For this week’s episode of Off-Kilter, with October as National Disability Employment Awareness Month, Rebecca sat down with two leaders at JP Morgan Chase (JPMC) who are at the forefront of advancing disability employment within the business and employer community: Bryan Gill, head of JP Morgan Chase’s Office of Disability Inclusion and the firm’s global head of neurodiversity, and Nan Gibson, executive director of JP Morgan Chase’s PolicyCenter. They had a far-ranging conversation about the story behind JPMC’s Office of Disability Inclusion and how it’s working to remove barriers to hiring and successful employment for disabled people at JPMC; why disability employment and inclusion is both the right thing to do and a business strategy; how JPMC’s PolicyCenter is advancing policy and legislative reform to promote disability employment and inclusion across the workforce as a whole; how asset limits hurt JPMC’s disabled employees and why JPMC is engaged in the national push to update SSI’s antiquated asset limits; efforts JPMC has underway to better serve customers with disabilities as a group who’ve largely been overlooked within the financial sector; and lots more.
Links from this episode:
- Learn more about Bryan’s work as JPMC’s head of neurodiversity and the Office of Disability Inclusion here
- Read JPMC’s brief on how SSI’s asset limits hamper economic opportunity and mobility here
- Learn more about the SSI Savings Penalty Elimination Act here
- Connect with Bryan and Nan on LinkedIn
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REBECCA VALLAS (HOST): Welcome back to Off-Kilter, a podcast about the fight for economic liberation and what it will take to set us all free, powered by The Century Foundation. I’m Rebecca Vallas, and as you know, every week I go behind the music with visionary leaders working to reshape America’s off-kilter economy into one where everyone can thrive and access the shared abundance we all deserve. And for this week’s episode, as we mark October as National Disability Employment Awareness Month, I am incredibly excited to sit down with two folks who are just doing incredible work at JPMorgan Chase and whom I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know and getting to work with on some issues that are very related to disability employment, and that is Bryan Gill and Nan Gibson. Bryan Gill is the head, the global head, of the Office of Disability Inclusion at JPMorgan Chase. Nan Gibson is executive director of JPMorgan Chase’s PolicyCenter. And I am really excited to get to be in conversation with them for this podcast. And Bryan, I’m gonna kick it over to you first, and then, Nan, we’re gonna bring you in as well. But let me just first say welcome to Off-Kilter. It’s fun to have both of you here.
BRYAN GILL: Thank you. Excited to be here.
NAN GIBSON: Thanks for having us.
VALLAS: I know this is gonna be a really fun conversation, and we’re gonna get into a lot of issues that I’ve been really thrilled to get to talk with and work with both of you about off the air. But Bryan, I’m gonna start with you. Before we get into talking about your work through the Office of Disability Inclusion at JPMorgan Chase, which is lovingly known as ODI, you were previously the firm’s first ever global head of neurodiversity. And around that same time, and I believe in that same role, you also oversaw a program called BeST, which was all about increasing opportunities for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities within JPMorgan Chase. How did you get into this type of work at the firm? And I’d love to give you a chance to talk a little bit about sort of the story behind how you ended up in that role.
GILL: Yeah, no. Great question. Thank you. And I still have the title head of Neurodiversity. It’s an important statement that this firm is committed to that space. So, when I had the privilege to lead the Office of Disability Inclusion, I retained that title ‘cause it’s an important testament to our stake in this. I have an operations background, strategy and operations executive, and when I had the opportunity to interview first for the director of the BeST program, the Business Solutions Team, and then my subsequent interview for the Office of Disability Inclusion, I bring business and operational acumen. And one of the primary tenets of how we operate is we run this like a business. This is not an HR function aligned with charity. This is not a commission that is gratuitous. This is absolutely integrated into our business strategy, and I will iterate this throughout our conversation today. The work that we do is not charitable. It is good for business. And then we have layers of value on top of it where we’re helping to elevate the community and contribute in so many other ways.
The BeST team, the expansion of our neurodivergent hiring, we had an autism work program going back a number of years, sourcing talent from the autism community for publicly available jobs. The expansion of that was the Business Solutions Team where we found a way to integrate members of the I/DD community—so intellectually, developmentally disabled community—into our core business processes in a value-added way, in a sustainable way that not only elevates our ability to achieve our business objectives, but provides meaningful employment opportunities for that community. We as an employer have chosen not to utilize strategies such as some of the stereotypical roles like food service or groundskeeping or anything else. No, our colleagues are integrated into core business processes where their competencies and motivational fit align better to the task than their neurotypical colleagues. The fundamental premise of the value proposition is alignment to motivational fit and an alignment of the right competencies and then wrap them in the right supports to be sure they can be their very best [inaudible]. We’ll probably get into a couple of examples as we continue the conversation.
VALLAS: I know we absolutely will, and we’re gonna pull on a bunch of those different threads. But I wanna stay with you for a moment before we bring Nan in and sort of bring us to present day. So, you mentioned you kept that title, you kept that role, head of Neurodiversity. And I love you kind of bringing that in and front and center in this conversation because neurodiversity is gonna be a theme as we get into a lot of what the Office of Disability Inclusion does. But in October 2022, if I’ve got my dates right, that was when you were named the global head of JPMorgan Chase’s Office of Disability Inclusion. Talk a little bit about what ODI is. What’s the story behind it? How did it come to be the sort of anchor within JPMorgan Chase working to remove barriers to hiring and to successful employment for people with disabilities at JPMorgan Chase?
GILL: So, ODI was founded in 2016, and it was founded on the premise that JPMorgan wants to access the talents in these communities, and we need to make an intentional effort to do it: business strategy, operations, execution, value-added, sustainable. So, the office was created to develop the infrastructure inside our firm and ensure that the workplace is inclusive, that we have accessible, you know, everything is accessible. You and I had a little sidebar. You said something that really resonated with me, and it helped shape some of the language I’m using. There’s a very big difference between accommodations and accessibility, right? And I agree with that, where we are thinking about accessibility as more forward looking, ensuring the workplace and all things in the workplace are accessible. And universal design is a common theme, and I haven’t really found anything that we’ve done broadly that didn’t elevate everyone from that perspective.
But the Office of Disability Inclusion, if I were to characterize in a single sentence our primary purpose, it is to remove barriers and enable our colleagues to be their very best. And within that, there are so many different things. There’s the fulfillment component of accommodations. We have a machine. We have a centralized accommodation team and a centralized budget. So, there’s one front door. We have a team of experts that will help the employee to understand what tools might be most useful to them. And then we do [unclear]. We also have the whole forward-looking concept of the body of work around accessibility, examining the entire ecosystem to ensure that all of our services, supports, and benefits are inclusive to the disability community, and neuroinclusive, which has some unique components to it. So, we learn and grow every day, but ODI removes barriers. We help reach into the disability communities to educate them on the opportunities we have. The community members may not think is a great place to work. But it is, and we have jobs. Not everybody is selling bank products. We have every single job you can imagine at this firm: architects, doctors, lawyers, the PolicyCenter executives, communication executives. We have everything. And every single one of those jobs absolutely is available, and we want to attract talent from these communities and make sure that they can be their very best every day.
VALLAS: I love so much you sort of giving that even just sort of tip of the iceberg of inventorying types of jobs that people with disabilities are in at the firm, right? Because as you said, a lot of times folks who are looking to say, “Oh, look, we’re inclusive,” it’s only one particular type of jobs, and folks are being put in, like you were saying, like groundskeeping or something that’s sort of off the org chart and in some separate chunk of the work. But it really is, integration is a big watchword, and I can see that. And I’ve had the privilege of getting to meet a lot of those folks in those different types of roles. And I also just wanna say hearing you talk about accessibility and accommodations and some of the other ways that you have been tackling this through ODI, it was a lot of fun for me to get to be, I sort of feel like I had a front row seat to a lot of that work last week when you all were really celebrating a lot of the disability employment work that the firm has been able to achieve over the past several years at a big expo that you held at your offices in New York. And I was, I felt like a kid in a candy store ‘cause I was getting to walk from one booth to another booth to another booth, meeting and hearing from people who are leading on accommodations, leading on accessibility, designing this particular type of software so that people have access to a different type of screen reader when they’re using Excel spreadsheets. It was, honestly, there were more booths than I even had time to get to visit. So, it was really very cool.
Nan, I wanna bring you in before we get too deep into this conversation, because you are really integral to JPMorgan Chase’s disability employment work as well. And in fact, between you and Bryan, you’re the person that I’ve actually known for a lot longer. Bryan, it’s been a pleasure getting to know you and getting to work with you in the past couple of years. But Nan, I have gotten to work with you for quite some time on a number of issues, including on disability issues, which was some of how I had the inspiration for having this conversation as Off-Kilter marks National Disability Employment Awareness Month. You are, as I mentioned, executive director of the PolicyCenter at JPMorgan Chase. And so, I’d love to give you the chance to talk a little bit about what is the PolicyCenter? What type of work does it do? That’s gonna be a big part of the conversation we have today as well.
GIBSON: Sure. Thanks, Rebecca. And really, we really appreciate you inviting us into this conversation, and we really hope that this is a conversation that we will be able to expand with other employers as well. The JPMorgan Chase PolicyCenter, basically, what we do is we work to develop and advance public policy that creates more equitable growth. And we really bring the full force of the firm to making the case about the ways in which public policy can influence employers, and businesses’ voice can bring to helping to shape public policy. And so, we use the firm’s voice, the data, the insights, we make investments in communities through global philanthropy and some of the insights that we learn there, and we bring all of those things to bear when we’re having conversations with policymakers. And also, I think, importantly, what the firm and the PolicyCenter do together is we really use JPMorgan Chase’s political capital to raise awareness around issues that we think are important for driving more equitable growth. And this is, the work that we’re doing with the Office of Disability Inclusion is a primary example of how, we, as Bryan explained, we are working to be the employer of choice for people with disabilities. We’re working to be the bank of choice for people with disabilities. But, you know, and Bryan said in a really elegant explanation—I know we’ll get into more of it—about how we’re working to advance inclusive workplaces and careers and supporting the disability community in various ways. But the bottom line is we also need better public policy in order for people who don’t work at JPMorgan Chase to also be able to benefit from some of the advances that we’re looking at.
And so, we partnered with the Office of Disability Inclusion on a public policy brief that we released that looked at the—and I know we’re gonna get into this more a little bit in a minute—but really looked at how the income and asset limits related to Supplemental Security Income, which is a federal program that provides both income and healthcare supports for people with disabilities, how those asset limits and income limits are really creating barriers to both people with disabilities joining the labor force, advancing their careers, supporting their families. And so, we really wanted to partner with them and dig in on that issue, and I think we’ll get into more of that in a minute.
VALLAS: We will indeed. And Nan, I feel like you’ve offered us the perfect segue, because as I understand it, the way that JPMorgan Chase approaches the issue of disability employment and the role that it seeks to play in advancing that goal is in-house, as Bryan has started to describe, what can the firm do to ensure that it’s being inclusive and that it’s setting up a workplace where people with disabilities can thrive as employees in all different types of roles? But it’s also about what are the public policies, and what are the legislative reforms that we need that might also, and in many cases does, impact the people who work for JPMorgan Chase, but it’s also people outside the firm as well. So, let’s make that jump and talk a little bit about that. And you started to go there, Nan, talking a little bit about SSI. Folks who listen to Off-Kilter will not be surprised at all that that’s gonna be a subject we’re gonna talk about a lot in this conversation, because I can’t stay away from talking about SSI and its asset limits and other outdated rules.
But one particular policy push for JPMorgan Chase, and something I’ve really appreciated working with both of you on, is that very issue: SSI’s antiquated asset limits, which are long overdue for an update. We’ve had many, many, many episodes of this podcast that’ve gone into this. We’ll put a few of those in show notes for anyone who maybe is a newer listener and looking for a little bit of a little more background on that issue. But I’d love to stay with you, Nan, and then bring you in on this as well, Bryan. Talk a little bit about why this issue came onto JPMorgan Chase’s radar and why this is an issue that’s important to the firm to work on through its PolicyCenter and also through ODI. So, Nan, I’ll go to you first, and then, Bryan, you’ll get a chance as well.
GIBSON: Sure. So, the issue basically is that our employees have to make a really, really difficult choice between keeping their income and assets really low or losing out on the important income and healthcare supports that are provided through a program like SSI. And so, this is a company with extremely competitive wages and benefits and career pathways, so there’s a tremendous amount of opportunity for employees who join the firm. Except as I mentioned, these asset and income limits really create barriers for our employees to be able to, you know, they’re the only ones— Well, they worry tremendously when our wages go up because they have to really worry about how much income they can have. Everybody’s usually really excited about bonus season except folks who are on SSI and need to really think about is this going to create a problem for them? Oftentimes these individuals can’t participate in our 401(k) program. And so, you can just see how much money that people with disabilities who are at the firm are leaving on the table. And we’re looking at all the ways in which, again, we can help bring people into the labor force, and then once they are with the firm, how we can help them advance their careers.
And we’re, you know, with your help and maybe others, we’re also looking at some potential workarounds as well that came up in the session that we did last week. But this is why we are calling on policymakers to update some of these really outdated rules. And everybody has their favorite sort of marker about when these rules were last updated, but the one that really sticks out for me is that roughly the last time that asset and income limits were updated for SSI was around the time that the Internet was invented. So, that should just give us all a real marker about a lot has changed in the intervening time. We’ve seen amazing medical, technological innovations that allow more people with disabilities to go to work, but yet we have this benefits system that’s really not keeping pace with the economy, let alone with inflation.
VALLAS: Yeah. And the Internet being invented, wow. I mean, that actually isn’t one that I’ve heard someone say before in terms of what are the milestone markers? My personal favorite happens to be it was the year I was born. [laughs] That one’s salient for me: 1984! That was the last time that Congress legislated to update the asset limits in SSI.
But, Bryan, I wanna bring you in on this question as well. This is something that you’ve been working on an immense amount. It’s something ODI has really made a centerpiece of the policies that you all are engaged on, and I know you and Nan have been a real dynamic duo within JPMorgan Chase lifting this issue up. How do SSI’s asset limits affect JPMorgan Chase’s disabled employees? Nan started to go there a little bit, but you really have a front row seat to this.
GILL: Yeah, Nan covered a lot of it. But I wanna just talk a little bit more about the employer/employee relationship. It’s a two-way street. So, when our colleagues come to work and give their very best to help us meet our business objectives and elevate our firm, we’re obligated in this relationship to recognize it in ways that is meaningful to them that includes compensation. So, when our colleagues are giving their best, and I give them a raise, and they cut their hours back in response to that or have to disposition bonus cash in a way that may not be, you know, they can’t save it for future expenses, emergencies, or wealth creation, that two-way street is broken. And it doesn’t, you know, our colleagues that are in these unique positions where they need and rely on the safety net of these benefits are being penalized in a way that’s unique and disproportionate to them. And it’s in the way of me as the employer being able to fulfill my obligation to my employees to help them achieve not only their personal career aspirations, but their financial aspirations as well. So, that’s how this initially came up.
We had created the BeST program and engaged with communities, the I/DD committee, where we had, now we had employees that for the first time had legal guardians, and we had to figure out how to work through that. We had colleagues that are nonverbal. We had to figure that out. And then we realized we had colleagues relying on benefits, and found out that once this came to the top and that expanded, we realized we have many more colleagues around the firm that have this unique challenge. So, the full weight of our firm, as Nan mentioned, with Nan’s leadership, is behind this because, one, it’s a business, it’s an equity issue. It’s always been an equity issue. We wanna ensure that we are, everyone’s treated fairly and that we have the ability to uphold our end of the contract. But the paradigm shift is, and why we’re present in the way we’re present, it’s a business problem. We want access to the talent in these communities. They have proven empirically and culturally that they elevate our firm in ways that we just, we couldn’t replicate without them, and this is a problem that’s standing in our way. So, yeah, it’s doing the right thing, which we will always do, and we have a business problem.
VALLAS: I appreciate that so much. And I feel like that was a big part of the conversation that I know I felt like I was really hearing at that disability employment expo that I mentioned that happened last week at the New York office, right? Jamie Dimon talking very directly about this disability employment prioritization for the firm being first and foremost, the right thing to do and as something that’s good for business. And Bryan, you reiterated this really in your opening as we started this conversation today, talking about how this isn’t charity work to you guys, right? This is actually a business strategy. And so, I actually wanna give you a little more space to sort of share that message for maybe any other employers who might be listening. I feel like folks are very familiar with the equity case. Folks are very familiar with, especially if they listen to this show, what does it look like to build economic justice and an economy that works for everyone? But is there anything more you wanna say about the business case for hiring and then ensuring that disabled employees are able to thrive within your firm?
GILL: So many different ways to answer that question, and I’ll just kind of go through a couple of them. One is that we’re in a talent war. Across many industries, we’re in a talent war. And there’s amazing untapped talent. With some minor adjustments, removing a couple of barriers, reaching into those communities with education, and then ensuring that you’re able to support them when they arrive, and it’s not complicated stuff, we’ve been able to get talent that we wouldn’t have access to and elevate our firm. When I think about the business strategy, there’s the fundamental premise that sustainability is a functioning value. So, we do value-added roles. We don’t do charitable roles. If, a, you know, for example, for an I/DD colleague placement, they need to be contributing in a way that elevates that business department, or we don’t do it. That’s just easy, right? But we have found so many different ways and unique ways to bring these communities in and to actually put them in the right roles with the right supports. And we do things like train managers to help them understand how to meet their employees’ unique needs. We continue to evolve and grow our suite of accommodations.
But I’ll say this. The majority of the acomm-, single most important accommodation is empathy and the people around the employee. And it includes and could include advanced technologies and things to support various communities are just mechanisms. But the single most important thing is empathy. We have an inclusive workplace, right attitudes, everybody understands that it’s not a matter of if. It’s how many employees you already have that are either members of an neurodivergent community or non-visible conditions or have a disability, they’re already in our firm doing great and amazing things. And maybe they’ve raised their hand to share a little bit more about themselves, and maybe they haven’t. But it doesn’t matter. Contributing, and part of this journey for us is to pivot away from labels and train managers to ensure that they’re focused on their needs-based approach and leading with empathy. And then just have a working knowledge of the broad suite of [inaudible] to enable their colleagues to be their best to help them and their department be successful.
VALLAS: Yeah, as somebody who’s spent a lot of my life living with invisible chronic illness, I really appreciate that point. And I also really appreciated that as a significant part of the conversation that was happening at that event last week, right, is that a lot of disabilities, a lot of the people who are members of the disability community, it’s not something that you would see or recognize to meet them. And so, that point was really front and center, and I really appreciated that.
Nan, I wanna give you a chance to answer this question as well. You do a lot of work through the PolicyCenter in collaboration with other employers, with folks like the Business Roundtable and others who are really leaders who try to use their political capital in a similar way to what JPMorgan Chase does to try to impact the policy landscape. Is there anything you wanna add to Bryan’s comments about sort of what the business case is for engaging on disability employment?
GIBSON: Yeah, I think it’s a great point. And as Bryan mentioned, we and many other employers are engaged in skills-first hiring, so we are looking to identify the best talent for the job, right? And I think if we just sort of broaden the aperture for a minute and talk about basically one in four Americans has some type of disability. That’s over 60 million people, which means that there are a lot of folks out there who may be on the sidelines because of public policy getting in the way, right? And so, that’s a reason why we wanna work with other employers in addition to using our own voice. But we wanna work together with other employers to help policymakers to understand in a real way how the current system is impacting our ability to attract talent and to keep talent, to make, to provide the services that we’re all providing.
And I think if I could just, we are working on the Savings Penalty Elimination Act, which is a bill sponsored by Senators Sherrod Brown and Cassidy. And there was a, they held a press conference in the Senate. Bryan spoke recently. And it was interesting for a couple of reasons, and it really demonstrated why it’s important for businesses to engage directly with policymakers on these issues, because in Bryan’s comments, he mentioned the fact that our employees are leaving employer matching funds for 401(k)s on the table. And that was a point that Senator Brown really appreciated hearing in that moment and making, and underscoring for folks.
The other really interesting great vignette that Senator Cassidy mentioned was really appropriate in terms of providing an analogy about how these policies, they’re more like flypaper for families: pulling them back just when they think they’re trying to get ahead, and then the policy snaps them back. And what we’re trying to do is create more of a springboard or a trampoline for these families. And I thought that that was really the perfect analogy and also really underscored the importance of how employers engaging in this dialogue with policymakers, we can help to move these policies forward.
And at that press conference, too, I just have to mention, Microsoft, Rylin Rogers from Microsoft was there. She’s been a tremendous partner to us at JPMorgan on these issues, both in this space, in the SSI space, and in other issues as well, which I think we’ll probably get into in a minute.
VALLAS: Yeah, Rylin deserves such a shoutout and has been such an important leader on these issues, and really, Microsoft has been just incredible in this push to update SSI’s asset limits. Nan, I really appreciate you bringing in sort of that story from the press conference. And Bryan, you were really out in force that day speaking, I think, with some of the most powerful points. The whole thing was a powerful press conference. Every speaker was really powerful. But that moment when you helped to highlight that people are not able to participate in 401(k)s if they, because it pushes them over that SSI asset limit, honestly, I think that was something that most people who might even be really familiar with this issue, they just didn’t realize. Those kinds of points just end up being so, I think, eye opening to folks who, they hear, “Oh, we have a $2,000 asset limit.” They might think about, “Oh, that’s how much you can have in terms of savings in the bank.” But it’s all resources that a person has access to. And so, that has real consequences in the employment arena. Is there anything more you wanna add to Nan’s really great point there before we move on from SSI?
GILL: Yeah, just that, again, that’s another barrier in our ability as the employer to meet our obligations. There’s this barrier in the way, and they can’t really participate in the full value and benefit of being a JPMorgan employee.
GILL: And that pains me.
VALLAS: It pains you. I think it pains all of us. And there was a moment in your event last week, which I’ve referenced a few times, but it was because it was really a powerful convening. And there was a lot of discussion about that 401(k) point, and I could just feel the energy in the room, which was a bunch of JPMorgan employees who care about these issues. I could just feel the energy in the room shift, people going, oh my God. And I could see the heads turning, people sort of small talking to each other in the middle of the panel going, “Did you hear that? Is that really true? Are our colleagues who are SSI beneficiaries not able to participate in 401(k)s?” Like, that kind of a point, I think it really drives this home.
So, Bryan, I wanna turn to you next. We’ve been talking a lot about the business case and the talent pool. And one thing I wanna give you the chance to talk a little bit about is I’ve actually heard you tell the story of one particular JPMorgan Chase employee who is neurodivergent, who was handed a complex project that involved pattern recognition. That was part of what the project really required. And as I’ve heard you tell the story, they were given a year to complete it, but it only took them six months because they were significantly more skilled at pattern recognition than other, neurotypical employees. I’d love to give you the chance to maybe tell that story and what you feel that it illustrates about how this really is actually about not just a business strategy, but being able to be fully inclusive of a talent pool that otherwise is left behind.
GILL: I love this story [laughs] ‘cause it kind of embodies lots of different things about [inaudible]. So, the story is around our I/DD program, the Business Solutions Team. So, it’s tapping into the talent from the intellectually and developmentally disabled community. And the fundamental premise of the value proposition there is matching the right motivational fit—and I’ll talk about that a little bit more—the right challenge in competencies, and the right supports to enable an employee to help us achieve our business objectives [inaudible]. So, we have a, you know, we’re a big technology firm, and we have a team of data scientists doing AI development, team learning development. And a part of that process is training the AI, and you can’t automate training automation. So, somebody has to look at the values.
When I talk about motivational fit, you have a data scientist who doesn’t align, sitting there doing this QC, the pattern recognition, verifying the data attributes. If that doesn’t align with how they view they should be adding value and they’re inspired by the work, you have a poor motivational fit. Poor motivational fit leads to quality issues, morale, attendance attrition. There’s lots of byproducts of poor motivational fit. So, we think about the, we’re Business Solutions Team, when we’re solving problems, we identify pockets of work like that where poor motivational fit there is producing less than desirable business outcomes. We decouple that process out and create a new job. This case, it’s doing data training for AI development.
We hired a colleague through one of our local community partners. He is a nonverbal, I believe he’s deeper in his autism spectrum, but I’m agnostic to any of that. We just love the guy and the work that he’s, the way he contributes to our firm. He is aligned motivationally where he—and I didn’t mention he’s nonverbal—he stims on the process, this data training process. He stims on it. He loves the work. He loves coming to being in the office with his team. His talent competency’s aligned, and he likes working on a computer. And I think today we have, I don’t know that we have found a mistake. His neurodivergent superpower, for lack of a better word, is that his focus seems to renew each time, and it’s the right motivational fit. He’s aligned to it. And he’s just done an extraordinary job. And empirically we have data that proves he’s elevated this work. We’ve taken it all from the data scientists where they weren’t a good motivational fit and allowed them to pursue things that align more with their aspirations, where they find fulfillment. And we have, for lack of a better word, accelerated the development across the firm. We have probably six or eight colleagues now working in a supported network deeply integrated into our core business. It’s not charitable. The results are astounding.
But I will tell you, Rebecca, the one thing that I grossly, grossly underestimated: the cultural impact. The teams around them get a chance to work with them, and you see colleagues coming forward and assisting and supporting them in ways that you didn’t expect. Maybe this particular colleague who has some communication challenges, he may have trouble with food service. I see people surrounding him and helping him. I see them helping him with, if they see him, a lot of people will stop. And everybody on the floor knows about the team that’s there kind of in the midst of them. And everybody has been empathetic, supportive, running guard, looking out for them, and embracing them in ways that is so warm to see that level of support kind of organically arise across the board. And that has been the thing that touched me the most and I did not expect, and I’ve been, and I’m, frankly, I’m most proud of that than the data and the results we have. But I like those too. [delighted chuckle]
VALLAS: I love that story so much. And I mean the word, just the whole time you were telling that story, the word that kept coming through is “superpowers,” right? I mean, we all have our different superpowers. We all have the things that are the thing we can do better than most other people when we figure out what that fit is. And I just I love that story because that’s really what it seems like you’ve found with this particular person, and it so flies in the face of so many of the stereotypical stories that we hear about what disability employment looks like, right? Especially when it’s the portrait of sheltered workshops and other things that are about, oh, just trying to give people make work. This is you’ve found someone’s superpowers, and it’s, and yeah, the empathy in the workplaces is beautiful too. I just wanna note I wanna call her out. As we’re talking, one of our producers, Kings Floyd, is in the chat saying, “Okay, now I wanna come work for JPMorgan Chase after hearing that story!” I love that. Sorry, Kings. Had to put you on blast.
So, Nan, I wanna turn back to you and bring you in on another issue that has seen some really significant momentum in recent years and which JPMorgan Chase has also been finding some really interesting and powerful entry points into, both on a policy, the policy side, but also in house, and that is the push to phase out the discriminatory sub-minimum wage. That’s an archaic policy within the United States, within wage-an-hour law, that allows disabled workers to be paid quite literally pennies an hour for their labor if employers choose to do that. And a step that JPMorgan Chase has taken to move the ball forward on this particular issue and leveraging its scale, really, as a large global corporation, is modifying your contracts with vendors to say it’s not okay to pay the subminimum wage under contracts with the firm. Talk a little bit about that particular step that you all have taken, where that idea came from, and how that fits into the PolicyCenter’s work.
GIBSON: Yeah, thanks, Rebecca. Well, I have to give another shoutout to Rylin Rodgers at Microsoft. When we were working on an issue brief, which you can actually find on the JPMorgan Chase PolicyCenter website, we sort of looked at both SSI, and then we also looked at a variety of other policies that would help to reduce barriers to employment for folks with disabilities, for people with disabilities. But the subminimum wage issue came up as well. And for large employers, it was something we talked to other large employers about, it actually really doesn’t impact very many large employers for their own workforce, because obviously, we are companies that are paying competitive wages and benefits and things like that. However, we do have, large companies have vast vendor networks. And so, one of the issues that we really wanted to hone in on is altering our master contracts that would basically prohibit our vendors from paying the subminimum wage to people with disabilities. So, that is something that we now require, and we are working with other employers to try to get them to use their market power as well to make these changes. So, one way to go about this is the public policy route. Another way is to use your market power, which we actually hope will eventually lead to a public policy change in this area.
And I will say—I hope this is not speaking too much out of school—but I am proud to say that it was the shortest meeting I’ve ever had with the legal department here. Because as soon as I explained to them what the issue was, they said, “Oh sure. [laughs] No problem. We can make that change.” And I was happily surprised. And I was like, “Well, you mean we don’t need to have a lot more meetings?” And they said, “No, we will just make it in the next round of our master contract alterations.” And I just think, I’m really hoping that other companies, when we share the story with other companies, when we share this podcast with other companies, that they too will have the shortest meeting ever at their firm with the legal department to make these kinds of changes and really show the market power that firms can have in making a difference in people’s lives like this.
VALLAS: Gotta love a short meeting, especially one that ends with the answer that you’re looking for. And I also, I love that Rylin is getting all the well-deserved shoutouts here. One of the things I most love also just about that story, and which I know is going on a lot behind the scenes, is more and more large employers who are seeking to get in the business of having a disability employment strategy and making that a priority and who are, in some cases, involved in public policy shifts, but not all of them, are sort of talking behind the scenes to each other and saying like, “What can we learn from each other? What are you doing? What are you doing? And oh, we’ve had this experience. And oh, we’ve figured out this way we can use our market power,” to use your phrase, Nan, “to make a difference.” And I’m excited to see more of that happen in the years ahead. And it’s part of why I was excited to do this podcast with both of you, was in hopes that some folks can learn from you and also that more of those conversations can go on behind the scenes. Bryan, is there anything that you want to add sort of on that point before we move on and talk a little bit about what it looks like for JPMorgan Chase to be the bank of choice for disabled people?
GILL: Nothing to add there. Just using the power of our firm responsibly and then using the power of our firm to influence and move things in the right direction and manage [inaudible].
VALLAS: And I love seeing that really be the two-pronged strategy, right? This has come up throughout this conversation, but you all really looking at how can you be making changes in-house and also, how can you be bringing influence to bear outside in the broader space.
So, I wanna move next to something that Nan, you often say when I hear you speak publicly and something you’ve also said in the course of this conversation, is that JPMorgan Chase wants to be the employer of choice for people with disabilities but also the bank of choice for people with disabilities. We’ve been talking about you all as an employer for the most part, but folks are probably aware JPMorgan Chase is a bank, right? And so, whether someone has an account or a credit card or whatever way that they are familiar when it comes to interacting with you all as a bank, that is part of what you’ve also been exploring and prioritizing when it comes to your disability strategy.
And one example that I’m familiar with of how you’ve been looking to do this as a bank is a partnership that JPMorgan Chase has with Gallaudet in Washington, D.C., which is, folks are probably familiar with Gallaudet, but it’s a school, and it’s a school that’s for Deaf folks, for Deaf students. That partnership has enabled JPMorgan Chase to set up a Deaf banking center on H Street, which is actually right where I used to live when I lived in D.C., just a few blocks away from my old place. Talk a little bit about, Nan, if you would—and then I’ll move over to you, Bryan, on this point as well—this particular partnership and then any other efforts you wanna mention about what JPMorgan Chase has been up to when it comes to better serving customers with disabilities as frankly a group that have largely been overlooked by the financial sector. So, Nan, first to you and then over to Bryan.
GIBSON: Yeah, well, it was our first, the H Street branch near Gallaudet, was our first bilingual English/ASL branch. And as you mentioned, it definitely, it tailors our services to customers who are Deaf or Hard-of-Hearing. And we’ve also tapped the talent, the talent pool, to better serve this community as well. The way the branch is designed is definitely with people who are either Deaf or Hard-of-Hearing in mind. So, for example, none of the desks, when you walk in, they all face the door so that no one can come up behind someone, for example and without them being unaware that someone’s entered the branch. There is sign language, ASL signing over video stream, over Zoom for individuals who might need that in addition to individuals in the branch who provide that. And Bryan, you should probably jump in, because I’m sure that there are other aspects of that particular branch and features that I may be missing.
GILL: Yeah, no. There’s, I’ve visited it twice, and every time I go, I learn something new. And there’s some very subtle nuances. For example, there’s no hard corners because you don’t want people bumping into each other. They may not hear someone coming around the corner, so they’re rounded corners in the entryway. And then we have specialized services. There’s translators on-site, and we have web-enabled translators as well. We just wanna make sure that when one of our clients walks in, it’s business as usual, and they can conduct their banking business as seamless, and it is easy, and we meet them where they are at. That’s an important attribute.
I will say on kind of the when we think about being the bank of choice for consumers, that in itself requires us to ensure that we have representation from the disability and neurodivergent communities in all levels of management. Otherwise, we won’t be able to create products and services to meet the community’s needs. We talk about good for business, again, just another element to this, we have to be informed by the communities we wanna serve. And having that representation is absolutely critical all the way up to the top. It’s just another way to look about the importance of disability inclusion.
I didn’t mention some of the other things, the way we view employment in these communities, and I’m gonna generalize these very, very high level. But when you have somebody with a unique difference that operates every day in a world that may not have been designed for them, they learn how to solve problems very quickly. And that entrepreneurial spirit translates very well to the workplace. You have somebody coming in that is a problem solver. And for the neurodivergent communities, I love that the premise—and we have proven this time and time again—when you have somebody on your team that processes information differently and has a different operating system, for lack of a better word, you have someone that’s looking at your old problems in new ways and your new problems in new ways, and you’re getting a perspective that you may not have considered. And that has proven itself [inaudible]. Once again, that’s a community we wanna bank. So, we need to be informed of their lived experiences and what their needs are all the way around. It’s one of the few cases where I can say it’s win-win-win: win for the bank, win for the employee, and win for the community as we help close the wealth gap and meet employment objectives [inaudible].
VALLAS: And that’s really a big part of why I was really interested in having this conversation with both of you for this podcast. It’s a little bit different from a lot of our sort of typical episodes because usually—more usually I would say, not always, but more usually—folks are talking about the equity case, the justice case for changes to our economy. But you all are both really speaking head on to the business case. And I’ve really appreciated hearing you have that conversation in various spaces publicly as well as in JPMorgan Chase spaces, but I just I really appreciate you bringing us back to that over and over. Bryan, for so many different employers or businesses who might be listening and might be thinking about, is this something that’s just about corporate social responsibility and maybe us being able to say we’re doing our part, or is this actually something that really is a win-win, right, is that a talking point, or is there something beneath that talking point? And I feel like you’re giving example after example after example of how win-win is not just a talking point. And Nan, you have something you wanna add on that as well.
GIBSON: Well, I wanted to add one really quick point on Bryan’s point about the entrepreneurial spirit, too, because in addition to wanting to be the employer of choice, we are also one of, I think, only two financial institutions that serve as a preferred Small Business Administration lender under a new, for people with disabilities, under a new program with the National Disability Institute. So, this is a program that’s really focused on entrepreneurs and small business owners with disabilities. And so, to Bryan’s point, if you wanna start a small business or be an entrepreneur, it is really difficult to do that if you’re someone with a disability. And so, we’re working really closely with the SBA to try to get more capital to individuals with disabilities who are interested in starting their own businesses as well.
VALLAS: I’m so glad that you brought that in, Nan, because, and that is something from, that I think we’ve talked about at different points on this show from sort of a policy perspective, because there is so much continued employment and hiring discrimination facing people with disabilities in the labor market, even though we’re 33+ years after the Americans with Disabilities Act, small, or entrepreneurship and self-employment, that ends up being the only option for a lot of workers with disabilities. And so, I really appreciate you bringing that in, because removing those barriers is really key for disabled folks as well.
So, we have a few minutes left, and I wanna take us to something of a fun place. This whole conversation has been fun for me, but I’m gonna bring this into just a little bit of a new place for this conversation, which is music. And Bryan, part of why I wanna ask this question that I’m gonna ask is that you are a musician. And I have to say for folks who are watching the video version of this conversation, I think they know they can look at you and know that you have the beard for it. But this has been a big part of your life outside of, and sometimes inside of, your work at JPMorgan Chase. So, I don’t know if there’s anything you wanna share about your music background, but something we’ve been asking of every single guest on this show this season is, what is your walk-up song, your hype song? What powers you up? Because our fabulous producer, Kings Floyd, is making a playlist of all of those songs. So, anything you wanna share about your music background, how that actually plays into your work at JPMorgan Chase, and what your song of choice is. And Nan, you’re gonna get the same question, so stay tuned.
GILL: Yeah. I play guitar. I’ve been in a number of dad bands throughout the years, but I’m just a hobbyist. I enjoy this stuff. It’s all about the stuff, right? My walk-up song is going to be Hello, World. So, Rebecca, you have the opportunity to hear the kind of internal preview of the JPMorgan’s disability anthem, singer/songwriter employee. And December 3rd is her public showcase. So, the song for team, so the song will be available December 3rd to add to the playlist. We will have a global release of Hello, World, which is a disability advocacy anthem written and performed by a singer/songwriter that works with us, is a member of the community. And I play guitar, and there was a group of employee volunteer band members that we showed up at Smash Studios in New York City, the real deal, never met each other, and we played it, and we captured just a tremendous, there’s a music video that goes with it, too. So, I’m really excited about that. And now you guys will publicly, folks listening to this will be able to see it December 3rd.
VALLAS: I had a feeling that might be your choice after getting to hear that song. It’s amazing. Spoiler: It is absolutely an amazing song. The music video is very cool. I’m very excited for this to be released into the world. True story: I had asked if it would be possible to play it during this episode, and I understand that it’s not. And that’s okay ‘cause you guys need to wait for your big global release. But I am really, really excited for the song to be out into the world. And I can see that being just really fabulous walk-up music, hype music.
Nan, you may not identify as a musician in quite the same way that Bryan does unless there’s a whole dimension of your life that I’m not aware of in that department. But I do wanna give you the same question. What is your hype song? What’s your walk-up song?
GIBSON: Well, yeah. No, I do not. My mother was a concert pianist, but it skips a generation. I don’t have any musical talents, but I do appreciate music a lot. I think the new song, Hello, World is a terrific, terrific song. But I’m gonna close this out—and I think we should’ve had our mic drop moment then—but I will just close this out with I think my walk-up music would be Beautiful Day by U2. And as the song says, “It’s a beautiful day. Don’t let it get away, everybody.”
VALLAS: I love that! And I don’t think we actually have any U2 in the playlist yet that Kings is putting together. So, thank you, Nan, for bringing in some U2. No, Kings is confirming we don’t yet, so that’s, I love that. And now I’m gonna think of you when I hear that song.
So, we have a couple of minutes to close out with, and I just wanna give you both the chance to share anything that you want to about what’s next for JPMorgan Chase’s disability work, disability employment work. Nan, I’m gonna give that to you, and then Bryan, you’re gonna get the last word.
GIBSON: Yeah, I would just say this has been a really terrific opportunity. We really appreciate it. I think we, you know, Bryan will talk about what we plan to do internally. But since my job is more externally focused, we’re gonna continue to work with policymakers on SSI limit reform, Savings Penalty Act. We hope, it’ll be nice to get that over the finish line this Congress. And we wanna continue to work with other employers, and so I would just say, if you are an employer out there working on these issues and wanna connect with us, please find me on LinkedIn. I would love to have a follow-up conversation and connect with you.
VALLAS: I love that. An open invitation for anyone who wants to connect with Nan Gibson. And Bryan, you’re gonna get to close us out with anything you wanna share about what’s next for ODI’s work, for JPMorgan Chase’s disability work, or any closing message you wanna offer.
GILL: Yeah. Thank you. As we continue on our journey, one of the strategic priorities that will continue with this is ensuring that this is inclusive in every regard that we can think of. And that disability expo that you had, that you attended, Rebecca, was a pilot that went really well, and it was a showcase of all of the supports that we have available to ensure that everybody can come to work and be their very best every day. We’re going to continue to amplify that. And the theme behind that message is accommodations and accessibility are not the exception to how we do business. So, internally we’ll try to like, for example—and not using JPMorgan as an example, but most employers—if you are applying for a job, there’s a job description, and in a little smaller font at the bottom, there’s a box if you need accommodations check, right? It’s an afterthought. It’s an exception. We wanna change that paradigm, and it’s not an exception. It’s how we do business.
And I often remind managers if you’re sitting in that chair, it’s an accommodation. Universal use, but do you have the stamina to stand all day? Could you be your best if you had to stand and work all day at your job? Probably not. It’s an accommodation. And if you think about that, everybody has unique needs and preferences to be able to be their best every day. So, removing that mindset. And I mentioned earlier that we’re moving towards more needs-based and less about labels ‘cause everybody owns our label. They choose whether or not they wanna share it, and frankly, we do, I feel if someone tells us and shares something about themselves, we should feel very privileged that we’ve created a trusted space for them to share that. But it’s not required. We just wanna understand your needs. Like, every employee, it’s the same kind of conversation: How can I help you be your very best? And we’re moving. We’re on this journey just like everybody else. We truly recognize the value and the contributions our disabled and neurodivergent colleagues make, and we wanna continue to ensure this is the very best place to go for them to attract more talent from these communities and make this a great place for everyone.
VALLAS: I can’t think of a better note to end this conversation on National Disability Employment Awareness Month. Bryan Gill is head of JPMorgan Chase’s Office of Disability Inclusion. He’s also the global head of Neurodiversity within the firm. Nan Gibson is executive director of JPMorgan Chase’s PolicyCenter. Thank you so much to you both for taking the time for this conversation, but most importantly, for your work, for your leadership, and for your partnership on SSI and so many other issues. It’s been just a true delight getting to work with you and many of your colleagues as well. [theme music returns]
GIBSON: Thank you, Rebecca. Thanks for the opportunity to have the conversation.
VALLAS: And that does it for this week’s show. Off-Kilter is powered by The Century Foundation and produced by We Act Radio, with a special shoutout to executive producer Troy Miller and his merry band of farm animals, and the phenomenal Kings Floyd, who keeps us all in line week to week. Transcripts, which help us make the show accessible, are courtesy of Cheryl Green and her fabulous feline coworker. Find us every week on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your pods. And if you like what we do here at Off-Kilter Enterprises, send us some love by hitting that subscribe button and rating and reviewing the show on Apple Podcasts to help other folks find the pod. Thanks again for listening and see you next week.