corporate responsibility

How ISS teams are changing lives for people with disabilities 

ISS ES Juan window ISS iberia

Using common sense thinking and a commitment to diversity, ISS Spain is giving work – and independence – to hundreds of people with disabilities, showing that a work environment where everyone can contribute is as much about attitude as it is about policies.

Today, Juan Martinez is an experienced window cleaner at ISS Spain, where he’s part of an efficient team responsible for cleaning at a Madrid bank. But a few years ago, Juan was unemployed and despaired of finding work. The problem was that Juan suffers from an inability to form short-term memories. He’s perfectly capable of learning to do a job; he’s just not able to remember if he’s done it today. 

When Juan was hired by ISS Spain, his manager Brigida Maldonado came up with a simple solution, a system that uses rubber bands on door handles to record that Juan has cleaned a room. For Juan, the opportunity given to him by ISS and Brigida has positively impacted his life. 

“When you have a job, you feel much better. You feel useful. Getting a job had a very positive impact on my life. I’m glad to work in a company where I feel comfortable. I’m happier and more relaxed than before,” he says.

A part of the culture 

Juan is one of nearly 2,000 people with a disability working at ISS Spain, approximately 5.5 percent of the workforce. This is well above the level of 2 percent required by law, but still below the company’s goal of 6.1 percent – the same percentage of people with a disability in the working-age population.  

According to Eulalia Devesa, Social Corporate Responsibility Director, diversity at ISS Spain is not about hitting goals or targets. It’s the result of consistently boosting and supporting a culture that includes people with different backgrounds and abilities. 

“Our first aim is to include everyone, as a person. Building an inclusive workplace, where people can connect, feel valued and contribute is just part of our culture, and something everyone here feels proud of. Yes, we have targets, policies and processes in place, but a commitment to diversity and inclusivity throughout the workplace is what drives them,” Eulalia says. 

Our first aim is to include everyone as a person – it’s just part of our culture.

Eulalia Devesa, Social Corporate Responsibility Director, ISS Spain
The power of empowerment 

This culture is having a significant impact. Fundación Once, the largest advocacy group for people with disabilities in Spain, and PriceWaterhouseCoopers recently completed a study to measure the impact that employment can have on people with disabilities. 

As part of the study, a number of employees with disabilities at ISS Spain were asked to rate their quality of life (QoL) on a scale of 1-100. On average, the employees scored life quality at 68.2 before starting at ISS. This rose to 85 – an increase of 15.6 percent – after starting work with us. The most valued improvements were seen in personal development, emotional wellbeing, income and social interaction.  

“The results reveal just how much of an impact going to work can have on a person’s self-esteem, confidence and sense of wellbeing,” says Eulalia. “Many of us may take these feelings for granted, but if you are deprived of the chance to work, you no longer feel useful or empowered. It’s very gratifying to be part of a company and culture that helps in this way.” 

Giving more people a purpose and a chance to contribute 

Today, ISS Spain works closely with Fundación Once and other organisations to ensure good integration and training for all employees. And, as Eulalia explains, there are many employees at ISS who contribute to making people feel welcome and part of the team. 

“We’re constantly reviewing our processes to make sure they function for all employees,” she says. “Communication is good example. Nearly 300 of our colleagues are deaf or hard of hearing, so we need to adjust how we communicate. Usually, it’s just a case of common sense – adding subtitles to information films for instance. The key is to make it possible for everyone to feel included and have the chance to contribute.” 

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