Hewlett Packard Enterprise’s Chief Diversity Officer Michael Lopez on National Disability Employment Awareness Month

The Human Rights Campaign Foundation sat down with Hewlett Packard Enterprise Chief Diversity Officer Michael Lopez to discuss workplace diversity and inclusivity for both the LGBTQ+ and disabled communities.

We’re going to start with getting personal. You’ve been out as an LGBTQ leader for many years, you’re Latinx and you recently came out as a person with a disability. Why is it important to you personally, and to your work, to share these aspects of your identity?

As I pursued my career, my commitment to myself was that I always needed to be my authentic self. I show up as my intersectional self and my intersectional identity is a convergence of being a gay man, a Hispanic and a person with a disability. The COVID-19 pandemic has been a period for further introspection, and made me be more resolved to share this part of my identity.

Much like the experiences of LGBTQ people, people with disabilities continue to face discrimination in their daily lives. HRC’s research shows that nearly half of LGBTQ people are still in the closet at work, and research shows that people with disabilities are reluctant to self-identify as well. What are some of the common misconceptions about people with disabilities that lend to this reluctance to be “out” and how do they show up in the workplace?

There is a misconception that people with disabilities need to be fixed. And, that’s not the case. That leads to a reluctance of people not coming out. Let’s also be frank, there’s still a degree of stigma around people with disabilities in society. The fear of retaliation is real. So, all of that culminates and presents challenges to people coming out.

This year marks not only the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disability Act, but also the 75th observance of National Disability Employment Awareness Month, or NDEAM. Why should employers get involved in NDEAM and what steps can they take to increase awareness, inclusion and belonging for people with disabilities?

Employers have to get involved, particularly after this year. With COVID-19, we have taken an aggressive approach to lowering barriers across our employee population. We now have an intimate view of employee homes as we connect virtually across multiple platforms. In doing so, we can have very real glimpses of the different challenges we all might be facing. It would seem like a missed opportunity not to continue to enable employees to be their authentic selves and to have conversations around topics that are related to the disability community, and by that I mean we need to have more conversations around mental health. This year is offering us the opportunity to destigmatize and prioritize mental health moving forward.

We’ve made employee mental health a big priority through our For Real Life program, which is an at-scale initiative for all employees to address the concerns that they have around their own mental, emotional well-being. It includes things like the Headspace app – a tool for employees to tend to their emotional and mental health.

There is a misconception that people with disabilities need to be fixed. And, that’s not the case. That leads to a reluctance of people not coming out. Let’s also be frank, there’s still a degree of stigma around people with disabilities in society. The fear of retaliation is real. So, all of that culminates and presents challenges to people coming out."

Michael Lopez, Chief Diversity Officer, Hewlett Packard Enterprise

HPE has a 100 score on HRC’s Corporate Equality Index and a 100 score on DisabiltyIN’s Disability Equality Index, which was modeled after the CEI. Why are these benchmarks important to HPE?

These benchmarks provide a roadmap in order to ensure that we are realizing our ambition to be unconditionally inclusive across the LGBTQ+ community and across the disability community. They provide a measurement for us to ensure that we are meeting the requirements and a launchpad to take the conversation forward further to explore different areas where we can build upon the criteria to drive deeper inclusion. For example, our disability network in Mexico hosts American Sign Language training for all employees, and through education is helping to build understanding and a skill.

At HRC, we know that getting a 100 on the CEI is only the beginning of the journey. From there, we must ask ourselves how we bring more diversity, equity and a sense of inclusion to life within the business every day. What’s on your horizon for greater diversity, equity and inclusion for LGBTQ people and people with disabilities at HPE?

A deeper commitment to listening, making change and being accountable. At HPE, one of our responses after the tragic killing of George Floyd was to do more listening by holding sessions with our Black and African American team members; and, then, recognizing there are intersecting issues, we extended them to our additional diverse groups, which will include our disability and LGBTQ+ team members. We have decided that this approach to create safe spaces and facilitate active listening will become an integral part of our engagement strategy. And we will take action based on the input and experiences we hear. We have to continually work toward deepening the trust across our LGBTQ and disability communities so they feel safe to come out and self-identify.

Michael Lopez is Chief Diversity Officer at Hewlett Packard Enterprise. He currently sits on HRC’s Business Advisory Council and formerly served on its Diversity and Inclusion Council.

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