At age 25, at the height of the great recession of 2008, Lindsey Haaser quit her job. She had a bigger vision: to help companies think strategically about disability inclusion in the workplace. And she was going after it.
The concept is simple: Workplace diversity has become a business imperative. Companies need a diverse pool of employees, and people with disabilities want to work — just like everyone else.
“People with disabilities just want to be people,” Haaser said.
So in 2009, Haaser founded Advocations, a third-party staffing and recruiting company focused on changing the way companies source, hire and retain people with disabilities. She won a grant from Charlotte’s Business INClusion program and now has eight employees, an office in South End and a new arm of her business: Notable, a cloud-based platform built in 2016 that will bring Advocations another level of opportunity.
“We are not just checking a box,” says Haaser, “but helping people find an opportunity they may not be able to get otherwise.”
A disability is defined as a physical or mental impairment that affects one or more daily life functions.
“You can either have a history of having it and don’t have it any more, or you can be perceived as having a disability, like a burn victim,” says Haaser, who has a master’s in rehabilitation from the Medical College of Virginia. “We look for a person who meets those qualifiers, and because of their disability, they are having difficulty finding a job.”
Advocations’ current focus is on job seekers with neurodiversity, which includes strokes, traumatic brain injury, autism and dyslexia.
“The reason we focus on neurodiversity is that subset is chronically underemployed, and often they can function better in the right job than someone we would call neurotypical,” says Haaser. “People with neurodiversities tend to keep their jobs.”
Haaser shares a story about a client on the autism spectrum who was placed in a job at Wells Fargo. She performed her job ably, but had a problem with the social expectations of her team. Advocations helped her get a new job with the company, where she went on to identify an issue, report it and save Wells Fargo over $100,000.
Eight years in, Haaser has trained over 10,000 hiring managers, recruiters and stakeholders. Advocations currently contracts with between 10 and 15 companies. Now, with Notable, she’s branching out, with a platform focused specifically on the financial services industry that helps identify what makes people different, and how companies can capitalize on those differences to fit appropriate skills to appropriate jobs.
Let’s say 100 people apply for a job at Company A. Company A screens the resumes and automatically discards 90. The Notable software will then apply data mining and data analytics to flush out the nuances that led those 90 people to be eliminated from the initial job pool.
Once an applicant has been rejected for a position, partner companies will be provided with structured interview scripts, which they will use to engage with that potential employee for 30 minutes. After the interview, the job seekers will be tracked and virtually supported by the Advocations team.
“When companies hire top talent, we find they are hiring average talent,” says Haaser. “If we can focus on the missed opportunities, we can train people based on facts rather than feel-good things that are not working.”
Haaser seeks to work with large enterprise companies that have a business plan and a legitimate challenge. When those factors are in place, a more sustainable solution is probable, Haaser says. The company has also applied for an NC IDEA Seed Grant to help build out the Notable technology.
“We are working on bringing the minimal innovation to market,” says Haaser. “We have customers lined up who are ready to use it.”
Haaser said she’s grateful to the Charlotte entrepreneur community, which has demonstrated its belief in the company’s mission and vision.
“I don’t know if I’d be where I am today without the City of Charlotte and the Chamber of Commerce,” she says, noting that both institutions have helped the company to get into the right room with the right people. “If I can get connected with the right folks, I can make them care.”