It’s in the details
Merck's Don Watson, VP, global workforce enterprises, builds disability inclusion into all aspects of work life
August 1, 2019
Don Watson is a detail detective.
He can walk into any building and identify things that can get in the way of progress – like the video without subtitles that is useless for someone with hearing loss, or that deep-pile carpet that is almost impossible to navigate for someone using a wheelchair or crutches.
“My goal is to create open, inclusive environments at all of our company’s facilities,” says Don, vice president, global workforce and enterprise services. “When people feel welcome and comfortable, they can focus on using their skills to contribute to our mission of inventing for life.”
vice president, global workforce and enterprise services
Don’s efforts to support people with apparent and non-apparent disabilities are getting noticed. He recently received the Executive Sponsor of the Year award from Disability:IN.
Disability:IN is a nonprofit network made up of more than 170 corporations. The network advises and educates companies on how to improve employment opportunities for people living with disabilities. Each year, the nonprofit presents the Inclusion Awards, recognizing leaders in 10 categories for their impact on disability inclusion.
Don also serves as executive sponsor of our company’s capAbility Network, an employee resource group that supports those with disabilities.
“Don has activated the organization by recruiting employees who are eager and excited to welcome those with disabilities to explore their talents and career potential with our company.”
Nora VeleExecutive director, diversity and inclusion
“People with disabilities represent a huge untapped source of human talent… Yet, they are often excluded from society and the workplace.”
Don WatsonVice president, global workforce and enterprise services
Studies agree that disability inclusion can help companies step up performance. “Leading companies report 28% higher revenue, double the net income and 30% higher economic profit margins,” according to Disability:IN and the American Association of People with Disabilities.
“We are all human and have something to bring to the table… Our company does not thrive off of like-minded individuals. Diversity makes us stronger, more innovative and gives us the ability to consistently challenge how we approach our work.”
diversity and inclusion specialist, global talent acquisition team
Making a difference inside and outside the company
To support disability inclusion, Don instituted facility-accessibility standards, giving our facility managers around the world a blueprint for how to create inclusive environments. The standards help facility managers implement signs, lights, cafeterias, reception areas, parking lots, desks and more to help employees and visitors do their best work.
“My team and I are still learning and always looking for ways to improve in the creation of inclusive work environments,” says Don. “This is a journey for us.”
“At some point, each of us may have a disability,” says Don. “We want to send the message to employees, potential employees and their families that if they are living with a disability, they can be confident that our company will support them.”
Beyond creating inclusive work places for employees, Don has been a key force in external efforts that promote disability inclusion. When he learned about John’s Crazy Socks, which donates some of its earnings to Special Olympics, he made sure the socks were sold in our company stores.
When he found out about ArtLifting, which helps artists with disabilities and the homeless sell their art, he brought their work into our stores and even installed some of the artwork at facilities around the world.
In the U.S., Don and his team have helped our company form a strong alliance with Best Buddies, an international organization that helps people with disabilities get jobs, create friendships and develop partnerships. We’re working closely with Best Buddies to identify and recruit talent.
A new chapter in India
A number of our country locations have a capABILITY Network, an employee resource group that supports those with disabilities. One such group was recently formed in India, where 40 to 80 million people live with a disability. The network in India has completed an audit of facilities to see where changes need to be made to create more inclusive environments. The group also has provided sensitivity training for employees, and a recruitment effort will begin soon.
Disability inclusion goes well beyond finding new talent to fuel innovation. “We are in the business of medicine, but we also value lives,” says Rajesh Pillay, associate director, facilities management in India. “Our inclusion of those with disabilities helps bring purpose and meaning to people’s lives.”
The best places to work
In addition to being named 2020 Employer of the Year, our company has been named to the list of “Best Places to Work for Disability Inclusion,” based on our high score on the Disability Equality Index (DEI), a joint initiative of Disability:IN and the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD). The DEI is a comprehensive benchmarking tool that allows America’s leading corporations to self-report their disability policies and practices. This year’s index measured culture and leadership, enterprise-wide access, employment practices, community engagement and supplier diversity. Businesses scoring 80% or higher made the “Best Places to Work” list. Our company scored 100% and has made the list every year since the index launched in 2015.