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Fostering a supportive environment of inclusion

November 14, 2013

More than 500,000 individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) in the U.S. will graduate from high school in the next four years. Many will be looking for jobs in an inclusive, accepting workplace in which they can develop their existing strengths, learn new skills and begin to build a productive and satisfying career.

Cargill wants to be an employer of choice for such individuals, as part of the company’s vision to offer an inclusive workplace that respects and values all employees, and presents all employees an opportunity to make important contributions to the company and their communities.

At the third annual AuSM Autism and Employment Forum, held Oct. 24 in Minneapolis, attendees learned about the many opportunities available to people with disabilities inside and outside of Cargill. Cargill employees and members of the local Minneapolis community shared stories of individual programs designed to make a difference in the lives of individuals with disabilities. The event was sponsored and coordinated by the Cargill Disability Awareness Council.

Leaning in at Cargill

“Inclusion means not just being nice to people with different viewpoints. It requires us to actually lean in and engage individuals who are different than ourselves,” said Marcel Smits, Cargill’s chief financial officer. “I’m proud to be in a place where there is a real commitment to doing the right thing.”

Demonstrating that commitment, Jon Badiola, business unit leader for Cargill Foods Venezuela (CFV), shared a story about launching a unique program in that country to help people with social, physical or sensory disabilities develop social and job skills. The program, “Engranados,” has helped to successfully incorporate 34 persons with disabilities in the workplace since 2007.

CFV’s training and labor inclusion center, which hosts Engranados students, was built within Cargill’s facilities and is home to a team of specialized instructors who work with the participants for one year, focusing on office activities as well as adaptation and behavior within the work environment.

Giving a little, receiving more

“We have learned that we need to think big, educate the organization, create a culture that values differences, inspire people, and provide coaching and motivation. And at the end, we have received much more than we have given the Engranados employees,” said Jon.

Diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome as an adult, Maria Auxiliadora Ramirez was struggling to maintain steady employment. As an employee in CFV and a graduate of Engranados, Maria said, “Working at Cargill is wonderful, I can be productive and I feel like I am at home with a great family. This is the first time I’ve been able to hold one job for an entire year. Cargill has been able to utilize my talents, and has made me a part of a team who understands my abilities.”

Employees across CFV agree on the entire business benefits from the program.

“As a professional, Cargill has let me follow my dreams,” stated Iris Meza, Human Resources lead for CFV and leader of the Engranados program. “As a mother, citizen and community member, Cargill has given me the opportunity, a small grain of sand, to be very significant.”

“María is a unique and valuable resource for the Corporate Affairs team. Her extraordinary abilities to resolve things for which many of us do not have the agility and speed that she does, allows us to complement the skills within the team, but above all helping her to become a successful professional has made us grow as individuals and be committed to support Maria in her goals,” said Ramon Sosa, Corporate Affairs director for Cargill Venezuela.

Educating the community

Representatives of the Cargill LEARN Program also were in attendance to discuss how employees at the Excelsior Crossings location are able to create opportunities for local students with disabilities. The program is a partnership between Cargill and various educational partners that focuses on building participants’ skills through various internship rotations.

The day also provided guidance for individuals with disabilities through a series of assistance activities. The Department of Employment and Economic Development educated individuals with disabilities on interviewing tips and strategies, pros and cons of disclosing an individual’s ASD to a potential employer, resume writing and networking skills.

One in 54 boys and 1 in 252 girls in the U.S. are on the Autism spectrum across all racial, ethnic and socio-economic groups. Many are not aware they are on the spectrum and are diagnosed later in life. These individuals rely on the inclusion and acceptance of organizations like AuSM and Cargill to help them to be more successful.