Polo Circolabile: Beyond Protected Job Placement
A project launched by Loro Piana has made available a space for artisanal work, integrated into the company, in which workers with disabilities perform activities with fabrics and finished products that were previously done outside of the company.
The project greatly enhances professional skills, and in the near future could be transformed from a Social Hub in which reverse-mentoring activities take place, into a true organizational division with its own financial accounts and a dedicated budget.
The employment rate for persons with disabilities in the OECD is 44% (versus 75% of people without disabilities), a percentage that drops by a few percentage points when the limitation is serious.
In this context of diffidence, a search conducted by the Diversity, Inclusion and Smart Working Observatory of SDA Bocconi shows that the insertion and management of disabled workers, required of companies by Law 68/99, is seen as a problem and an obligation to fulfill, as the organizational effort required does not seem to be made up for by benefits for the organization. In a cultural context shaped by the legislative obligation, though, there is no lack of positive experiences.
One example is the Polo Circolabile (Circolabile Center) created by Loro Piana, that was pushed heavily by Mrs. Cerra, Head of Corporate Social Responsibility, to promote a cultural change that could teach all Loro Piana employees to overcome the stigmatizing regulatory approach, and to the contrary, constructively consider the abilities and skills of disabled workers and the contribution that, if appropriately included and promoted, they can bring to the organization.
Hirings took place principally based on a “reactive” approach dictated by the urgency of meeting the quota; there was no ex ante reflection by the organization to organize targeted recruitment, thus seeking the skills and abilities suited for a specific role at Loro Piana. People were sought who, based on their character and model of behavior, could be included without creating “dissonance” in the working group. The reactive and tactical approach, dictated by urgency, thus made it difficult to construct an effective match between the candidate and the job position, creating a widespread feeling of dissatisfaction. Moreover, the urgency made it impossible to prepare the working group and the additions often seemed forced; that forcing generated the cascading effect of a problematic interpretation of the inclusion that was often seen as an additional strain on the workload. Initially, two days of volunteer activities were organized at the company in collaboration with Special Olympics and the LVMH Group to stimulate Loro Piana workers to both interact with disabled persons, concretely recognizing their abilities and skills in sports competitions, and to talk openly about their own experiences with “sickness/temporary disability” that everyone inevitably encounters in their life cycle.
These two events contributed significantly to constructing the cultural basis for the subsequent Polo Circolabile project. This is a space for artisanal work, integrated into the company, in which workers with disabilities work on fabrics and finished products to perform activities that were previously done outside of the company. In particular, they create objects from recovered materials and “de-brand” unsold items to prepare them for donation to third sector associations.
The success of this project is due to various factors. The first is having been able to recognize the skills of people with disabilities and having directed them towards activities that are actually useful, but considered to be low value-added and thus outsourced. The project thus succeeded in combining an environmental goal with a social once, since workers with disabilities carry out up-cycling activities, recovery of materials, and preparation for donation of unsold articles or obsolete collections, reducing waste.
A second factor of success regards the creation of workspaces in the heart of one of the factories; this made it possible to gain direct experience to observe the efforts and performance of workers with disabilities, generating an area of curiosity, dialogue, skills exchange, and an increasingly inclusive environment. This project also made it possible to carry out more accurate recruitment and inclusion actions. It was in fact entrusted to a professional who contributed specific skills, and who subsequently also became the tutor for disabled workers. Starting with the mere removal of labels and references to the logo to prepare unsold items for donation, the creation of a coherent team, and the recognition by the organization of the usefulness of the work performed, it allowed for gradually expanding the activities, that today go from the reutilization of materials for the revisitation of company objects, in a more sustainable perspective, to the creation of gadgets destined for external use. Thus, thanks also to the constant request for activities to be carried out by different company functions, the Polo Circolabile went from a pilot phase to a phase of greater institutionalization. The final goal is to transform it not only into a Social-Hub in which activities of reverse-mentoring are carried out to facilitate the exchange of skills regarding activities between this division and the other divisions of Loro Piana, but to legitimize it as a true organizational division with its own financial accounts and a dedicated budget. To reach this goal, a first step was taken recently with the creation of a visual identity and a dedicated logo so as to create an actual label to affix on products produced within the Polo, to identify, sponsor, and give an explicit indication inside the company and to the market regarding the project for employment inclusion.
This blog post was written in collaboration with Giulia Bonesio, a CSR specialist. Thanks go also to Ms. Cecilia Cerra and Ms. Francesca Vinzio, Professional Educator and Coordinator of the Polo Circolabile, for the interview she gave, that was reworked for this blog.
 “Conoscere il mondo della disabilità,” Istat, Rome, 2019, pp. 60 ff.
 Organizational analysis and study of a sample of medium-large companies regarding management of disabilities. Research report. 2018. Project MB1005298 “Lavoro e disabilità: equilibrio tra capacità, funzionalità e fattori ambientali,” financed by the Province of Monza-Brianza, coordinated by CESVIP Lombardia.
 Companies with more than 50 employees must hire persons with disabilities to meet a quota of 7% of employees. For employers with 36 to 50 employees, the obligation is to hire two workers; for employers with 15 to 35 employees, the obligation is to hire one worker.
 S. Cuomo, Z. Simonella, “Disabilità e organizzazioni. L’esperienza di Jobmetoo,” Economia&Management, 3/2015, pp. 34-41.
 Founded in September 2019, initially made up of three workers coordinated by an educator, there are now five workers. For hiring, Loro Piana stipulated an agreement with the Orso Blu B-type social cooperative, which by applying Art. 14 of Legislative Decree 276/03, indirectly placed five people in the company.
 Ms. Francesca Vinzio, Professional Educator, Coordinator of the Polo Circolabile.