UNIQUE CHANGE is an initiative at SMBC Bank which brings people with disabilities, i.e. unique abilities, and people from all levels of the bank together to educate each other on special needs and outstanding abilities.
The ultimate goal of UNIQUE is to create a culture of inclusion and emotional intelligence at the bank and to create a noticeable shift in our society.
We had the honor to talk to Kunal Mahajan, the champion of this beautiful culture transformation initiative, in this week's 60-minute CHANGE TALK. Kunal is a Vice President in Leveraged Finance at SMBC Bank in New York. Having stuttered all his life, he saw an opportunity to start this beautiful culture transformation initiative, which by now has the full support of the CEO, two executive co-sponsors, another co-head, and a team of over 40 members supporting UNIQUE's Communications, Events, Learning & Development, and Recruiting Committees.
Additionally, SMBC is investing significant resources in their disability ERG and related programs as they require an ongoing and consistent reinforcement around the importance of being sensitive to visible and invisible disabilities in the workplace.
To understand the magnitude of the issue on a societal level, here some recent statistics: 61 million adults in the United States live with a disability. 19% (one in 5) of people in the United States have some type of disability 55% have someone in their family with a disability. The reason why these numbers are so little known is because 70% of disabilities are actually not visible: Cognitive disabilities, speech impediments, depression, or forms of bipolar disorder, are all examples of invisible disabilities. The unemployment rate among the disability community is disproportionately high: 67% of people with disabilities in the age group ranging from 16-65 are unemployed in Corporate America.
One of the roadblocks that the disability community faces is inaccurate stereotypes and negative bias. Another inclusion inhibitor is a lack of understanding and/or lack of training within many organizations. Without a deeper appreciation and awareness among any company’s employee population, people with disabilities may not have the opportunity to reach their full potential. "If you think about it, only closeness and collaboration can create the required empathy,” Mr. Mahajan argues. "When you live or work with someone who has a disability you can’t help but to better understand their challenges and be empathetic to helping them."
Leveraging the experience from his own speech impediment, Kunal Mahajan decided that hosting a mock interview event for people who stutter at SMBC would help both, colleagues with and without a disability. The initiative was met with great appreciation and had a turn-out of over 30 members of senior management at SMBC. These volunteers partnered with a person who stutters at that event.
Using the positive momentum of that event In January of this year, SMBC launched UNIQUE on June 5th, 2019 as an enterprise-wide resource group to support those with disabilities, whether visible or not. From these early beginnings, the firm, its employees, and the entire UNIQUE change initiative have seen an amazing shift: By now, it is clear that all members of the firm irrespective of their status benefit from the positive mindset. What was inclusion and awareness building only at one point, has now advanced to an entire movement that advocates emotional intelligence on all levels via inclusion.
Four months into the official launch of UNIQUE as an enterprise-wide support and resource group, Kunal Mahajan says that UNIQUE has started to become part of SMBC's culture, mindset, and DNA. The positive impact and power of the initiative have been leveraged to all sides, from the way the firm recruits up to its decision-making processes.
Join us for this truly insightful CHANGE TALK with Mr. Kunal Mahajan to learn how SMBC managed to create a culture of inclusion and emotional intelligence.
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