When Viasat’s Ability Alliance formed in 2017, it focused on people and allies of those with physical disabilities. Today, this Employee Resource Group (ERG) has evolved and broadened its focus to include less-visible disabilities like autism, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), drawing new members from throughout the company.
That continued dedication to serving employees with disabilities of all kinds again earned Viasat recognition from the Disability Equality Index (DEI) as one of 2022’s “Best Places to Work for Disability Inclusion.” Viasat also won the award in 2019 and 2020.
The DEI is a benchmarking tool to help companies take measurable steps toward disability inclusion and equality. Top-scoring companies were recognized at the July 20 Disability:IN Global Conference & Expo.
Viasat earned a 90 out of a possible 100 points on the DEI, scoring strongly for its culture, leadership, recruitment, community engagement, and supplier diversity. It also earned high marks for its education, retention, and advancement of disabled employees.
Viasat’s Global Head of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Lena Hall said the company worked hard to maintain its diversity and inclusion programs through the pandemic.
“Viasat offers several programs, benefits, and resources to promote a diverse, equitable, and inclusive workplace that enable employees with all abilities to thrive,” she said. “As the company shifted to a remote and hybrid setting during the pandemic, maintaining an inclusive, virtual environment was essential. Viasat rolled out additional mental health resources, flexible working arrangements, and opportunities for employees to stay connected.”
Its Ability Alliance recently held a virtual relaunch event and is moving forward with new membership and a renewed sense of purpose.
“Viasat has many ERGs that are committed to the health, well-being, and development of our employees,” Hall said. “Specifically, the Ability Alliance ERG ensures our employees have an environment that values different abilities, shares and celebrates similar values and beliefs, and increases disability awareness and education through ongoing employee and community support and programs.”
Ability Alliance ERG lead Robert Asperslag, who’s been part of the Ability Alliance since its founding and was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2019, said the ERG has undergone a metamorphosis in its five-year history.
A former employee who is partially blind founded the group. The ERG initially focused on physical disabilities, working with the facilities team to make Viasat’s campus as accessible as possible.
But the Ability Alliance and the world have since undergone profound changes. The pandemic took a temporary toll on the ERG’s membership, so in June they held a virtual kick-off event to mark its return to active status. They also welcomed a new circle of members.
While the group continues to support people with physical disabilities, it’s evolved to also become a safe space for employees with less-visible challenges.
“It’s relevant and real,” Asperslag said. “I feel it’s a sign of the times. There are a lot of reasons to be anxious these days, and people are searching for support.”
Viasat and the Ability Alliance are both there to provide that needed support.
In early 2020, when many employees began working remotely, Viasat rolled out additional mental health resources, flexible working arrangements, and opportunities for employees to stay connected.
ERGs like the Ability Alliance are just one way for people to maintain those connections. And while all meetings have so far been virtual, Asperslag said the ERG’s 36 members — who hail from campuses including Carlsbad, Ireland, India, and Denver, among others — have been open about their concerns and supportive of one another.
Viasat’s DEI coordinator Ash Stephens is among them. Stephens is diagnosed with anxiety, depression, ADHD, and PTSD. They initially attended Ability Alliance meetings in their coordinator role, but felt so comfortable with the group that they joined as a regular member.
“I don’t ever mind talking about my conditions, but there can be a stigma around doing so, especially at the workplace, and that was my experience at a previous company,” Stephens said. “At Viasat, it’s so wonderful to see how open and supportive everybody is.”
They needed that help when, two years ago, their father was diagnosed with cancer.
“That took an extreme toll on my mental health. But multiple people offered me support, and I still feel that support to this day. It’s such a shift from the mentality I’ve experienced at other companies. I cannot describe how much my mental health has improved since working at Viasat.”
As the Ability Alliance has evolved, Asperslag said its goals have, too. Members are now working to create a list of resources for employees facing disabilities of all kinds.
“It could be somebody who throws out a shoulder, but they can still work; how can we help them?” Asperslag said. “It could be someone we hire who has a disability, or someone who develops one over time.”
Asperslag said he’s enjoying the group’s evolution and the renewed enthusiasm he’s seeing among its growing membership.
“We struggled to stay viable during the pandemic, and now we’re picking it up again,” he said. “There is a lot of new energy, and openness. I’m very happy with where the group is today, and grateful for the company’s support of it.”
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Policies and actions that lead to the award
Here are the company policies and actions that helped Viasat earn its 2022 Best Places to Work for Disability Inclusion award:
- Viasat has an officially recognized disability-focused Employee Resource Group (ERG) or Affinity Group.
- Viasat has a company-wide written statement of commitment to Diversity & Inclusion that specifically mentions disability and is posted on its external public-facing website.
- Viasat has a company-wide external hiring goal for people with disabilities and measures progress towards the goal.
- We offer employment benefits like Employee Assistance Program, short-term and long-term disability coverage.
- We provide clear messaging on our non-discrimination and/or equal opportunity policy, process for requesting disability accommodations to complete the application process, and option to request an accommodation for the interview.
- Viasat provides a new-hire orientation, which includes information on disability inclusion, to all newly hired employees within 90 days of employment.
- Viasat uses employee retention and advancement programs specifically focused on employees with disabilities.
- Viasat has programs in place to understand how to address the needs of the disability community.
- In the past year, Viasat provided philanthropic support to at least one external disability-related event or organization and publicly supported or helped shape at least one external national or local initiative around disability inclusion practices.
- Viasat has a supplier diversity program with a written statement of commitment.