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When People Belong, Opportunities Are Limitless, Says Salesforce Disability Group Leader

Editor’s Note: This article is part of a series that highlights the employees who are leading Salesforce’s Equality Groups. Read the first installment here.

Globally, an estimated 1.3 billion people experience a significant disability. This month marks Disability Employment Awareness Month in the United States, which recognizes the contributions of people with disabilities to our workplaces and economy.

To learn more, we spoke with Mike Raabe, product and pricing operations manager at Salesforce. Raabe is also the Global President of Abilityforce, one of Salesforce’s 13 Equality Groups, or employee-led business resource groups (BRGs). He opened up about the importance of creating trust and belonging, the invisible nature of many disabilities, and the innovation that can take place when everyone is invited to participate.

Q. Why did you get involved with Salesforce’s Equality Groups?

I was first drawn to Salesforce because of its investment in people. Yes, we’re a business, and our customers and revenue are important, but you can invest in your people and your business.

I got involved with our Equality Groups because I believe that when you treat people how they want to be treated, you get the best out of them.

I got involved with our Equality Groups because I believe that when you treat people how they want to be treated, you get the best out of them.

Q. Tell us about Abilityforce and the community it serves.

Abilityforce’s members are comprised of employees who identify as a person with a disability, allies to people with disabilities, and loved ones who care for people with disabilities. We emphasize creating an inclusive community by leading with our values of trust, belonging, and empathy.

We want all people with disabilities and allies to feel and be empowered to be their best and authentic selves in the workplace. It’s all about making sure they have the tools, accessible means, and an invitation to be included.

Q. How has your personal journey influenced the way you serve as president of Abilityforce?

I have a personal connection with this community. My journey started as I was graduating from college. My father had a serious stroke which left him partially paralyzed. He relies on a caretaker (which fortunately is my mother), and it’s really impacted his and our family’s life experience.

Along the way, I was also diagnosed with ADHD. As I reflected on my high school and college experience, my diagnosis was downplayed. I heard a common narrative that I would grow out of it. I worked hard to grow out of it in the workplace, and there was a moment when I realized I couldn’t, and I had to take a leave of absence to focus on myself.

I also love learning and I started learning about how depression and anxiety are factored into well-being at work. I dove into therapy, tools, and information to help deal with my own struggles. As I started interacting with folks in the disability space, I learned more about how different brains are wired. I experienced this paradoxical moment where I was comforted that there were other people like me but also frustrated I hadn’t discovered it sooner. It was a pivotal moment, and I’m grateful to have this space and proud to identify as someone with a neurological disability.

Q. What do you wish others knew about people with disabilities?

Having a disability can impact every aspect of your life. Studies indicate that almost 80% of disabilities are invisible, meaning the disability might not be apparent when you look at a person. We do a lot of work to create a sense of community for people to show up as their true selves and shed camouflaging behaviors that many with disabilities often use to engage in society.

When we create opportunities for people with disabilities to participate in the way they want to participate, they can contribute as much as anyone.

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Q. What does inclusion and belonging look like for the community you represent?

I’ll use a table analogy. This table is where all important discussions and decisions are made in any aspect of life and the workplace. Accessibility means that each person has the means or the tools to be present at that table. In other words, each person can participate.

Inclusion guarantees a seat at the table and an opportunity to fully engage without any barriers. If each person has the means to reach the table through accessibility, and a guaranteed seat at the table through inclusion, a space of belonging is created where each person can feel supported, valued, and recognized.

When each person belongs, the opportunities we all can accomplish together are limitless. We’ll develop better partnerships, become stronger allies, and create a future where everyone can succeed.

When each person belongs, the opportunities we all can accomplish together are limitless. We’ll develop better partnerships, become stronger allies, and create a future where everyone can succeed.

Q. How do you stay energized with all that’s required of you in your day job and as Abilityforce President?

It helps tremendously when you have a job you really like. I can handle all of the challenges that come along with it, and still have energy to spend with Abilityforce. There were times in the past where I wasn’t as content in a role and it impacted my ability to lead and be present with Abilityforce because I had already given so much in my day job.

I also work out every morning, which creates a good foundation for me and keeps my brain healthy. When I take time away, I turn off my Salesforce phone and have no communication from the company while I’m out. I love that I have leaders who do the same. It’s important that we can all step away from time to time.

Q. What’s the most surprising or unexpected thing you’ve learned during your time as a leader?

I have a different sense of appreciation for what it’s like to lead large, global teams. There are a lot of perspectives you have to consider when you make decisions on behalf of everyone. And it’s important to find where the compromise is and how to move forward without getting stuck.

Q. What legacy do you hope to leave behind?

I love people as individuals. I want to inspire other leaders in the company to truly appreciate each individual on their team and focus on who the person is. That’s how we’ll get to where we want to be.

Icebreaker Questions:

Q. Who are some of your favorite authors?
Alice Wong, John Green, and Elsa Sjunneson — they’re great advocates for the disability community.
Q.What personal interests bring you joy?
I love the outdoors. I prefer mountains over beaches. I love being out in the wilderness and being able to separate from technology. I also play video games and build Lego sets a lot — I never grew out of those.
Q.What has been your favorite Abilityforce moment?
I’m most proud of the evolution. The work started out as a community, and then it progressed to the point that the business made a decision to create the Office of Accessibility. It proves the business value of being inclusive.

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