Episode 29 Transcript

Published: Thursday January 11, 2024

Amplifying Disability Leadership: A Conversation with Meredith Sadoulet

Bridging Disability and Leadership in the Corporate World


Alycia Anderson: Welcome to Pushing Forward with Alycia, a podcast that gives disability a voice. Each week we will explore topics like confidence, ambition, resilience and finding success against all odds, we are creating a collective community that believes that all things are possible for all people.

Open hearts. Clear paths. Let’s go.

Welcome back to Pushing Forward with Alycia. I’m Alycia Anderson. Thank you for joining us again today. I came across a quote that reminded me about this amazing woman that we’re gonna dive into all of her goodness today.

The quote is, “Fight for the things that you care about, but do it in a way that others will join you.” That’s from RBG.

And Meredith, this reminded me of you. Meredith Sadoulet is the founder of ProFound, a startup that builds a powerful professional network among disability inclusive leaders. She launched the profound network after a very impressive corporate career, working with all kinds of Fortune 100 companies, Comcast, GE, you name it.

She’s got a whole list of just an impressive career in finance and strategy and HR all of that. She is passionate about amplifying the disability leadership and the workforce.

Meredith Sadoulet, thank you so much for joining today and sharing your story.

Meredith Sadoulet: Thank you for such a kind introduction and for this wonderful opportunity to join you and your audience today. I’m really honored to be here.

Alycia Anderson: I kind of just gave your bio. Did we miss anything important?

Meredith Sadoulet: As you said, I’m a former corporate executive now an entrepreneur working through the adventure of this significant career pivot in my mid 40s. And, I’m someone who loves all things work for strategy, future of work, leading change at scale, really anything around innovation that makes people’s lives better.

On the personal side, I’m a smitten wife, I adore my husband, Sam. I’m a mom and a stepmom within our blended family. I have 4 teenage children, and really I’m someone who likes to explore the intersection of disability leadership and the global workforce.

Alycia Anderson: I love it. Let’s dive in a little bit. You started this community, this network, the ProFound Network.

What is driving your advocacy and this work that you’re doing?

Meredith Sadoulet: So, I’ll start with my personal connection to disability. I was diagnosed with OCD and anxiety disorder as an adult. The diagnosis brought a lot of clarity for me. It has been really fascinating to learn much more about why I operate the way that I do, and it really helped me gain a lot of perspective on who I am as a person.

The diagnosis process took me all the way back to my childhood and my youth, and it was just so fascinating to view that from a different lens. The diagnosis also helped me understand and have greater appreciation for some of the unique strengths that I have in the business world as a result of those disorders.

You know, I had a 20 plus year corporate career and of course, feedback is a big part of the corporate culture. And so you know, you have a lot of assessment practices. You have a lot of performance review discussions and those types of things where people tell you how you’re perceived. And so you know consistently, I would hear that. You know, I’m really good at risk management and contingency planning.

I’ve been told that I’m a strong strategist who knows how to connect dots and see multiple paths for work to be successful. I’ve been told that I can envision opportunities and innovations that others might not see.

And, I just saw that as who I am. And so again, you know, my family knows that they all joke that I don’t sleep between like 2:00 AM and 5:00 AM. And maybe, we would have described that as me being nervous or having a busy brain.

But, I now know that a lot of that is just correlated to OCD and anxiety. And, I think about that in a completely different sense that that has been a superpower for me that has been a strength for me to really view the world the way I view it, and think about how I can use that in a business capacity. So…

Alycia Anderson: I think that that is such an important thing that you just shared and selfishly, I love to hear it because it took me a while also in my own career to lean into my disability and the value that it gives me in the work, and what expertise it brings to the table and finding the ability to leverage that as an asset rather than this typical limitation that it would traditionally be looked at in the workplace.

Meredith Sadoulet: Absolutely but it’s about showing yourself grace too and thinking well, I know that my unique combination of attributes makes me different and we all have a unique combination of attributes that makes us different and can really enrich the world with our perspectives.

Alycia Anderson: I love it. Powerful. What motivated you to have this this very impressive career to take the lead going to entrepreneurship? For disability advocacy specifically?

Meredith Sadoulet: Really, this this journey started years ago with a diagnosis in my family. I started reading much more about disability, and so I started learning about, you know, the fact that 1/4 of the US population, nearly 15% of people globally experienced disability. I was really motivated by some of the stats I was reading candidly.

So I’m a numbers person. I love analytics and stats and I remember this, this quote from the World Bank that said that, you know, people with disabilities are more likely to experience less education, poorer health outcomes, lower levels of employment and higher poverty. And it was just presented as if it was a fact, like a foregone conclusion.

Like this is the way it is, and it just didn’t sit right with me.

That really motivated me to start bringing this lens of disability awareness into my role as an HR leader. And so, I had the good fortune of being able to lead work related to leadership development, related to talent management, related to recruiting, related to DE&I.

And when you bring this lens of is this process fully inclusive, is this technology fully inclusive? Is this way of selecting people fully inclusive? All of these things you start noticing where the world wasn’t built with accessibility at the foundation.

And so, that started to be something that I became very passionate about, and then again like a sponge, I started trying to soak all of this up.

So, I decided to chair the Talent Acquisition Committee for DisabilityIn. And so that I wasn’t just having the lens from my organization, but from many large corporations. What were their challenges? What were their successes? How could we learn from one another?

I decided to chair a task force focused on transitions for students with disabilities graduating from college and entering the workforce for the same… for the first time. So we know that IEP’s exist for example, and people may have accommodations through their university environment and then taking that leap into their first job where someone needs to advocate for themselves, request the accommodations that they may need, hope to enter an environment that’s fully inclusive. It’s a huge change for people.

So more and more, I started getting involved in a lot of this work. And then, noticing where the gaps were and also where the good intention was .I have to say that every company that I worked for, I’m so fortunate to have worked in companies that are strong DEI advocates. They are strong accessibility advocates. They are leading the charge, and at the same time they know that there’s so much more that can be done and should be done.

And so, it’s about advancing those conversations, so, that was really the original motivation.

And, I can share much more about, OK, so then how did I exactly make the leap? But it was all of those things put together the family connection, the work connection in that you know my profession was pivoting by choice, and here then all around me, I was noticing systems, processes, technologies, environments that had a long way to go around disability, inclusion and accessibility.

And, I wanted to be a part of helping to drive that change.

Alycia Anderson: I think that’s powerful for you to share with the audience that taking those proactive steps to learn more and be exposed to more is it’s just very important.

Meredith Sadoulet: Thank you, and I agree. I mean I think it ultimately comes down to two things in the workplace. I’m going to oversimplify, but I spend a lot of time thinking about this. For companies that want to do more and hire more people with disabilities. I think those that are successful are doing two things.

One is, they’re bringing the conversation to a place that just feels natural and humane. So I fully believe that disability is just a natural part of the human experience, and if we can start having conversations in the workplace that simply start with what is your connection to disability. It just leads to a completely different type of conversation. First of all, more often than not, people have a connection. Either a personal connection, a family connection, someone in their community that they’re close with through which they’ve learned a lot about disability. If they don’t have lived experience, and if not for those few people who may say, I don’t think I have the connection, then when we simply talk about the likelihood of acquiring disability, whether it be through aging or for some other reason, there’s this general acknowledgement that this is one thing that unites every single community.

So when we talk about DE&I, disability is intersectional. It’s cross cutting. It’s something that unites all of us. And so, I think you know what workplace is not looking for something right now that that connects everyone. So I think that’s one big pillar. It’s just having a conversation about disability and making that a normal part of conversation in the workplace and realizing that it’s so uniting.

I think a second pillar is tapping into the business side of the discussion, which is that the disability market is the third largest market segment in the US, and so disability is actually a source of competitive advantage.

So, if we think about product development, if we think about service offerings, if we think about advertising, if we think about media, if we think about anything that any company may be doing… who wouldn’t want to sell or market or advertise to the third largest market segment in the US?!?

And, you can’t do that well, if you don’t have representatives from that community in your work.

You know, I think when companies think about, How do we hire more people with disabilities? Again, I know I’m oversimplifying, but if we break it down to two things, it’s start having conversations about disability in the workplace and make that comment and realize and start to observe how quickly that connects people. And then secondly, think about disability as a source of competitive advantage for your products, for your services, for everything that you’re doing, and when you do that, you’ll reach a vast and powerful market with buying power.

Alycia Anderson: I love it. You’re listening to Pushing Forward with Alycia and we will be right back.


Alycia Anderson: Welcome back to Pushing Forward with Alycia. Meredith Sadoulet is the founder of ProFound. I want you to explain in your words what this amazing startup organization network leadership group is.

Meredith Sadoulet: So, ProFound is a global professional network for highly accomplished senior leaders with disabilities. When people ask, What problem would you like to solve with ProFound? It’s ultimately to combat disability under employment across the global workforce.

So there are many organizations, government agencies, nonprofits, a lot of fantastic organizations out there that I’m grateful for that are focusing on unemployment, but my perspective as a talent leader and a former HR executive is that there are not enough organizations focused on underemployment.

So, our vision really is to amplify disability leadership in the workplace. We want to advocate for greater representation of leaders with disabilities in the workforce, in leadership positions, on boards, etc.

And so, our network, it spans all types of organizations. We have leaders from Fortune 100 companies, disability centered nonprofits, universities, startups, small businesses, sole proprietorships, everything.

Because, ultimately we’re a community of change makers, influencers and builders. And, we are leaders with connection to disability who want to change what disability looks like in the workforce.

Alycia Anderson: That’s why I did… started doing my work. I never saw anyone that looked like me. That was at least identifying as disabled in leadership positions like I was.

So, I think that this is such a powerful group, and I’m so thrilled that I get to be involved because we’re networking with each other and it’s growing opportunities tenfold.

Not just…, I mean, I can speak to my own business, not just within my own business, but you know, the relationships are powerful and it is creating the support network that has not been there prior. So…

Meredith Sadoulet: First and foremost, it’s about building this community so we are building our cohort of founding members. We’re being really thoughtful with those invitations because there are so many powerful advocates. There are so many leaders with disabilities doing great work. And we’re looking for the people that are really change makers.

We are an early stage startup and so for anyone who has started a business, I’m sure you understand it takes some time to get some momentum and traction. And you want to work with people that strongly believe in the mission and who want to help shape it with you. And so that’s what we’re looking for right now. People that want to contribute, who believe deeply in what we’re doing and want to be a part of the momentum.

So, building the community is top of mind.

We are also exploring corporate partnerships so we know that there are fantastic corporations out there who want to somehow infuse attention, investment, partnerships into this ecosystem that we’ve been describing and so we’re having some early conversations with some fantastic organizations interested in doing that and we’re excited to see what that can lead to.

And, then ultimately, 2024 is about really delivering the greatest value possible for our members.

So we know that our members are already highly accomplished with fantastic careers, making great impact in their communities, and we want to provide value back to them, not only through the services that we offer, but hopefully even more so through the ecosystem.

So we know that the talent within our community can serve as advisors, can serve as consultants, they are experts, they are speakers, they’re talented executives and leaders, and we want to support finding and delivering even more opportunities for them to make greater impact in the workforce.

So it’s not just about what profound the company can do, it’s really about the power of what our community can do in the workforce.

Alycia Anderson: I love it, so I’m so happy to have been invited in.

Meredith Sadoulet: Thank you.

Alycia Anderson: Did you miss anything?

Meredith Sadoulet: I want to talk a little bit about ProFound as a for profit company, because 99% of the time when people say, “Ohh I’ve heard you’re starting the company? What is its focus?” and I say disability leadership in the workforce, 99% of the time, people say, “oh, so it’s a nonprofit.” And, I find that fascinating, you know, just because of the connection to disability, people assume that it’s a nonprofit.

But I’ve decided to launch ProFound as a for profit company because I so strongly believe that disability can be at the foundation of profitability.

So I’m sure again many of your listeners are familiar with so much of the innovation that was born from Universal Design, from focus on accessibility. Everything from, you know, curb cuts to automatic sensor doors, keyboards, audio books. I mean, we could go on and on and name products that have been born from accessibility, and I believe that a professional network and an organization focused on impact within the workforce can also be a company that drives profitability.

The other reason I wanted to build it this way is, I want people with disabilities to be able to invest in ProFound. Truly monetarily invest in their community and generate a return on their investment. I want to show the world that disability does not have to be a charity model, but rather it can be a business model that generates real return just like any other business.

Alycia Anderson: Right, both are important… like the nonprofit is bringing all kinds of, like, benefits to the global society.

But I do think that it is important, and I agree, you and I have talked about this many times that taking disability out of solely the charity model and putting it into this model of for profit. It changes the lens that we look at disability.

Meredith, thank you so much for joining. This has been such an amazing conversation. We will leave in the show notes how our listeners can get in contact with you, get involved in ProFound.

Is there anything that you can give away to our listeners to motivate them in whether it’s in their careers or in their advocacy paths, a little nugget that you live by.

Meredith Sadoulet: Ohh, I love that. We need our future generations to know that they can do anything and be anything they want to be, and they need to see people like them in those positions.

So, that’s the nugget I would end with. I hope that we can come together and amplify disability leadership in the workforce.

Alycia Anderson: Yes, Meredith, thank you so much for your time and your friendship and your power and your beauty and your light that you give to the world. I’m so happy that I know you.

Meredith Sadoulet: The feeling is mutual. I’m so grateful that life brought us together and I’m grateful to know such a powerful advocate such a strong business woman and someone who’s becoming a dear friend of mine. So thank you so much for this opportunity. I’m grateful for it, and I can’t wait to see what we accomplish together.

Alycia Anderson: I was just thinking, I can’t wait to see what’s next for us. So, check, check and thank you so much to our pushing forward community for joining us again today.

I see you showing up every single solitary week, and you doing that is helping us grow this community and platform and advocate farther, wider and better every day, so, thank you for that.

Until next time, this is Pushing Forward with Alycia and that is how we roll on this podcast.