Interview

Opening Doors: how AlixPartners is creating work opportunities for people with Down syndrome

March 2018

To mark World Down Syndrome Day, AlixPartners was proudly represented at the World Down Syndrome Day conference at the United Nations headquarters in New York by Peter Saville, Managing Director, and Andrew Constable, London Facilities Manager. Peter and Andrew participated in panel discussions, joined by representatives from other major employers, and spoke about AlixPartners’ commitment to providing a workplace that is inclusive of people from all backgrounds, including those with disabilities.

They also discussed their personal experiences working with AlixPartners employees with Down syndrome, as part of AlixPartners’ partnerships with the National Down Syndrome Society in the US – spearheaded by Meaghan Schmidt, Managing Director – and Down's Syndrome Association in the UK, and shared best practices for companies considering similar programs.

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Tell us a little about AlixPartners’ work with people with Down syndrome

Peter Saville: Diversity and inclusion is central to our firm’s global strategy and something we passionately believe in. Our partnership with the Down's Syndrome Association (DSA), and in turn our direct experiences with our colleagues with Down syndrome – Alfie, Harrison, and others – is helping us achieve our objectives and build a culture of inclusion across our practice. The work that the DSA program does is incredibly valuable to all those involved and our aim is to work alongside the DSA to continue to raise awareness.

Peter Saville: Diversity and inclusion is central to our firm’s global strategy and something we passionately believe in. Our partnership with the Down's Syndrome Association (DSA), and in turn our direct experiences with our colleagues with Down syndrome – Alfie, Harrison, and others – is helping us achieve our objectives and build a culture of inclusion across our practice. The work that the DSA program does is incredibly valuable to all those involved and our aim is to work alongside the DSA to continue to raise awareness.

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How did this program begin in the London office?

Andrew Constable: Once AlixPartners made initial contact with the DSA Workfit team, I was approached to see if I would be interested in working with a person with Down syndrome. I hadn’t had any previous experience personally working with people with Down syndrome, but I was keen to get involved. I created a job specification that was used to identify a candidate, and we ultimately hired Alfie. We then undertook a workshop training session that was run by the DSA Workfit Program, which proved to be invaluable. It provided all the guidance we needed on how to work with Alfie and how to ensure it was beneficial to Alfie, to me, and to the firm.

Andrew Constable: Once AlixPartners made initial contact with the DSA Workfit team, I was approached to see if I would be interested in working with a person with Down syndrome. I hadn’t had any previous experience personally working with people with Down syndrome, but I was keen to get involved. I created a job specification that was used to identify a candidate, and we ultimately hired Alfie. We then undertook a workshop training session that was run by the DSA Workfit Program, which proved to be invaluable. It provided all the guidance we needed on how to work with Alfie and how to ensure it was beneficial to Alfie, to me, and to the firm.

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How did this program begin in the New York office?

Meaghan Schmidt: Inspired by our UK internship program and after discussions with colleagues regarding best practices; I reached out to friend and former NDSS President, Pam van der Lee. We discussed the possibility of having an internship program at AlixPartners in New York. We wanted to make sure we do this right the first time so we met with Sara and her team to go over the plan and onboarding. With AlixPartners leadership support, we hired our first intern last June.

Meaghan Schmidt: Inspired by our UK internship program and after discussions with colleagues regarding best practices; I reached out to friend and former NDSS President, Pam van der Lee. We discussed the possibility of having an internship program at AlixPartners in New York. We wanted to make sure we do this right the first time so we met with Sara and her team to go over the plan and onboarding. With AlixPartners leadership support, we hired our first intern last June.

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What advice can you give other employers who are considering creating work opportunities for people with Down syndrome or other disabilities?

Peter Saville: Watching an individual like Alfie or Harrison develop and mature is a hugely rewarding experience for everyone at AlixPartners. Not only have we been able to raise awareness of Down syndrome in our organization, but our involvement with the DSA has in turn become a crucial part of our diversity and inclusion program. Diversity is not the ultimate goal. Diversity must be paired with an inclusive culture and workplace, where everyone is accepted for who they are and for being their authentic selves every day.

Intern Harrison van der Lee pictured with Corporate Services staff in the New York office.  

Peter Saville: Watching an individual like Alfie or Harrison develop and mature is a hugely rewarding experience for everyone at AlixPartners. Not only have we been able to raise awareness of Down syndrome in our organization, but our involvement with the DSA has in turn become a crucial part of our diversity and inclusion program. Diversity is not the ultimate goal. Diversity must be paired with an inclusive culture and workplace, where everyone is accepted for who they are and for being their authentic selves every day.

Intern Harrison van der Lee pictured with Corporate Services staff in the New York office.  

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What has been the most rewarding aspect of this experience for you personally?

Andrew Constable: The most rewarding part is seeing how Alfie has matured as a person and grown in both confidence and ability. Alfie started in the office needing direction and to be shadowed during his tasks. Today, he is totally comfortable completing his work unaided. We have seen him become a valuable member of the team that adds value to our Firm with not only his presence but also the work he completes. He is the envy of his friends at college and I love how proud he is to work with us at AlixPartners. The office wouldn’t be the same without him!

From our London office, Andy Constable, intern Alfie Scullion, Annalis Jovinsdottir, and Sulaiman Saadani press for progress by challenging stereotypes and bias on International Women's Day 2018.

Andrew Constable: The most rewarding part is seeing how Alfie has matured as a person and grown in both confidence and ability. Alfie started in the office needing direction and to be shadowed during his tasks. Today, he is totally comfortable completing his work unaided. We have seen him become a valuable member of the team that adds value to our Firm with not only his presence but also the work he completes. He is the envy of his friends at college and I love how proud he is to work with us at AlixPartners. The office wouldn’t be the same without him!

From our London office, Andy Constable, intern Alfie Scullion, Annalis Jovinsdottir, and Sulaiman Saadani press for progress by challenging stereotypes and bias on International Women's Day 2018.

How would you like to see this program evolve or grow at AlixPartners?

Meaghan Schmidt: Having completed our first two internships with the DSWorks internship program here in NY, we would like to continue to grow and expand the program to other AlixPartners offices in the US. Recently, we began to look for internship candidates in our Southfield, Michigan; with the goal of hiring someone in the next few months. In addition, one of our previous interns in the New York office will be joining us again this May.

If your company is interested in providing work opportunities to people with Down syndrome, visit #DSWORKS® Even Strength (US) or DSA Workfit (UK) for more information.