Learn how HSBC US is celebrating everyone’s ability to make unique differences and drive change for National Disability Employment Awareness Month.
October: A Month to Celebrate Ability
October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month, held each year to recognize people with disabilities and the contributions they make to their workplaces and the US economy. This year’s theme is ‘America’s Recovery: Powered by Inclusion,' and disability inclusion is the focus of HSBC's Ability Employee Resource Group (ERG). For Jeanne Heinrich, Senior Manager of the bank’s US Wholesale Chief Administrative Office and a long-time member of Ability, it’s all about celebrating everyone’s ability to make a difference.
Ability is the Larger Part of Disability
The goal behind HSBC's ERGs is to give employees a platform to learn from one another and drive change at work and in the wider community. The Ability ERG focuses on inclusion – ability, not disability, says Jeanne. "Our mission is to create a culture that welcomes people with different abilities and disabilities by promoting mutual respect and teamwork.” First and foremost, they serve as a resource for employees who have a need.
A lot of times Ability connects people to others in a similar situation, someone who can give them information or who they can just talk to.
The group also focuses on educating people and helping them recognize the adversity so many people with disabilities have had to overcome. Lastly, Ability looks to be included on projects that bring accessibility into the organization, which includes training reviews, accessible technology (like Zoom captioning), physical accessibility in offices and much more.
While HSBC’s ERGs are loosely designed to bring people with common interests, heritages or backgrounds together – Jeanne notes anyone can join any group. "We have a Pride ERG, for instance, but you don't need to be LGBTQ to join," she says. "You just need to care or have a desire to step outside your box to learn more about a topic or experience.” She says she’s joined several ERGs over the years with that in mind – however, Ability is personal for her.
Giving Back to Others
Jeanne has a 20-year-old son with Down Syndrome. “Since my son was born, I had to educate myself, and others, and really learn to advocate for him,” she says. “The reason I joined Ability and eventually moved into a leadership role is to help people. If I can be a source of encouragement or support for someone going through a scary or difficult time – that’s what I want to do."
Ability hosts events, bringing in experts to speak on a variety of topics. For instance, to celebrate International Day of People with Disabilities on December 30th, a UN initiative established in 1992, they’ve invited guest speakers to share their experiences with HSBC employees. They’ve also participated in ‘Purple Light Up,’ where landmarks and major buildings are lit up in purple to build awareness for the day.
Through Jeanne’s involvement in Ability, she’s also connected the bank with Special Olympics. “My son is a Special Olympics athlete,” she explains. "He's a basketball player and was lucky enough to compete in the New York State level games.” What she loves about Special Olympics, she says, is that it gives people with disabilities of all sorts, the opportunity to be part of something that a lot of other people often take for granted. “It’s so incredible to watch the athletes train to reach their goals – it really builds self-esteem as they make friends and experience the value of being part of a team.”
Beyond competing, Jeanne’s son does a lot of volunteering and PR work for the organization. “He attends fundraisers with me to shake hands so potential donors can meet one of the athletes they may be supporting.” Her son isn't the only member of the family putting himself out there for the cause. Jeanne has done everything from participating in her local Polar Plunge to repelling down area buildings. “I even ran the New York City Marathon as a member of the Special Olympics team to raise money and build awareness,” she says.
Like being involved with the Ability ERG at work, being part of Special Olympics is just her way of giving back – so she can support other athletes as well. To continue to build awareness within the HSBC community, and allow others to volunteer and get involved with Special Olympics, Jeanne applied for grant funds to support the organization through HSBC's Corporate Sustainability's Involve Volunteer Program. "This program gives employees from all business lines, functions, ERGs and the bank's Climate Action Network the opportunity to apply for grant funds and bring awareness to a new nonprofit they feel is making an impact in the community.” Because of Jeanne’s advocacy, Special Olympics was awarded the CEO Grant of $30,000 for 2021 and an additional grant of $15,000 for 2022.
A Network of Support
Being part of the group, she says, was particularly helpful during COVID. “We were all struggling – everybody’s story was different, but we were all thrown into this situation overnight, and many of us found we were floundering, especially at first.” For Jeanne, a widowed single mom, it was trying to help her son, who thrives on socialization, deal with the isolation of lockdown. She was also a support for her 18-year-old daughter as she navigated online school and (remotely) to her step-son and his young family – balancing her work life on top of it all.
Through the Ability ERG, we created weekly Zoom support calls just to discuss what we were experiencing,” she says. “It opened up so many dialogues about what we were feeling and experiencing – and, for me, it just made me feel that much less alone.
Her involvement in Ability has also given her a greater awareness of all the disabilities there are in the world. "We publish a newsletter every month, and we highlight all the disabilities being celebrated that month," she explains. "Sometimes there are as many as 15 or 20 in a single month, and it's amazing to me the vast array of disabilities – both visible and invisible.”
“I guess if I’ve learned anything – it’s that there’s always something more to learn,” Jeanne says. “My goal is to make a difference in this world, and in HSBC, by inspiring, motivating and educating people on the Ability in Disability,” she continued. As Robert Hensel so eloquently shared, “there is no greater disability in society than the inability to see a person as more”.