People with disability and employment: Beyond the barriers

AMBA Best Culture, Diversity and Inclusion Initiative Award


In Italy, only 35.8% of working-age individuals with disabilities (between 15 and 64 years old) are employed, in stark contrast to the 57.8% employment rate among those without disabilities. The public job placement system struggles to facilitate 20,000 to 30,000 job placements per year while grappling with over 800,000 registered job seekers with disabilities.


The research project “People with disability and employment: Beyond the barriers,” conducted by the SDA Bocconi School of Management’s Monitor on Diversity, Inclusion, and Smart Working (the team included Simona Cuomo, Zenia Simonella, and Silvia Cinque) in partnership with Fondazione Italiana Accenture and Accenture Italia was highly commended for the Best Culture, Diversity and Inclusion Initiative Award presented by the Association of MBAs (AMBA) and the Business Graduates Association (BGA) in association with BlueSky Education.


The project adopted a mixed-method approach (quantitative and qualitative case study-based approach) to analyze how companies, in the Italian context, include people with disabilities in their workplaces.

In particular, three companies, namely E-Work, Banca Intesa Sanpaolo, and Google, were scrutinized over time with a case-study methodology adopted by the SDA Bocconi team.


“We wanted to conduct a micro-organizational analysis by investigating the role of the leader and the team members in the inclusion of people with disabilities, an aspect that was still little investigated”, said Simona Cuomo, the Monitor’s Coordinator and co-author of the study.


Four key areas received in-depth analysis:


  1. The effectiveness of “diversity and inclusion” policies, including those specifically addressing disability, within the companies.
  2. The impact on the working group, encompassing work organization, microclimate, and quality of relationships (before and after the inclusion of people with disabilities in the team), with an emphasis on the role of the manager in the onboarding process.
  3. The presence of minority stress and potential barriers encountered for inclusion.
  4. The perceived costs, risks, benefits, and opportunities as experienced by team members.


The results show that both enabling factors for inclusion, such as leader and team training, reasonable accommodation, and socialization to disability, and hindering factors, including a certain organizational immaturity and a “case-by-case” management of disability, still emerge.


“A structured HR strategy, fostered by the support of the team leader and the positive climate within the team, played a pivotal role in creating a supportive environment with reduced minority stress and the absence of a paternalistic approach for employees with disabilities,” said co-author Zenia Simonella.


Perceived benefits of a successful inclusion come in terms of diversity climate, communication, and efficacy of processes.


Participation in the AMBA Award was the result of joint work between the Observatory team and the accreditation office team (in particular, Angelica Orfino).


The study was conducted in collaboration with Politecnico di Milano-Tiresia and Free Thinking.


SDA Bocconi School of Management

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