Breaking Barriers: Championing Diversity and Empowering People with Disabilities
Hosts: Steve Boese, Trish McFarlane
Guest: Lloyd Lewis, CEO, Arc Thrift Stores
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This week we met with Llyod Lewis from Arc Thrift Stores in Colorado to talk about embodying inclusion by employing persons with intellectual and development disabilities.
– Arc’s mission
– How to implement your own IDD/DEI program
– Supporting people with disabilities in your organization
– Importance of skills that people with intellectual disabilities bring to the workplace
Thank you for joining the show today! Remember to subscribe wherever you get your podcasts!
Welcome to At Work in America sponsored by Paychex. At Work in America digs in behind the headlines and trends to the stories of real people making a difference in the world of work. And now here are your hosts Steve Boese, and Trish McFarlane Steed.
Welcome to the At Work in America show. My name Steve Boese. Trish McFarlane, how are you today?
I’m fantastic. Steve, how are you?
I’m great. I’m really excited for today’s show on a topic that’s near and dear to our hearts that we love covering. It’s all about access to opportunity and inclusion. And it’s a great story, honestly. And we’ve got a great guest who can better tell some of this story than we can. And I’m super excited today. Trish, and thank you for setting this up. By the way this show was your idea.
I know. Well, you know what, like you mentioned that it’s near and dear to our hearts for that reason. It’s also about thrifting, which is super popular, and it’s been something I’ve loved doing for at least 20 years. So sort of multiple, multiple levels of greatness on today’s show.
We’ve got a great guest he’s waiting in the wings before we welcome him. We must thank our friends of course at Paychex. This episode of At Work in America is sponsored by Payches, one of the leading providers of HR Payroll, retirement and insurance solutions for businesses of all sizes. Check this out. This is new. Right now. New customers take advantage of the best deal of the year. If you sign up today Trish, you get six months of payroll processing for free six months. You heard that right six months of payroll processing for free. When you sign up with Paychex today, the special promotion is only available till May 31. That’s soon. So visit paychex.com/awia right now to sign up today. That’s pretty cool, payroll processing is super complicated and super important. And Paychex does a great job for the hundreds, literally hundreds of 1000s of small businesses they work with so thanks to them.
We’re happy to welcome Lloyd Lewis. He’s the CEO of the Arc Thrift Stores of Colorado, one of Colorado’s largest employers of persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities, recyclers and relief organizations under Lloyd’s tenure Arc Thrift has funded over 250 million to nonprofit causes and charities since 2005. When and where he can Lloyd takes a stand and has issued a challenge all CEOs and business leaders to follow his lead, and change how we approach and truly embody inclusion in this country. Lloyd, welcome to the show. How are you today?
Lloyd Lewis 2:52
Well, it’s great to be here. Things are good. And I just appreciate you guys doing this. I’m excited.
As are we Lloyd. I love the story. But I’d rather you tell it honestly like Arc Thrift Stores in Colorado, supporting persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities. What took you to this, like the I know, when we’ve talked to a lot of people in this kind of work, there’s always a really interesting kind of tale behind it. I’d love to hear yours.
Lloyd Lewis 3:21
Sure. Here’s my story. And it’s kind of different. So prior to this great nonprofit, I had a financial career, I was doing municipal finance in Philadelphia. I went back for an MBA in finance from the University of Chicago, I came out to Colorado with IBM did a series of companies after IBM and just prior to arc. I was CFO for a high tech that was ultimately sold to micron in 2003. My entire world and life and career and life trajectory change with the birth of my son Kennedy born in 2003. Unbeknownst to us, Kennedy was born with Down syndrome. And he’s just an amazing young man, and a beautiful personality and just a wonderful addition to our family. And initially, I got involved in scientific research advocacy, because I’m kind of a type A, and I worked with a philanthropist and she has created now the world’s largest Down Syndrome Research Institute, here in in Colorado at the University of Colorado, named for a neuroscientist I brought into the project. And then I was recruited to the arc thrift stores where I thought I could take my business skills and help create funding to help people like my son. And it’s just been an amazing experience in the highlight of my career.
It’s such a great story and I love that there’s a personal background that really drives your passion. One question for you so you were recruited to Arc Thrift Stores. Did they have any type of program for hiring people who were either intellectually or developing developmentally disabled before you’re being recruited, or was that something that you actually brought to the archivist stores with you?
Lloyd Lewis 5:11
They had a much smaller program. I think when I started in 2005, here at the Arc thrift stores, we had 10 employees with intellectual developmental disabilities, which, as you know, are people with Down syndrome, autism, cerebral palsy, and all forms of cognitive impairment. And we were also hiring others from other parts of the population who needed employment. But when I started here at Arc, because I’m the father of a wonderful young man with Down syndrome, I thought, you know, we should hire people like my son. So I put that in place. What what happened with that was unexpected. We now have 450 wonderful employees with intellectual and developmental disabilities, wow, they are the center of the company, they inspire their fellow employees, they love to contribute, they’re typically very positive. They love to work in teams. And they are just wonderful employees with practically no turnover. And, you know, what I learned was, not only was it the right thing to do, but it was the best thing I could do for my business. And it’s cool when you can put those those two pieces together. Not only is it the right thing, but it’s a smart business thing to do. You know, what I’ve found is through their employment, they inspire their fellow employees. And when you inspire your co employees, you enhance morale. When you enhance morale, you enhance productivity. When you enhance productivity, you enhance revenue. And when you enhance revenue, you enhance enhance earnings. So again, I would do it anywhere. We had 14 record years recorded.
Lloyd Lewis 6:57
And they helped us get through our COVID period by being so dedicated. And we are continuing record years starting in 2021. And I attribute half or more of our success to their employment, you know, dei, diversity, equity and inclusion is such an important part of our you know, development as a society and corporate culture. And it’s so cool, that we are employing so many different people who add to our companies, whether they’re people of color, or LGBT, or people from different countries, and different languages and experiences. One part of DEI, that, unfortunately doesn’t get as much focus are people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. And I am encouraging fellow employers and fellow CEOs and doing public speaking on the contributions and benefits of including people with intellectual disabilities as part of your DEI programs. And I know you’re wonderful listeners and members are already doing a lot in this area. And I want to thank them for that. But I encourage them to do as much as they can, and hire as many as they can. And I think they’ll find tremendous benefits to their organizations.
Well, thank you for that background. We’ve done a number of shows different angles of the kind of accessibility and inclusion spectrum. And one of the things we’ll hear a lot is many employers, many managers specifically become concerned about, they want to be more open, they want to be more accessible, they want to create opportunities, but they’re concerned they think the accommodations might be too costly or complex, or the adjustment period, perhaps into a workflow or routine or process, right might be too difficult, et cetera, et cetera. And a lot of people tell us that’s not really true, right in the real world. That’s a misnomer, or it’s a falsity. I’d love for you to comment a little bit about that issue.
Lloyd Lewis 9:06
Fortunately, that’s not true. And, you know, if it were true, my company would not a path to success. We we’ve had, you know, 17 of 18 record years doing well over $100 million in revenue now. Wow. But on the accommodation side, if you think about it, we make accommodations for all of our employees anyway, whether it’s scheduling or needed sick time or needed childcare time, or, or helping people flex through different, you know, experiences in their home and etc. On the accommodation side for people with intellectual developmental disabilities. It’s mostly around, you know, what are their interests? What kinds of jobs might they like to do? You know, what kind of flexible schedule can we provide? There’s there is really no cost involved and accommodations And it’s really not that difficult to do on the training side. We just simply pair people in coming, whether they’re have a disability or not with, you know, people on the job who can help do on the job training. And people with intellectual disabilities are very eager to learn, very receptive to direction, very cooperative in nature. And, you know, we, we find, no more problems, probably fewer problems in onboarding and managing employees with IDD as we deal with our typical employees.
Right? Well, and thank you for saying that we make accommodations to all employees, because I think that sometimes leaders get stuck in their own head that an accommodation is something that’s really unique. And really, you’re right, we were making accommodations all the times for different people. So what I would love to hear about though, is you mentioned onboarding, but let’s back up even a little bit further. So in terms of being able to find potential employees who might be with you know, with IDD, how are you doing that? And then what is the interview process look like? Are you making any changes to that? Or are you just, you know, sort of seeing what the person’s needs are in the moment and kind of going with that, how do you approach the both selection of individuals for the positions as well as the interview process.
Lloyd Lewis 11:29
For most of our employees with IDD, they approach us. For people who aren’t currently being approached by people with IDD. Most states have departments of vocational rehabilitation. Most states have various disability organizations that are seeking to find employment for people with IDD. Or who can refer you to potential employees. And it’s not really that difficult. If you look for an arc in your state. Arcs advocate for people with intellectual disabilities, United Cerebral Palsy does as well, Special Olympics. If you just look for organizations related to intellectual disabilities in any state, and just put in a call, you’ll find a ready source of wonderful people who would love to work for you.
As you as you bring them in for interviews, are you having to make any sort of accommodations in terms of the way that you interview or your other leaders or whoever’s conducting the interviews? Because I know sometimes, you know, if, for example, if you have if you’re on the spectrum, you might not have eye contact, right? Like like a typical candidate would? What kind of interview procedures or or things are you putting in place?
Lloyd Lewis 12:53
When we’re approached by someone with IDD for employment or introduced to someone, it’s more of a conversation rather than an interview more than a resume and tell us about your job experience and your education. It’s more about learning who they are as people who they are as human beings, what their likes are, what their interests are. Have they worked previously? What did they enjoy? What did they not enjoy about that? And in any company, there are a myriad of tasks that people with IDD can gladly perform. And for us, it’s more about finding, you know, an interest on the part of someone with IDD and slotting them into something, giving it a shot if it doesn’t pan out and we try something else. And I’m proud to say that we’ve never been approached by anyone with IDD about employment, that we haven’t found employment for. Their contributions are just tremendous. And they make such wonderful employees. That for us, it’s more matter of okay. You want to work for us, let’s find something that you like to do, and something that we can help you with.
I love that approach.
Yeah, that is pretty amazing. Lloyd that, that you decided, it’s, it’s not about figuring out if that person can be a fit for you. It’s more a bit, that’s fine, a fit for that person, right and find the right place for that where they can thrive.
Lloyd Lewis 14:22
Exactly, exactly. It’s, it’s more about who are they? who they are as people, what are their likes, what are their interests, their enthusiasm, their positivity, their willingness to contribute and be a part of our our team is just inspirational. And they’re much easier to onboard I think, than a lot of other employees because they are so eager and enthusiastic.
Lloyd I’m curious about the age range and the reason that I’m asking this is because I I find that sometimes in talking with Jeff For people who might have someone who has an intellectually disabled person in their family, maybe that person has never been diagnosed as to what they have, or what the challenges might be. And so they often think that this person is not capable of having a job. So I’d love to hear, what are the sort of the age ranges that you have? Who are employees? And what would you say to a parent or a family member out there who might think that someone in their family just really can’t work, but maybe they could, and maybe they would thrive when doing so.
Lloyd Lewis 15:32
In our company, the minimum age for employment is 18, for insurance reasons. Fortunately, for me, as you can see, we have no upper limit on age. There’s no, you know, if people can perform and do the jobs, you know, we have people in their 70s and 80s. And, and, you know, age does not matter to us, does not matter to us. But there is a minimum age requirement for insurance for families who have individuals with disabilities who don’t believe that they can then you know, be employed, I would say, you know, find a good ID, the employer, grocery stores are really good retailers are really good. There’s many other companies that are good, Walgreens, Walmart, you know, many companies, but you know, find the right person to work with your family member, find out what their philosophy of employing your family member is. Do they support people with disabilities? Do they understand the contributions they can make. And we have a whole range of types of individuals with disabilities who work for us, they can work anywhere from one hour a week to 40 hours a week. And there’s always some job in your company that anyone with a disability can do. And if needed, there can be a job coach, departments of vocational rehabilitation typically provide those.
Thank you for sharing that. Because I’m, I’m really trying to explain to people maybe who have family members who have never worked. That it’s, it’s some way for them to actually add purpose and value to their life. And I love that you said even if it’s just an hour a week, right? help that person in your family or friend of the family get out there and be productive and add value and feel valuable, right? I mean, I think it works both ways. So I love that you’re doing this. I also love that you don’t have sort of an age limit. I was hoping that was the answer. Because I think too, there are people who again, maybe have never worked, maybe they’re in their 50s or 60s. And it would be a great way for them to start now. It’s never too late. Right?
Lloyd Lewis 17:53
Our employees with intellectual disabilities find such purpose employment with us. Such value and their social interactions. We have supplemental programs, we have an educational program, a social program, a community service program. And for a lot of our employees with intellectual disabilities, that becomes a major part of their life. In addition to their families, a lot of them believe that if they don’t show up for work, when there’s two feet of snow on the road, that you know, the company is going to collapse. The last person to call in sick ever. And their attendance is amazing. But the purpose they find, just like the three of us on this interview, people want to contribute, they want to make a difference. They want to help. They want to develop friendships, they want to socialize. It’s amazing what you find when you include people with intellectual disabilities in your workforce. So this educational program we do by the way, it’s a series of post secondary styled monthly classes of money, computers, pet care, transportation, etc. And if they participate is not great bass participate in at least one course. It’s a certificate, six and 12 is a bachelor’s degree, nine of 12 as a Master’s 1212 As a PhD, when you go to our graduation, you would think you’re at Harvard commencement. And they’re just all fired up in front of family and friends. And I tell them, it angers me they have more degrees than me, some of our guys have. But it’s just inspiring to our management and to our fellow employees. We do a social program. We may go to the museum or the zoo, or go to dinner they they love karaoke. And I remember hiding in the man’s room with karaoke because they were threatening to bring me out the singer. I waited until I left and then they drugged me to the mic, which I could semi pull off because I have a deep voice. It’s out of tune. We have community service program with the International super towns where they do community service projects, they may collect clothing for the homeless. They may send nice letters to seniors in assisted living. They might develop care packages for military service, personnel serving overseas, but they love to give back to the community. They love to socialize. And they love to learn and participate in learning just like the rest of us.
Llyod, thank you for sharing all of that. It’s remarkable the the community that you’ve built there, both inside and outside of the workplace and the success you’ve had, I’d love to know, void as a nonprofit, you know, the cynic might say that’s not me like what the cynic might say.
Lloyd Lewis 20:42
Is Trish the person I gotta talk this up to? Yeah, she’s always have what he’s doing.
Wait, I’m like ready to come volunteer in stores.
You should you do you good. I’m gonna tell you that. But the non it’s a nonprofit organization. It’s a big one, though, right? You’re talking about $100 million. Organization, you certainly have to achieve business quote, unquote, success in order to keep the stores open and create these opportunities, not just for that, the folks the IDD folks, but for everyone, even for yourself, I imagine the Senate though or the corporate, right, we know You more and you spent X number of years right? In the corporate for profit world. It can be a challenge, I think for some organizations to really commit to the level which you guys have right when they get concerned about Oh, I gotta make supporter or the stock prices XYZ or, you know, the boss is on me for X number of widgets to get out the door this month, etc. Is there some I don’t know balance you found in your career?
Lloyd Lewis 22:02
By the way, it’s a great way to make the quarter. Great way to pump up the stock price. You know, we’ve had 17 of 18 record years only interrupted by COVID. And the inspiration provided by our employees with intellectual disabilities. You know, one of the big keys to any company is morale, esprit de corps, having a purpose serving a mission. You know, I was on an employment panel, the World Down Syndrome Congress convention held many years ago at the United Nations. And on the panel with me was someone who was on the senior team at Walgreens. And he had created a 500 person distribution facility in Anderson, South Carolina. Half of the employees had a disability. When it became his most successful distribution facility. He then ripped it out across all 2322 Walgreens distribution facilities, he found the same thing that I’ve found that improves business performance. And when he retired from Walgreens, because of his success, the CEO committed that one out of 10 new employees would have a disability. And again, it’s not a drag on earnings. It helps you pump up earnings. And the public loves it. And you know, people will shop and, you know, become customers of companies, because of what they do for the community. The public very much appreciates people with Down Syndrome and cerebral palsy and autism, and they love to support companies that support those communities.
I feel like we’ve hear so often that there is a shortage of good workers. And we find Steve and I just in our research and in interviews with do with people that this is still a widely untapped population of really strong skilled workers. Can you talk a little bit about just some of the more general skills that people who have IDD are bringing to your workplace or to Walgreens or to other workplaces like yours?
Lloyd Lewis 24:12
Yeah, it’s a very important point. There are 10 plus million open jobs in this country. There are six and a half million people with intellectual disabilities in this country with an 80% unemployment rate. There are millions of people with intellectual disabilities were available to fill these open jobs. And it’s just a matter of reaching out to the right people to get these these resources. I want to go back on the other point for just a minute in terms of the quarter. But I was recently at my 35th NBA reunion at the University of Chicago are keynoter with Satya Nadella, who is the CEO of Microsoft. And he talked about his children, one of whom had severe cerebral palsy who he lost last year at age 26. And I know now Their daughter who has a severe learning disability. And he talked at length, about the impact they had on him as a human being as a businessman, and the main lesson he drew from his kids, it’s a lesson I’ve drawn from my son. And business people can draw from employing people with intellectual disabilities. He talked about empathy. And when you enhance your empathy as a human being, not only do you have better relationships with friends and family, but you understand your customers better, what are their real needs? What are they? What are they not expressing that they truly need? Same thing with your employees. So again, this all feeds on itself. You know, when when you the more people I employ with intellectual disabilities, the better my company does. And it’s not something I knew what happened. But now I understand why it’s happened. And I’m trying to speak out as much as I can nationally, to encourage others to experience the same success that I’ve had in anyone’s welcome to reach out to me, and we’re happy to help in any way we can.
Yeah, boy, that’s the one the number one message I’m taking away from the show, and I hope people others take away from it as well as that. Don’t be beguiled by thinking this is some sort of charity or this is some sort of detract and on performance, or some negative or some hindrance to have your organization might operate quite contrary, right, your message is very clear that this is helping us become successful, remain successful and thrive.
Lloyd Lewis 26:33
We are a social enterprise, we’re at heart a retail business. And prior to me, it was felt that this kind of employment would detract from the business. But you know, we have quadrupled revenue, we’ve increased earnings tenfold. We’ve doubled our customer base. And a lot of that is due to this employment program that we have for these wonderful individuals who contribute so much to us.
Lloyd, I’m curious, you mentioned you have a son, and if I’m doing my math, right, he should be about 19 or so. It’ll be in August. Has he worked for Arc yet?
Lloyd Lewis 27:16
He’s in a day program. And he’s also in high school transition program, but he is doing some work for us. And I wondered how that was going. And I’m told he’s very serious on the job. But once his his shift is done, he’s ready to shop. And I think he out shops, his paycheck, but he, you know, he wears his Arc polo shirt. He’s already in a role. He goes in, he starts hanging man’s clothing. And I think he has a real future with us. And by the way, he has aspirations to succeed me, which is very popular with my management team. They think he’d be a one. They think that it would be a more fun company if my son were president, and that’s probably true. He’s great with knock knock jokes, by the way.
Uh, see, I you know, workplaces need that right. You need that levity sometimes,
Lloyd Lewis 28:10
and you haven’t lived till you’re in front of a gal of 500 people. And they all say not, who’s you know, knock, knock. And they all say it was a lot of fun.
I love it. One thing, it sort of it sounds like he’s maybe an unofficial ambassador, but maybe he’s an official ambassador. Could you talk a little bit about you know, you have ambassadors and what, what does that mean, and who has that role?
Lloyd Lewis 28:30
Our ambassadors are employees with intellectual disabilities, anyone who’d like to join our program can. And again, there are three monthly events. And there’s our educational program that we do, and there’s our social program. And our community service program, and anyone with an intellectual disability is welcome to participate. They are joined by typical employees and some of their management. And it’s just a lot of fun. It’s a lot of fun. It sounds like it.
Well, this last thing for me, I promise, we’ll let you go. The Arc empire is massive. I’m just I was trying to count up the number of locations real quick from the website. I don’t think I can do it. So maybe for folks who want to get involved, even if it’s just to come in and buy some things and help the cause that way what’s Oh, certainly to learn more about the great work you’re doing there as well. What’s the best way to for them to do that?
Lloyd Lewis 29:26
Well, we have 34 stores along the front range of Colorado from the north and Fort Collins to the south and pueblo. And on the western slope in Grand Junction, you can go to our website, you can find the nearest store location. And by the way, so your listeners know there’s no credit limited in our stores, which my wife knows all too well and I encourage the stores until they’re about to closed or the registers aren’t working, but she’s quite the shopper in our stores. We have free standing donation stations where you can drop off donations 15 across the state. You can also drop off donations At our stores, you can go to our website. And there’s a place on our website where you can volunteer to help us with our programs, whether it’s our ambassador programs, or our store processing or accepting donations, you can always donate cash if you’re so inclined. There’s a tab on our website for that. The public is very generous, very supportive. We have 6 million customer transactions annually. And you know, the public, we collect over 100 million pounds of donations annually and process two to 300 million items. So people in Colorado extremely generous. And anyone who’d like to support us is, you know, as a father, as a CEO of this organization, that means a lot. But starting with the Father part, it means a lot to me that people support people like my slide.
That’s fantastic. Lloyd, website. We’ll put it in the show notes as well. It’s arcthrift.com And I also Trish and listeners will direct you to the podcast tab on the website where you can subscribe to the get thrifty podcast, which is Brian favorite podcast name of I have a podcast I’ve heard in years. So it’s all about it’s about shopping and thrifting and repurposing and upcycling, I looked through some of the episodes looks really cool. So you can check that out as well.
Yeah, I have a question. Lloyd, are you on social media? Do you have a tik tok account? Are you are you promoting up some of all of these great programs and these great employees that way?
Lloyd Lewis 31:35
So as an official Boomer, I’m on Facebook. I have a an Instagram account, I think, not doing the Tik Tok thing, but the company is. So the companies on all aspects of social media. And you can go on and be a Facebook fan on our site, we have over 40,000 pounds. And the company itself is all over social media. And me on the other hand, I’m on LinkedIn and Facebook.
That’s, well, I’m glad you’re you’re on social media as a company. And I would also encourage people to go and follow you there as well because I think that’s a really good way to see firsthand what you’re up to and what all of your employees are doing, how the academy is going and just watching you all living the mission.
Lloyd Lewis 32:26
And I’ll give you my cell phone number in case any of your listeners want to reach out to me directly on this program is 720-206-7047. And again, we are more than happy to help anyone put in a program like we have and support you in any way we can.
That’s awesome great, great stuff. I love Trish when next time you’re in Colorado you were going to visit one of the stores 100 personal video for us and bring a lot of cash get me one of those shirts or hats and I’ll wear it on the next podcast. Wonderful work. inspiring story best you best to your son best. How are you wonderful employees. It’s been great to talk to you. Great meeting you. And thank you for spending some time with us today.
Lloyd Lewis 33:23
Thanks so much. This was a lot of fun.
Good stuff. Trish. Awesome stuff. All kudos to you for making this happen. Wonderful, wonderful topic. Great, great story, one of the best ones we’ve had in ages. So thanks to you. And thanks to our friends at Paychex of course, and make sure you check out what they’re what they’re up to as well with their six month free payroll offer. All right. I think that’s it Trish.
That sounds good. It’s been a great show.
Awesome stuff. Well, good to see you. Thank you again, Lloyd. Thanks, everybody for listening. Remember to subscribe wherever you get your podcasts and check out all the show archives at hr HRHappyHour.net. Thanks for listening, and we’ll see you next time.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai