Diversity Leadership: Karyn Twaronite, Ernst & Young
Partner, Ernst & Young LLP
EY Global Diversity & Inclusiveness Officer
With a strong background in human resources, Karyn Twaronite knows that talent development lies in forming relationships, asking the right questions and, most importantly, listening. After being appointed Ernst & Young's Americas Inclusiveness Officer in 2011, she toured many of the company's offices in the U.S. and South America, speaking with thousands of employees about their experience with diversity.
"I knew if I brought their voices to our work, [our leadership] would really hear me," Twaronite told DiversityInc (see video). "If individuals can be themselves at work, they can provide the best possible cross-cultural and global services to our clients, which will lead to more business." Her "listening tour" taught her that inclusion, flexibility and personal interaction in the workplace all drive employee engagement and satisfaction.
In more than two decades with the company, Twaronite spent half of her career serving clients full time as a tax professional before moving into human resources, where she has held several leadership roles and made partner. Prior to her role as diversity chief, she headed human resources for the Northeast, the firm's largest region. She is a member of Ernst & Young's Americas Operations Committee and its Americas People Executive Council, and she co-founded its Northeast Professional Women's Network in 2000.
Twaronite earned her bachelor's degree in accounting from Miami University in Ohio and a master's degree in taxation from Fordham University. She holds a certificate in Strategic Human Resource Management from Harvard Business School. She is a licensed CPA in New York and sits on the board of directors of United Way of New York City.
How can you adopt a vocabulary that's inclusive and respectful of everyone? This EY exec, an advocate for people with disabilities, shares her insights.
"The difference between the right word and the almost-right word is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug." —Mark Twain
As diversity leaders, we understand that disability is just another kind of difference, like culture, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation. We recognize that diversity is a valuable source of insight and adaptability, generating better business ideas and high-quality service. Differing abilities are a part of that healthy diversity. It's our business to promote inclusiveness throughout our organizations and to advocate for policies and programs that support it.
In building an inclusive culture, we're on the front lines and need to be visibly living our organizations' values every day. It's important that we set the tone not only in what we do and say, but how we say it—in formal messaging as well as everyday conversation. This is where even diversity leaders can get stuck.
Sometimes inclusive language can seem a bit cumbersome, but with a few simple changes each of us can make a significant difference—helping to promote an inclusive culture while setting an example both inside and outside our organizations.
Here are six ways never to talk about disabilities:
1. Never say "a disabled person" or "the disabled." Say a person or people "with disabilities."
Put the person first. A disability is what someone has, not what someone is. For instance, "mentally ill" is less respectful than "person with mental-health issues." "Retarded" is never an appropriate term. Say "intellectual disabilities" or "cognitive disabilities."
2. Never use the term "handicapped parking." Use "accessible parking" instead.
Handicapped parking is still in use (e.g., when referring to parking placards), though the word "handicapped" is offensive and has been virtually eliminated in most other contexts. Remove it from your organization's vocabulary completely by using the term "accessible parking." (It's also more accurate, as accessible describes the parking and handicapped does not.)
3. Never use the term "impaired." Use terms such as "low vision," "hard of hearing" or "uses a wheelchair" instead.
Though it may be used in legal contexts, the word "impaired" can be offensive, as it implies damage. Many people with disabilities do not see themselves as damaged, but simply as different.
4. Never say "hidden" disabilities. Say "non-visible" or "non-apparent."Many disabilities are not apparent, such as serious illnesses or chronic health conditions, sensory limitations, or mental-health and learning disabilities. When referring to these disabilities, avoid using hidden, as it has negative connotations, implying purposeful concealment or shame.
5. Whenever possible, don't say "accommodations." Say "adjustments" or "modifications."This can be tricky, as accommodation has a specific legal meaning and must be used in certain contexts, like policy or government communications. However, accommodation suggests doing a favor for the person who has a disability. An accommodation is a workplace or work-process modification made to enable an employee to be more productive. It is necessary and not a preference or privilege. The terms adjustment and modification capture this idea without suggesting a favor or special treatment, so are preferable whenever specific legal terminology is not required.
6. Never use victim or hero language; describe situations in a straightforward way.
Don't use language that portrays people with disabilities as victims, such as "suffers from," "challenged by," or "struggles with." Say "someone who uses a wheelchair" or "wheelchair user," not "wheelchair-bound" or "confined to a wheelchair." On the flip side, don't use heroic language when people with disabilities complete everyday tasks and responsibilities. People with disabilities don't see themselves as inspiring simply because they're going about their daily lives. We all have challenges—working around those challenges is not heroic, it's just human.
What Terminology Should I Use?
It's worth noting that even in the disability community (yes, that is how advocates for inclusion of people with disabilities refer to ourselves), different people are comfortable with different terminology. Some are fine with the descriptor "disabled," which is in common use in the United Kingdom. Others may freely use "impaired." However, as diversity leaders, it is our job to promote behaviors that make all people feel valued and included. Knowing that some people are offended by these terms, I feel strongly that the most inclusive course is to avoid them and adopt a vocabulary that feels respectful to everyone.
As champions of diversity, we have the opportunity—and the responsibility—to set standards for how our people, organizations and society speak and think about people with disabilities. By shifting our language, we can help shift perceptions and promote the culture of inclusion that is the backbone of healthy diversity in all aspects of life.
— Lori Golden, EY, Abilities Strategy Leader
Golden leads EY's internal initiatives in the Americas to create an enabling environment and inclusive culture for people working with disabilities.
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