Diversity Change Agent
Lisa Yang, '74, looks forward to the day when employers “unequivocally recognize that a diverse workforce is critical to success.”
"We need to bring forth a paradigm shift in the corporate world that helps it integrate disability as a form of diversity."
To help propel this shift, as well as enable ILR’s Employment and Disability Institute to be a “practical agent of ‘Advancing the World of Work’,” which is the tag line for the school, she gave a $10 million gift to the institute.
It will now be renamed the K. Lisa Yang and Hock E. Tan Employment and Disability Institute. The benefactors’ interest in providing this significant naming gift stems from the fact that they are the parents of two children with autism.
The gift is the largest in the ILR School’s history. It will support the work of EDI, which is a leader in advancing policies and practices that enhance opportunities for people with disabilities and ensure their full inclusion in the workplace and in communities.
Susanne Bruyère, director of EDI and ILR associate dean of outreach, says this gift enables EDI to research and pioneer innovative approaches and outreach to employers in ways not previously possible.
“This will help EDI develop industry studies, for example, that will enable us to learn more about promising company practices designed to stimulate hiring of people with disabilities. We’ll also be able to do more to reach corporate leaders, human resource professionals, policy makers and people with disabilities globally, using innovative knowledge diffusion approaches that we have not been able to use previously,” Bruyère said.
A retired investment banker, Yang now devotes much of her time to disability and mental health advocacy. This includes serving on the board of the Devereux Foundation, one of the nation’s leading behavioral health care provider organizations.
In a nod to her international background, Yang has established scholarships for international undergraduate students at Cornell, and her support has helped EDI expand its global service learning program as well as involvement of students in disabilities studies education. She serves on ILR’s Advisory Council and received ILR’s Alpern Award in 2014 for distinguished professional accomplishment and service to the school. She has also served on the Cornell University Council.
“This gift is extraordinary and transformative and a signature example of an investment one of our alumni is making in a fundamental issue related to the world of work,” says Kevin Hallock, ILR’s Kenneth F. Kahn ’69 Dean and the Joseph R. Rich ’80 Professor. “Issues of behavioral health and disability and their relationship to work are increasingly important today and will be going forward.”
“I’ve had the distinct pleasure to get to know Lisa over the past several years,” Hallock adds. “She is an exceptional person and not only serves as a leader for ILR through her ongoing financial support, but also through the time she devotes to the school and great insight and advice she offers.”
Bruyère says that ILR is fortunate to have a “partner like Lisa who is clearly passionate about these issues and who models the importance of disability education professionally and personally. We couldn’t ask for a better ally to help EDI move into the future.”
Yang hopes that this gift will be a catalyst that helps EDI be a more active partner with employers in the design and implementation of practical solutions that acknowledge diversity in new ways.
“People are a company's most valuable resource, and EDI is focused on an important pool of individuals that is already large and growing larger,” Yang says. “By marginalizing a major part of the population because of this ‘label’ called disability, companies short-change themselves.”
“It is not charity when you can generate a positive return on investment by having a labor force that capitalizes on diversity and neuro-diversity.”
It is also Yang’s wish to have a greater influence on future generations of Cornell students who will enter the work force and can have impact as leaders. “It is important to inculcate in every Cornell student sensitivity to people with disabilities, as that becomes more pervasive in the world in ways that are obvious or hidden. This sensitivity should be part of all Cornell students' DNA, if we are to build a better future for everyone.”
Hallock notes that the gift is directly in line with many ILR goals and its mission to improve working lives. “This gift and the K. Lisa Yang and Hock E. Tan Employment and Disability Institute touch all departments in the school and will impact many of our primary objectives. These include improving the student experience, more strongly engaging with the wider world and further strengthening our remarkable research. This gift will catapult us forward.”