Reflecting on MLK Day: The Ongoing Struggle of Maladjustment, Equity and Justice

Today is Martin Luther King Day, a day dedicated to honoring the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. While many of Dr. King's famous quotes rightly demand our reflection, I'd like to draw your attention to one of his lesser-known talks where he spoke about bias and societal "maladjustment."

Dr. King's Powerful Message: In his address to the American Psychological Association (APA), Dr. King discussed the "Role of the Behavioral Scientist in the Civil Rights Movement." His words were powerful and uncomfortable, challenging us to confront the uncomfortable truths about our society. What's equally uncomfortable is how much of his message still resonates today. We have come a long way, but there's much work left to do to achieve racial equity. And when we apply Dr. King's principles to the disability population within our workforce and society, we see that we have even further to go.

"I am sure that we will recognize that there are some things in our society, some things in our world, to which we should never be adjusted. There are some things concerning which we must always be maladjusted if we are to be people of good will."

A Shared Responsibility: Since I was a child, I have held onto Dr. King's words: "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." Now, as an adult and executive, I think about the responsibility I have to continue that work and challenge the normalization of injustices. We often accept things as "normal" in our lives and society that are inherently unjust. To address these issues, we must first acknowledge them and remain maladjusted to the systems that perpetuate them.

The Data Speaks: These words resonate deeply, not only in the context of civil rights but also in our pursuit of equity for individuals with disabilities. Consider these statistics:

  • 61% of United States workers have either experienced or witnessed workplace discrimination (per Employment Discrimination Statistics).
  • Employees aged 45 years and above face a higher risk of discrimination, regardless of disability status (per BLS).
  • In 2022, the unemployment rate for people with disabilities (7.6 percent) was about twice as high as for those without disabilities (per BLS).
  • Americans with disabilities tend to earn less than their counterparts without disabilities. For civilian, non-institutionalized workers, those with a disability earned a median of $28,438 in 2021, compared with $40,948 among those without a disability (Census Bureau, Feb 2023).

Intersectionality Matters: It's essential to recognize that there's an intersection between civil rights and disability rights. Individuals with disabilities from marginalized communities often face compounded discrimination and exclusion. For people of color with disabilities, the barriers to equitable employment, healthcare access, education, and societal inclusion are significant and isolating. This is the opposite of what we should be striving for in our workplaces and as people who have dedicated our careers to helping people.

Taking Action: While the problem may not originate with employment, it presents an opportunity for improvement and for staying maladjusted to norms in our industry that we know are unjust. So in the spirit of Dr. King's call to act with intention, here are things we can do to create positive change:

  • We know people are less likely to apply when they cannot see themselves represented in talent attraction materials. Work to diverse representation in talent attraction materials.
  • We know there are a multitude of implicit biases built into the recruiting process. Identify and address implicit biases in the recruiting process.
  • We know talent acquisition and hiring managers need more training on to protect candidates from implicit selection biases. Provide training to talent acquisition and hiring managers to help mitigate implicit biases.
  • We know we can do a better job of helping integrate new people into our organizations, particularly those who are marginalized. Focus on creating inclusion plans to improve success for marginalized individuals in our organizations.

We understand that addressing these issues won't happen overnight, but we must start. And to quote Rev. Nelson Rivers III, speaking on Dr King on another MLK day, paraphrasing moral philosopher Rabbi Hillel, "If Not You, Who? If Not Now, When?"

We're all in this together, and I'm here to help. If you have questions or want to discuss further, please feel free to reach out.

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