide a higher level of service to our students,” Markel adds. “We are strong teachers and active in the industry.”


Meeting of minds


Barclay and Markel, who have successful research endeavors individually, began working as a team in 2001. “We found we had overlapping interests, so we started working together,” Markel says. “We discovered we had a compatible research process, too.”


Usually one takes the lead on a project, while the other pitches in on all fronts. During the life of a project, the two comment on each other’s thoughts and discuss issues. They use a variety of communication tools, including a shared computer drive.  The pair often travels to conferences to share their work.


Their courses also are valuable for non-HRM students within the SBA. “People working for any organization need to know what their benefits mean and how their compensation package works, including their 401ks,” Barclay adds. “It’s an important life lesson.” 


And they want to teach it.




By Rene Wisely