Here's what work is like for one employee who is deaf

July 31, 2018 in Community

Bill Harkness, who culturally identifies as a deaf person, believes his disability allows him to spot gaps between strategy and reality.


Want living proof of why Boeing recently achieved a 100 percent rating on the Disability Equality Index? Bill Harkness has it.

Harkness, a strategist with Boeing Global Services who is deaf, is keenly aware of the stereotypes placed on those who are deaf and hard of hearing.

He explained certain assumptions and challenges he’s faced throughout his career only made him stronger and more empathetic to others like him.

“When I use sign language interpreters, in a way I wear the person’s sleeves, as a woman or minority,” he said. “I experience — if only temporarily — the subtle unconscious bias that they experience every single day, on top of my own personal experience as a person with a disability.”

Despite those challenges, Harkness firmly believes Boeing accommodates those with specific limitations in the workplace.

“Boeing is an excellent resource provider and champion with respect to accommodation,” he added. “They’re second to none in many ways, and are always constantly trying to better themselves in others.” 

To his fellow Boeing employees who are currently working for the first time with someone who is deaf, Harkness offered sage advice from Stephen R. Covey’s book, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.”

“Seek first to understand, then to be understood,” he said. “Do not try to listen with the intent to reply, but to understand. Your personal experience is not always comparable to the experience that the person with disabilities goes through, especially in the hiring, promotion, and opportunities practices.”

Harkness believes diversity is “meaningless without inclusion” and offered a poignant piece of advice for those in leadership who believe in a diverse leadership team, too.

“It’s time for people with disabilities to be seen in the leadership space, in order to be seen as an equal partner in this endeavor,” he said. “There’s so much opportunity in our space to make meaningful changes internally to reflect the great company that we truly desire to become.”

For Chris Jeckel, Trade Control Specialist, Global Trade Controls in support of BGS/P-8 Sustainment, a major reason why he decided to work for Boeing is the company’s commitment to diversity and inclusion. He explained just how much it means to an employee when “accommodations are stellar, every time, all the time.”

"The company hasn’t been shy about expecting excellence in my work, which reminds me that I’m a valued member of the team,” he said. “In addition to my role with Global Trade Controls, I continue to hone my leadership skills through our Boeing Abilities Engagement Team and Boeing Employees Ability Awareness Association initiatives with the aim of being a highly visible, visually impaired leader at Boeing."

"Seeing members of the disabled community achieve success is the most empowering message we can send," Jeckel explained.

Boeing recognized for accommodating employees with disabilities

For the third year in a row, Boeing achieved a top score of 100 on the Disability Equality Index, a joint initiative of the American Association of People with Disabilities and Disability: IN. Boeing partners with Disability: IN to benchmark against peer companies and to implement best practices of disability inclusion from other companies.

“We embrace all abilities and value the talent in all our employees,” said Jenette Ramos, senior vice president of Supply Chain & Operations, and executive sponsor of the Boeing Employee Ability Awareness Association (BEAAA). “Full inclusion allows Boeing to advance creative innovation with the diversity of experiences each person brings to the workplace.”

Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services Program Administrator Betsy Tsukimura said she’s proud to work for a company that “prioritizes inclusion.”

“At Boeing we provide accommodations for employees throughout their career,” she explained. “It encourages me when I coordinate a sign language interpreter for a candidate’s job interview and then see that candidate become a full-time employee.”