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Students learn the value of diversity and inclusion in the workplace

Oct 02, 2017
JR Harding

National Disability Employment Month is commemorated in October to encourage businesses to reflect on the important role persons with disabilities (PWDs) play in workforce success. This year’s theme, designated by the U.S. Department of Labor, is "Inclusion Drives Innovation."

That theme reflects the essence of the College of Business’ ongoing initiatives to foster diversity and inclusion and stress their importance to the next generation of business leaders.

An extension of those efforts includes an upper-level management course titled, “Current Issues in Human Resource Management,” taught at the college by disability policy expert JR Harding. Among other things, the course covers evolving issues in the workplace related to persons with disabilities. Since joining FSU and the college a year ago, Harding has lectured on the topic in more than 32 classes across campus. He is committed to his cause because, he says, everyone has the ability to contribute in a meaningful way; we just have to change attitudes and remove barriers.

“More than 15 percent of the global population is made up of persons with disabilities, and if you’re going to be competitive, employers need to be inclusive,” said Harding, who earned his Ph.D. in 1999 from FSU in higher education with a focus on leadership and policy. “You are going to have to assimilate PWDs into the work culture, begin seeing the world through their lens, and take advantage of their untapped and innovative expertise.”

As a preeminent institution, FSU is known for driving innovation and diversity. Accordingly, Harding, with fellow students and faculty with disabilities, has launched the “University of Choice” initiative to make FSU even more inclusive by exceeding the minimum accessibility standards and creating a stronger culture that embraces all abilities.

Harding notes that in recent decades, the model for persons with disabilities has evolved from a medical to a social one, reflecting PWDs’ wish to work and contribute rather than sit on the sidelines. He is focused on ensuring that tomorrow’s business leaders are prepared to accommodate PWDs by removing stereotypes and preconceived notions of inabilities to perform the essential functions of a job.

Harding has long been widely recognized as a community ambassador and change agent with the ability to influence business and governmental policy through his far-reaching presidential and gubernatorial connections. Among other honors, he was twice appointed by President George W. Bush to the United States Access Board and seven times by three Florida governors for similar roles within the state. His consistent commitment has been to maximize the independence and self-sufficiency of persons with disabilities. Just last week, Harding was honored with Leadership Tallahassee’s Distinguished Servant Leadership Award for 2017. It is one of the community’s most prestigious recognitions.

“When Provost Sally McRorie brought JR to Florida State to spearhead inclusion initiatives around campus, we jumped at the opportunity to locate him in the College of Business,” said Dean Michael Hartline. “His classroom teaching, as well as his informal networking among our students, faculty and staff, has really expanded our thinking about diversity and inclusion on multiple levels. Our college has become a true ambassador for disability awareness around campus, the community, and the state.”

Harding expects students who complete his course to come away with an understanding of how to recruit, retain and accommodate qualified persons with disabilities, collaborate with community and state workforce development agencies, and diagnose and solve problems related to access and inclusion.

“Most students have had limited to no experiences with persons with disabilities, but we are trying to change that with this course,” Harding said. “When you consider this segment of people comprises 57 million Americans, or 20 percent of the of the U.S. population, you have to ask yourself, ‘How can you possibly leave 20 percent of the population out of your business model?’ ”

By Barbara Ash





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