Empowering people through digital inclusion: TechShare Pro 2021

When passion, people, purpose and – yes – a pandemic collide, it creates an alchemy that’s ripe for driving digital accessibility. So said European executives from Microsoft, Nestlé, and Shell at TechShare Pro 2021.

The world-class panel included:

  • Pilar López, Vice President for Sales, Marketing and Operations for Microsoft Western Europe
  • Cristina Ghetti Head of Workforce360, Nestlé
  • Alisa CL Choong, SVP CIO, Information & Digital Services and Operations at Shell Information Technology International
  • Moderated by Corie Brown, Continuity Announcer, Co-chair of 4Purple

Based on the speakers' insights we've created 5 tips for creating a competitive advantage

A personal passion for inclusion and digital accessibility

Day 1 Keynote from TechShare Pro 2021. Panellist on screen are Pilar López, Vice President for Sales, Marketing and Operations for Microsoft Western Europe Cristina Ghetti Head of Workforce360, Nestlé Alisa CL Choong, SVP CIO, Information & Digital Services and Operations at Shell Information Technology International and Corie Brown, Continuity Announcer, Co-chair of 4Purple

The speakers’ passion shone through each speaking of their connection to disability and digital accessibility.

“Microsoft’s mission is to empower every person on the planet to achieve more, and that includes empowering anyone with any type of disability,” said Pilar López, Vice President for Sales, Marketing and Operations for Microsoft Western Europe.

Personal experience drives Shell’s Alisa Choong’s passion for accessibility. Her older brother lost his right arm while studying for a mechanical engineering degree.

Choong said: “It has been a personal ambition to make sure there’s equality for everyone. I live with glaucoma, so I want to be in one of the world’s most open and inclusive organisations. That’s what Shell wants to create.”

Cristina Ghetti, Head of Workforce360, Nestlé, describes two ‘aha’ moments that fuelled her passion for accessibility – one personal and team-related.

“I had major surgery, and I ended up on crutches for several months. I felt vulnerable. I felt exposed. I started to pay attention to the world around me with a different, more vulnerable eye,” said Ghetti.

Ghetti also described working with a team member with Asperger’s syndrome. They found work difficult until they received headphones with improved noise cancellation.

“It doesn’t take that much to make a massive difference to someone, and that helped trigger this passion and attention [to digital accessibility],” said Ghetti.

Bring your people with you: adapting to Covid-19

The speakers also referenced the pandemic’s impact, arguing that there has been a positive change beyond the lost lives, illnesses, and lack of social contacts.

Ghetti said: “We got to know more of each other: your house, your cats, your dogs. Nobody blinks anymore if you hear children screaming in the background. Because that’s truly the type of life we live, and it’s made us more inclusive in this way.”

Christina Ghetti from Nestle

"It [Covid-19] has made us more inclusive," said Cristina Ghetti Head of Workforce360, Nestlé. 

But, Ghetti added, “We have to work to keep people included in the team. I mean, have you checked on the introvert in your team.”

Choong agrees. “When I first worked from home, it was lovely – then it was tiring in the mind. We rolled out Microsoft teams with captions in 28 languages. It’s not just for people who are hard of hearing. It makes a difference to my mental health.”

A future focus on digital accessibility

In response to Covid-19, Shell set up a phone number staff could call if they had a specific question about technology and disability. Similarly, Microsoft’s Lopez says the pandemic has highlighted the adjustments people need.

“The number of people with disabilities has increased due to the pandemic due to the indirect impact on mental health or the long Covid consequences,” she said.

López added. “It is the time to be more inclusive, to include people with disabilities. In Microsoft, we talk about disability as a strength, and we really mean it.”

Listening to its people also helps Microsoft build better products, said López. “It inspires us to make products more accessible by design for people with disabilities but also for everyone else. That’s one of the positive consequences of Covid-19.”

Leading with a purpose to drive digital accessibility

small paper boats in a row - the one in front is redA key ingredient for organisational change is strong leadership.

López is the sponsor for accessibility in the Western Europe area team and says she is “proud to bring people together to work for a more accessible culture.”

For Ghetti, driving that cultural change means keeping conversations about disability alive. “It’s critical we make this one of the big topics that we discuss. I’ve seen how that commitment has worked on other big issues, notably sustainability,” she said.

Succession planning and partnership working are other essential ingredients, said López. “How do we make sure that we have succession plans that include diverse candidates? That means people with different backgrounds [and] disabilities.”

She added, “We are not alone on this one. It’s not Microsoft only. It is our partners and the ecosystem,” said López. “To help our partners to tackle societal challenges. For this, we have an initiative we call a Partner pledge, and a commitment to accessibility is part of that pledge.”

As part of its public pledges, Shell became a signatory of The Valuable 500, and in 2020 the group CIO signed the accessibility technology charter, Choong told attendees. It also hosted an accessibility hackathon, which led to an app for use on Shell forecourts so disabled people could alert station staff to any assistance required.

“It’s not only used by people with disabilities. You can use it if you are, for example, a mother with a young child in the back,” said Choong.

Equally, it’s crucial to make accessibility part of a company-wide conversation.

“One of the key things making a difference for us in driving this conversation in Nestlé is the fact that we have a strong partnership with important functions like HR. We have an HR Officer dedicated to diversity and inclusion and particular attention with our communications team, so it’s a company-wide conversation.”

Choong adds, “One of Shell’s pillars is powering lives, empowering, inclusion. When people relate to the strategy, everyone comes with you.”

5 Tips for creating competitive advantage through digital accessibility

  1. Have empathy for staff and customers: Our speakers revealed how personal experience fanned their passion for digital accessibility. So, encourage empathy, win hearts, and you’re halfway there.
  2. Share your passion: The personal experiences of our pundits are genuinely moving. So don’t be afraid to share your passion. It’s infectious.
  3. Focus on your people: As hybrid working becomes the norm, technology can help people do more but don’t forget real people are using the technology. So, check in on your team and make it easy for them to ask for reasonable adjustments.
  4. Embrace different ways of working: Now is the time to embrace hybrid working, says Pilar López, Vice President for Sales, Marketing and Operations for Microsoft Western Europe. Hybrid working means an opportunity to be inclusive and to learn how services can be more accessible.
  5. Talk about accessibility: As a leader, it’s essential to keep the accessibility conversation going. It highlights the issue’s significance and drives change.

How AbilityNet can Help