Monocultures are naturally resistant to change. Having a diverse array of perspectives, where employees are empowered to share their viewpoints and challenge the status quo, allows organizations to be more nimble. There will always be a fresh idea, whether it’s a best practice or a new piece of software, and diverse workplaces will be more willing to experiment and give them a chance.
As a part of our series about “How Diversity Can Increase a Company’s Bottom Line”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jonathan Lucus of NSITE.
Jonathan has more than 18 years of workforce development experience supporting people with disabilities, immigrants, and other underserved populations. He has served as a consultant to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the U.S. Department of State, the European Union, and numerous countries on workforce issues. As a State Department fellow, he advised the Egyptian Parliament and several ministries on the implementation of national disability workforce initiatives. His contributions to migrant workforce integration and training programs have been recognized by the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees as an international best practice. He holds an executive master’s degree in leadership from the McDonough School of Business at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. and a Master of Public Affairs from the University of North Carolina, Greensboro. He is currently working on a doctorate in Organizational Change and Leadership at the Rossier School of Education at the University of Southern California.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit more. Can you share your “backstory” with us?
From working at high levels of the Department of Health and Human Services and the State Department, to advising the Egyptian Parliament on national disability workforce initiatives, I’ve built a career out of supporting people with disabilities, immigrants, and other underserved communities.
In the course of my life, I’ve witnessed great sacrifice and triumph over daunting odds — it’s what’s inspired me to spend so much of my life advocating for people with disabilities. I’ve dedicated my career to helping those who deserve the same opportunities and were not necessarily given them.
With the launch of NSITE, a new enterprise of National Industries for the Blind (NIB), I know that I’ve once again been presented with the unique opportunity to make a difference in the lives of others. That’s what gets me out of bed every day.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career? Can you tell us the lesson or take away you took out of that story?
In 2016, I was working with the first black-owned South African winery, Seven Sisters. While traveling in South Africa to work on the winery’s business plan, I stayed at a nice hotel. While at the hotel, I attended a networking event. I noticed that they had monthly features of a variety of local wines, but my client was not included in the list.
I asked for a meeting with the manager and asked if he’d be interested in having my client’s wine at his bar. He easily agreed.
In the meeting with my client the next day, I mentioned what I had done and asked if she was alright with it. With emphatic agreement, she also revealed how unaware I was of how significantly I opened the door for her business. As a black woman in South Africa, she told me, it was unlikely that she would have even gotten the time of day from the manager, let alone gotten them to feature her wine.
As a white male, I was aware of my privileges, but this was an eye-opening moment for me — I saw how I could use my position to benefit those with fewer opportunities. We all are responsible for using whatever power we have to change the outcome for people who deserve it.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
NSITE leverages the experience and capabilities of its umbrella organization, NIB, the nation’s largest employment resource for people who are blind. NSITE is a true, dedicated partner to organizations that are looking to hire a diverse workforce. We’re forging relationships between employers and job seekers who are blind or visually impaired in a way that isn’t being done anywhere else right now.
We’re not just about job placement or finding talent. NSITE is about ensuring that the job seeker is ready for the 21st-century workforce through industry-recognized trainings and certifications and that the employer is well-equipped to support employees who need accommodations in order to fully demonstrate the range of their skills and abilities.
We aren’t in the business of band-aiding short-term problems for employers who are in need of top talent and cannot find it or connecting that talent with career opportunities; we’re using our comprehensive services to affect lasting change and make workplaces into welcoming environments for all kinds of employees.
Are you working on any new or exciting projects now? How do you think that might help people?
I’m especially excited about the launch of our Cisco Academy, a training program exclusive to people who are blind or visually impaired that provides industry-needed skills and technical knowledge through a 40-week virtual program, preparing participants to pass the Cisco Certified Network Associates (CCNA) exam and take their careers in any direction they wish. This past week, we got our first round of test scores back, and the class average was 94.5%, meaning they excelled in the class and are well on their way to getting their CCNA certification. This is a big deal — it’s the first time this training has ever been provided in the U.S. specifically for people who are blind or visually impaired. This will open up so many doors — we were already able to place a program participant into a six-figure career.
This past month, we also launched NSITE Connect — our version of a job board. Employers share openings at their organization and then we work to fill them with a dedicated, qualified employee who is blind or visually impaired. We’ve been excited to already see growth in the use and adoption of NSITE Connect through organizations like the Library of Congress and more.
What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?
Every leader should harness different perspectives and experiences to fuel innovation in their organization. To do this, I recommend a few things:
- Construct a flexible environment that encourages both high expectations and performance.
- Implement interpersonal communication practices that deepen the understanding of employees and their needs and use that knowledge to drive business results and organizational success.
- Prioritize candor. Organizations built on empathy allow employees to be themselves and thrive.
What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders about how to manage a large team?
First, focus on organization and scale. Large teams work better when they act like small teams. Creating smaller workgroups allows for greater individual leadership opportunities, a sense of cohesiveness, and a more efficient vehicle to share ideas and innovate.
Second, create a dedicated mentoring program. Tasking seasoned team members with supporting new team member growth allows for greater development.
Finally, prepare for failure. Ed Catmull, CEO of Pixar stated, “As teams grow it is not leadership’s responsibility to prevent risk, but rather, to build the capacity to recover.” Create systems that allow
for failure and equip team members to learn from their mistakes and solve problems.
Ok. Thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the main part of our interview. This may be obvious to you, but it is not intuitive to many people. Can you articulate to our readers five ways that increased diversity can help a company’s bottom line. (Please share a story or example for each.)
I’ve seen that greater diversity actually increases productivity on a multitude of levels. People who are typically marginalized often work hard for the opportunities that they are given. Here are five things that a diverse workforce can contribute to your bottom line:
1. Monocultures are naturally resistant to change. Having a diverse array of perspectives, where employees are empowered to share their viewpoints and challenge the status quo, allows organizations to be more nimble. There will always be a fresh idea, whether it’s a best practice or a new piece of software, and diverse workplaces will be more willing to experiment and give them a chance.
2. Unique perspectives lead to innovation and market success. Take Microsoft, for example. They brought on employees with disabilities to look at how hardware and software were accessible. Through that process, they made their products better for ALL users.
3. Organizations also tend to experience lower turnover rates within diverse workplaces, especially when they employ those who traditionally feel overlooked by major corporations and organizations. When given the opportunity to succeed, these employees tend to feel appreciated and respected, which leads to greater job satisfaction and a reduction in personnel costs.
4. You’ll attract a better talent pool. It’s anecdotally understood that younger generations of today’s workforce want to work for companies that accurately represent the communities and society in which they live.
5. Your company will also be valued and be more marketable in the public eye. People want to engage and purchase goods and services from companies that are viewed as actively contributing to the betterment of society. People with disabilities make up 1 billion dollars of society’s spending power. There was significant approval for Nike’s recent move to create adaptive footwear, for example. People with disabilities often can’t tie shoelaces. Now, Nike has market share in an area they weren’t in before. If you can make products and services for those who are blind or visually impaired, you are making a societal change and gaining a customer you didn’t have before.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I’ve always wanted to be part of the solution and aim to elevate others. It’s important to, in our own way, do some good in the world with whatever we’re given. Even if it’s in your own house or own community or on a global scale.
I’ve had the privilege of starting three organizations, all of which have helped different populations of people in different ways. I think NSITE has the potential to be the most impactful, though. My goal with NSITE is to provide hope for a future and satisfying career to those who are blind or visually impaired.
NSITE provides continual support to its job seekers throughout the life cycle of their professional relationship with us. We’re investing in the long term. From resume assistance, to soft skills development, to talent development programs like ProMOTE (office technology training) and Cisco Academy, we’re providing the hands-on, necessary training and resources so that job seekers can be as successful as possible in their job search. I encourage my team, several of whom are blind or visually impaired themselves, to become true advocates for this community.
If you have potential, you have an opportunity to better the lives of those around you. NSITE is that channel for me right now.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”?
It’s hard for me to pick one favorite, but here’s one I think is particularly impactful:
- “Vision is the art of seeing what is invisible to others.” — Jonathan Swift
At NSITE, we are creating a brand new solution that hasn’t previously existed. We don’t know what the future holds, but we’re starting at a place of good intention — one that helps companies find sustainable solutions to their hiring needs — and a vision for a more inclusive future that better represents our entire society, including those who are blind or visually impaired.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are?
There’s never been just one person, I’ve had help at every step of my journey because nothing is ever accomplished in isolation. It’s beyond important to have someone to believe in you, the impact of that can’t be understated.
Right now, for me, this person is Angela Hartley, executive vice president and chief program officer of National Industries for the Blind. If she didn’t appreciate my past experiences and believe that I was the right person to lead NSITE, I wouldn’t be part of this team right now.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this 🙂
There are a few people who have been real inspirations to me. The first two I’ll mention are Bill Gates and Richard Branson. Both of these individuals entered into a brand new space and were free to fail as they figured out a path forward. The fact that they could capture success through the ability to accept failure is amazing — it’s something I try to instill in my team.
I also deeply admire Garth Brooks for his early ability and interest in speaking on racism, sexism, and other societal issues. I’ve learned from him and his work — specifically the song “We Shall Be Free” — that together is better and that words matter and you have the opportunity to make someone feel important every time you are with them.