September is National Deaf Awareness Month. This month is dedicated to spreading understanding of the rich cultural heritage of the Deaf community and sharing knowledge about Deaf issues. As a person who is hard of hearing, in addition to having epilepsy, I strongly believe that it is important that awareness of Deaf culture be shared in the workplace and in educational institutions.

One of the issues regularly shared with me, by members of the Deaf community, is the lack of promotional opportunities at companies where they work. Despite receiving high performance reviews, many of the people I speak with have shared that they feel stuck in the same job role and are regularly passed over when applying within their organization for promotional opportunities.

The same misconceptions and attitudinal barriers that have, for years, impacted the hiring and inclusion of members of the Deaf community continue to stand in the way of opportunities to advance career objectives. People should not be limited in their ability to achieve career success and fulfillment of professional goals based on disabilities; these decisions should be made based on the achievements and potential of the employee.

Employers are asking, how do you know if a deaf or hard of hearing employee would make a great leader for our organization? What are the risks of promoting someone from the Deaf community?

Employers who were at the forefront of instituting best practices in the inclusion of employees who are deaf or hard of hearing are beginning to understand the value workers from this group are bringing to their organization. These employees are not just performing well, they are loyal to the organization. As with any employee, after serving in their job role for several years employees who are deaf or hard of hearing are looking to take the next step in their career and are eager to do so within the company they are working at. This poses a dilemma for employers who are unsure about the potential for success in promoting individuals who are deaf. However, I propose that employers are asking the wrong questions.

I agree, making the right decision when promoting an employee or asking them to handle additional responsibilities is crucial in effective business practices. Someone who does an excellent job in their current role, may not be an individual who will perform well in a supervisory or project management capacity. Promoting someone who does not have the competencies to take on or learn the additional responsibility required of the job role negatively impacts both the organization and the employee’s sense of satisfaction in their job. However, the ability to be a strong leader is not determined based on disability, but skill. Determining if someone has the competencies to handle a promotion should be the same process for a person who is deaf or hard of hearing, as it is for the rest of the contenders who are vying for the position.

The question isn’t ‘will a person who is deaf or hard of hearing be a great leader for your organization’; it is, ‘can your employee become a great leader’. Is she or he showing the potential that you look for when making succession plans? If not, what direction can be provided to that employee to help them understand the steps they will need to take and what skills they will need to demonstrate to help them achieve their goal. Just as with members of the workforce who are non-disabled, employees from the Deaf community pose the same risk and potential for success. It is about the individual employee and what they offer the employer.

Years from now, I imagine writing another blog segment on this same subject. I do not need a magic wand or a crystal ball to know that when we look back, there will again be companies that have been at the forefront of change and those that have lost valued employees to the competition because there was a limit to the success to be achieved within their organization. The companies who ask the right questions now and who promote people from the Deaf community with demonstrated leadership skills, will have a story to tell that is similar to those who took the initiative to hire people with disabilities when I started working in this area.

Did every employee work out? No. But, that is always the case when hiring and promoting talent.

Did my company realize value in taking this step? Yes. Because diversity in leadership, like diversity in the workforce, opens the door to increased innovation and profit.

Why should other companies take this step? It is important to have the right person in the right role at all levels of the organization. If that person happens to be deaf, that doesn’t change the fact that they are the right person; that person should be promoted.

Employers come to me and say, “how has this company or that agency found so much success in the area of inclusion for deaf and hard of hearing employees?” My response is that they took action! They hired people who are deaf; they invested in their talent; and now they are reaping the reward. When it comes to promoting people from the Deaf community…talent, as always, should be the only discriminator.

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