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Le'i gives keynote address at UCEDD training

“I have a moral and professional obligation to foster a workforce environment and culture where everyone is treated with dignity and respect, where the talents and skills of different groups are valued and where productivity and customer service improves because the workforce is happier, more motivated and more aware of the benefits that inclusion can bring,” said Le’i Sonny Thompson, Human Resources Director who was the keynote speaker at the UCEDD (University Center for Excellence on Developmental Disabilities) training for individuals with disabilities on employment opportunities and how to make the most of them.


The training was held at the ASCC Lecture Hall yesterday morning.


The HR Director quoted President Obama’s Executive Order 13583; “Our nation derives strength from the diversity of its population and from its commitment to equal opportunity for all. We are at our best when we draw on the talents of all parts of our society and our greatest accomplishments are achieved when diverse perspectives are brought to bear to overcome our greatest challenges."


The Director noted his passion for helping individuals who have disabilities because, as a parent of a son who has a mild case of autism, he speaks from experience.


With a positive attitude the HR Director briefly told the audience about how he and his family sought information on how to address, and care for his youngest son, given there are no resources available on island to help families who have similar cases. Le’i said he conducted research online on how to deal with autistic cases and implemented the steps to help his son.


Le’i said that if an employee has an existing condition needing equal access to perform his or her duties, this issue can addressed with the EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity) Compliance officer, who enforces the ADA within agencies and the private sectors.


“Government-wide, we have made important progress toward hiring a work-force that truly reflects American Samoa’s diversity and we will continue to pursue that goal, but merely hiring a diverse workforce is not enough and we must make our workplaces more inclusive.”


He said, our ancestors before us founded the ideal that from many, “we are one, a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. That is the rationale for inclusion. To gain the maximum benefit from our increasingly diverse workforce, we must make every employee feel welcome and motivated to work their hardest and rise through the ranks."


 “We must affirm that we work better together because of our differences not despite them,” he noted.


Lei said when employees are trained in team building, decision making, problem solving and conflict resolution, they will not only uphold the principles of Accountability, Unity, Transparency and Equality, but better results will come forth.


The business case for inclusion is clear, he said, and a diverse workforce in an inclusive environment will improve individual and organizational performance and result in better value to customers, clients, taxpayers and other stakeholders.


The Director noted that incorporating diversity and inclusive working into the key values of your organization can have a threefold effect; good for your business, good for your staff and good for the community around you.


Le’i elaborated on what an inclusive workplace looks like— there's a welcoming workplace culture where everyone is treated with respect and dignity and everyone feels valued; policies are in place concerning equality and human rights, working conditions, dignity at work, employee welfare and fair recruitment and procurement practices; members of staff at all levels are aware of the inclusive values of the organization and are actively consulted and involved in policy development; the workforce is representative of the local community or customers; all employees are encouraged to develop and progress, and any barriers faced by specific groups are identified and action taken to address them; unnecessary hierarchies and occupational segregation, where groups of employees are congregated into certain areas are discouraged; the organization is aware of any potential tensions within the workplace and takes action to anticipate and address them; and inclusive strategies are fully supported and promoted by senior staff.


The Director also noted the government has the Summer Youth Employment Program and urged the individuals with disabilities to apply. He openly gave his cell number to any person seeking assistance from the Human Resources Office.


“We cannot just talk about it, we must act on it. Come see me, call me up, come to my office and we can work from there,” he said.