In It Together: John Deere’s ABLEd ERG Provides a Supportive Space for Its Differently Abled Employees

For many, chronic illness is a lifelong journey. John Deere’s Karla Kleve discussed how the company’s ABLEd ERG provides employees with differing abilities a platform to share their stories, advocate for inclusion and exchange resources.

Written by Jenny Lyons-Cunha
Published on Mar. 08, 2023
In It Together: John Deere’s ABLEd ERG Provides a Supportive Space for Its Differently Abled Employees
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Nearly two decades into her career at John Deere, the trajectory of Digital Product Manager Karla Kleve’s life shifted.

Five years ago, Kleve was diagnosed with mast cell activation, a rare autoimmune condition that overstimulates the immune system and attacks the body. Misunderstood and often hard to diagnose, the condition causes joint and muscle pain, fatigue, digestive maladies, heart irregularities and anaphylactic reactions to everyday smells — all of which Kleve has experienced in her journey with MCA. 

While Kleve’s life has certainly changed, her tenure with John Deere is stronger than ever. The company has supported Kleve with compassion, flexibility and membership to its ERG, ABLEd, which stands for advocacy benefiting leadership and employees touched by disabilities.

“For me, the ERG has served as an incredible support network,” Kleve told Built In. “I’ve met so many wonderful people that are compassionate and caring.”

As Kleve navigated sick leave and the ins and outs of the Family and Medical Leave Act, ABLEd has served as a sounding board and safe space.   

“We are like a small family that helps lift each other up,” she said. “We feel safe in sharing the good and bad with each other.” 

Built In sat down with Kleve to learn more about how her health journey and her career have intertwined — and how she’s given back to the John Deere community through her ABLEd advocacy. 

 

A screenshot of a virtual ABLEd event.
John Deere

 

Tell me about ABLEd. What is the ERG’s mission, and what types of initiatives does it put on?

ABLEd’s mission is to create a network that supports individuals touched by disabilities — seen or unseen — by promoting awareness and available resources for our employees, business partners, customers, shareholders and the communities we live in.

 

ACTIVITIES ABLED HAS SPONSORED

  • Lunch-and-learns to educate
  • Virtual health fairs promoting available support services
  • Facility improvements related to accessibility and accommodations
  • Supervisor education

 

In addition to our internal events, we participate in community activities such as raising funds for celiac awareness with our local food bank and volunteering for the Special Olympics. This year, our local chapter hopes to put on a brain health gala and participate in a local area-accessible play park.

 

How does ABLEd support and empower employees with disabilities? How has the ERG and its members supported and empowered you?

We work to ensure that all employees can be their most productive and have access to the accommodations needed. We also have a wealth of resources to share with each other that are often not easy to find or navigate.

 

HOW ABLED ENCOURAGES DEI AT JOHN DEERE

  • Promotes enterprise awareness of an often-overlooked community
  • Equips John Deere employees and supervisors with the skills they need to be inclusive of people touched by disabilities
  • Provides education to ensure that associates lead and are led in an inclusive and bias-free way
  • Encourages John Deere colleagues to bring their authentic selves to work

 

How does ABLEd advocate for employees with disabilities and influence John Deere’s leadership and people operations?

Our ERG advocates in many different forums, including HR councils, supervisor meetings and lunch-and-learns. We strive to educate on various forms of disabilities by openly sharing our personal struggles and resources.

My disorder is what we in ABLEd often call “unseen.” Unless I openly share that I am struggling, others are often unaware of my illness. One of our goals with ABLEd is to provide a safe place for people to share without the fear of it impacting their job. We also educate others on how, with the right accommodations, everyone can work to their full potential.

In a recent supervisor education session, we broke into small groups and had frank discussions about how to open conversations with their employees regarding disabilities and where to go for additional support when needed.

 

 “One of our goals with ABLEd is to provide a safe place for people to share without the fear of it impacting their job. We also educate others on how, with the right accommodations, everyone can work to their full potential.”

 

You’ve been with John Deere for more than two decades. How has the company supported you as you navigate your health journey and work with a disability?

I was diagnosed with MCA about five years ago. As you can imagine, this makes it very difficult to come into the office or attend large in-person meetings.

John Deere has supported me throughout my disability journey. I participate in FMLA and take unpaid intermittent leave when I am too sick to work. This gives me peace of mind knowing that my job is protected, but I have options on the bad days.

I have also worked with my doctor, local occupational health provider, and supervisor to obtain a full-time remote position that allows me to work from the safety of my home. When I am asked to attend a face-to-face meeting, I am always given a choice and feel empowered to ask other attendees to take precautions to keep me safe. The ability to participate via video has made this almost a non-issue.

 

“I work from the safety of my home. When I attend face-to-face meetings, I feel empowered to ask other attendees to take precautions to keep me safe.”

 

How does ABLEd’s mission and work fit into the larger mission of John Deere?

John Deere and its employees take pride in living up to its core values: integrity, quality, commitment and innovation. ABLEd’s mission is extremely aligned to these values. By advocating and providing accommodations, we help employees work to their greatest potential — and let their abilities shine.

 

Responses have been edited for length and clarity. Images provided by John Deere and Shutterstock.

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