Disability Inclusion in ESG Investing

On July 14, the third panel discussion on diversity inclusion was held and co-hosted by Goal 17 Partners, The Harkin Institute, and Global Goals Advisory. The event featured conversations on the best practices regarding disability inclusion, how investors can engage with companies to foster diversity and inclusion, and how companies can create a long-term value for shareholders and across society. 

Panelists included moderator Merrill Freidman, RVP, Inclusive Policy & Advocacy, Anthem, Inc; Eddie Ndopu, UN SDG Advocate, Activist, and Humanitarian; Carol Nolan Drake, Founder and CEO, Carlow Consulting, LLC; Charles Spearman, Global Head of Diversity and Inclusion, Cohead of Human Resources Strategic Operations, Guggenheim Partners, LLC; and Lisa Woll, CEO, US SIF: The Forum for Sustainable and Responsible Investment. 

In her opening remarks, Merrill Friedman highlighted the importance of ESG (Environment, Social, and Governance), which is a “framework increasingly used by investors of all kinds to ensure companies operate in a way that helps rather than hurts the environment.” She also noted that, in alignment with ESG, there is $40 trillion worldwide for investing that “is managed under social and environmentally responsible investment frameworks.” So, the question is, how can we bring together the private sector investors and the disability community to allocate a portion of those funds to disability inclusion and integrated employment opportunities? 

To begin answering that question, panelists pointed out that in our current reality, investors are still not prioritizing disability inclusion to the extent that is necessary for growth. Disability inclusion is more of a consideration among the investor communities, but not a means for action. Lisa Woll mentioned an investor letter on corporate disability inclusion from 2019 which included commitments from big asset managers and even some state treasurers. When she reached out to organizations who signed the letter to see what they had done, “there had not been a lot of activity, particularly among the asset managers.” 

This news is disturbing, but panelists reassured that it is not a reason to give up hope or stop pushing the disability inclusion agenda. In fact, on June 25 2021, U.S. President Joe Biden signed the executive order for Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility in the federal government. New ESG definitions, including for diversity inclusion, will be implemented next year, and the S.E.C. is opening doors for new conversations regarding diversity inclusion. 

Additionally, private sector companies are beginning to be more transparent and expansive with their data on disability inclusion. Where there used to be one question on an RFP about a company’s overall approach to diversity and inclusion, now there are multiple that request specific metrics. 

Charles Spearman emphasized that in addition to the need for better data and standards on inclusion, organizations need to focus on closing the cultural competency gap. He shared that at Guggenheim they bring in guest speakers to share their experiences because “without the emotional connection the idea that I as a manger or leader need to change these issues can be overlooked.”

By examining and sharing data, committing to action coalitions, and giving people spaces to share their personal stories, “we can lift this platform in a much more successful way than taking a piecemeal approach,” said Carol Nolan Drake.   

You can watch the full event recording here.

Join us for our next conversation in August.