News: Panama City mayor, reality star encourage employers to create inclusive workforces
Story by Jacqui Barker
PANAMA CITY, Fla. - A Strong Workforce is an Inclusive Workforce: What Can YOU Do?” – that was the message delivered throughout the 2012 Naval Surface Warfare Center Panama City Division (NSWC PCD)’s 2012 Disability Employment Awareness Month event on Oct. 2, 2012.
Panama City, Fla., Mayor Greg Brudnicki and reality costar of The Learning Channel’s “The Little Couple” Bill Klein both asked employers to create inclusive and diverse workforces by hiring disabled employees.
Brudnicki introduced Panama City, Fla., Bay High School graduate Jessie Sizemore, who is a disabled employee and works in the mayor’s office at City Hall, encouraged all employers to include disabled Americans into the workforce within his proclamation.
“I call upon employers, schools, and other community organizations to observe this month with appropriate programs and activities, and to advance its message that 'A Strong Workforce is an Inclusive Workforce: What Can YOU Do?,' throughout the year,” said Brudnicki.
“Today’s event is to honor folks with disabilities who come to work every day and do the very best they can,” said NSWC PCD Commanding Officer Capt. Scott Pratt, USN.
Klein, who is also co-star of The Learning Channel’s “The Little Couple,” has Spondylo-Epiphyseal Dysplasia (SED) which is a COL2A1 gene mutation that resulted in dwarfism and stands 4 ft. tall. Klein’s jovial speech shared personal experiences, his admiration and reverence for wife, Jennifer, and an open approach toward disability employment awareness.
“My brothers are 6-foot-4 and 6-foot-2. It’s like taking pictures in the Redwood Forest with them. I’ll never be a basketball player, but neither will they,” said Klein said with a smile while the audience laughed along.
NSWC PCD Diversity Council President Christina Pate, a disabled NSWC PCD employee, initiated Klein’s speech for the October 2012 event.
“I was excited to hear Bill (Klein) speak at our event,” said Pate. “He brought a level of awareness to this event that really made people think about the purpose of disability employment awareness month.”
While Klein challenged employers to create a more diverse workforce, he also challenged employees to ensure they perform once they get the job, and to always “ask for more” and to tell their stories to raise awareness.
“Share your story with people in the workforce. You have a responsibility to educate others because others will be hiring and it will reduce trepidation about hiring someone with a disability” said Klein. “This is not what defines the person before you. Employers, you should ask ‘how is this going to strengthen the workforce,’ and the things they brought to the table are what count, not how they got there.”
Klein, who grew up in Port Jefferson on Long Island, N.Y., earned a degree in biology from New York University and had aspirations of working for a pharmaceutical company. He interviewed with approximately 50 companies, but was rarely given a second interview because of perceptions related to his overall abilities related to his disability.
“One company told me I didn’t have ‘the look,’ to be a pharmaceutical rep,” Klein said. “Another said they were concerned I would go unnoticed in a doctor’s office … Ironically, I now consult many of those companies and I’m charging about 10 times the amount that I would’ve asked for back then.”
He started his professional career in sales that later led him to fill various senior management positions at companies ranging from $45 million to $250 million annual revenues. After 2004, Klein started his first entrepreneurship endeavor with Emerge Sales, Inc., and today, he serves as a strategic direction, mergers and acquisitions, sales and operational efficiency consultant. Klein also created Rocky and Maggie’s pet supply company, named after Jennifer’s dogs, with both an e-commerce platform and a brick and mortar location in Houston, Texas. Klein presently owns Candu Enterprises, where he and Jennifer speak publicly in addition to conducting philanthropic appearances at schools and other venues. Together, the couple is featured in the hit reality show that began filming its fifth season this year and will soon complete their 100th episode.