By: USA Games correspondent, tynan gable
This week’s nominee for the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games #ImAGameChanger campaign exemplifies how quickly the spirit of inclusion can spread. Sarah Cline is an Accenture employee who has directly contributed to changing the nationwide culture of her beloved company.
Sarah’s primary job at the Austin, Texas office of Accenture is not what makes her stand out among her colleagues. Ihlae (eye-luh) Kling, who works in marketing at Accenture's Seattle office, has had the pleasure of feeling the positive impacts Sarah’s efforts have made in a short four years, even though she is hundreds of miles away.
“Sarah is an obvious choice for the Game Changer campaign because of all of the amazing work she has done for our company,” said Ihlae.
In 2014, Sarah was approached with an offer to take on the role of Engagement Lead for the National Disability Employee Resource Group (ERG), a volunteer position within Accenture. At the time, the group had just over 40 members from four Accenture locations.
In this role, Sarah helped build up a group of over 1,400 members from 27 of the 32 Accenture offices across the United States. The group’s total membership has doubled in size in the past year alone. In each city, the members are encouraged to reach outside of Accenture to be involved in their communities as well.
“Almost everyone has a personal connection to someone that has a disability and getting people talking about that is something that I’m really passionate about,” Sarah explained.
There are several established organizations with which the ERG is associated, including Best Buddies, Special Olympics, and Service Dogs, Inc. Beyond raising awareness and support for people with disabilities, the ERG has also chosen to emphasize the importance of mental illnesses by establishing connections with the National Association for Mental Illnesses and the Karla Smith Foundation.
In addition to these national relationships, Sarah explained that “each of the Accenture locations involved also have their local community organizations that they volunteer and partner with.”
Outside of the community work with ERG’s partner organizations, Sarah has also developed programming for Accenture’s ERG members internally. A monthly event series called “Walk in My Shoes” is one of the first things she established upon taking on her role in the ERG, and it has been successful and continuously attracting more participants for the past three years.
Sarah raved, “this event is my baby!”
Each month, up to 150 members join a monthly phone call during which a member will share their personal experiences with disabilities. These may include stories about themselves, loved ones, or friends.
“We ask members to explain their disability and tell us their story,” said Sarah. “People discuss how they have struggled to get or keep a job, how they must take care when interacting in the community, and how and when they need and receive support.”
With each story, there are lessons to be learned regarding how people with disabilities can best feel included. Sarah believes that this provides members with the opportunity to learn about what it truly means to have a disability.
“This helps our members learn how to talk about and best engage with people with disabilities, and overall opens everyone’s eyes to let people see other people for who they are instead of how they’re labeled,” said Sarah.
The feedback from other participants of the calls is overwhelmingly positive. One member, Amy Sparling, said that Sarah “directly contributes to expanding our understanding of various conditions such as leukemia, cerebral palsy, mental health, ADHD, and PTSD while dispelling misunderstandings”.
Another, Angela Finney, said, “Sarah inspires and reminds me every day that Accenture is truly a great place to work and that we are all more than our jobs.” Sarah’s dedication to this event series earned her the honor of receiving the 2016 Inclusion & Diversity Innovation and Best Practice award.
The “Walk in My Shoes” event series supports Accenture’s company-wide “Truly Human” campaign, which emphasizes a culture of inclusion by pushing the motto, “Inclusion starts with I.”
Around the country, other specialized groups have been established within Accenture, including a Mental Health Allies Team and an Autism Support Group, which is committed to offering insight, resources, and support in a safe, and open environment for any Accenture staff affected by autism.
Sarah’s passion and tireless efforts to make the ERG grow directly contributes to Accenture's progress in improving the lives of those with disabilities. In her role as the National Engagement Lead, she supports and manages the appointed regional and local ERG leads around the country.
Sarah has also experienced a lot of personal growth through her efforts at Accenture. She struggles with hearing loss and has a newfound confidence as a careerwoman due to the acceptance of the community built by her peers. In addition, Sarah’s son has Autism Spectrum Disorder and she has been enlightened in how to communicate with him through the support groups and monthly phone calls she is involved in at Accenture.
She now shares her enlightened perspective with her mentees with whom she, along with about seven other Accenture employees, became acquainted through Accenture’s affiliation with the United States Business Leadership Network’s Rising Leaders Mentoring Program. She also serves as an informal mentor for aspiring leaders and future Game Changers across the United States.
“My goal is to empower persons with disabilities, champion disclosure, challenge perceptions, embrace different perspectives, and foster the accessibility first mindset,” affirmed Sarah.
And she does this in a variety of ways every day; whether it be at work or in the community, Sarah’s impact on the lives of people with disabilities is widespread and ever-growing. She has changed the game for herself and her son as well as for thousands of people in communities across America.