Milk Jar Candle Co. is on a mission to create inviting spaces through inclusivity and their relationship with the disabled community. While most companies struggle to include employees of all abilities, this Calgary business is changing the way employee representation is both viewed and approached.
Holly Singer founded Milk Jar, an artisanal hand-poured candle company, in 2014. Singer used candle-making as a creative outlet while in university.
Having worked alongside individuals of varying abilities in the past, Singer was aware of the daily realities faced by the disabled community.
According to Neurological Health Charities Canada, the unemployment rate for people with neurological disabilities is 12 times higher than the general population.
Singer notes that most programs for the disabled community have government support through subsidization, however, businesses aren’t given any fiscal aid. This means it’s up to the business owner to provide these opportunities.
The bedrock for Milk Jar’s pursuit of an inclusive work environment has been Singer’s ‘people first, profit second’ mentality.
From the start, one third of the company’s staff has been from the disabled community.
“Business has more purpose than just sales and profit. It’s about Lauren wanting to retire at Milk Jar, or Ali gaining so much confidence as a person over the last year and a half,” says Singer.
Lauren (we are withholding her last name upon the company’s request) has worked at Milk Jar for over three years and is one of their longest-serving employees.
Working mainly in production, she also helps with workshop setup, customer service, employee training and speaks at events.
“It’s a good place to work,” says Lauren. “They care about staff and giving back to the community. They also offer me a health spending account so I can look after my health.”
Staff members at Milk Jar are not only paid equally according to role, but are also given equal opportunity regardless of their ability, gender, age, and race.
Milk Jar has become a role model for workplace inclusivity and has received significant praise for their approach, but Singer hopes one day that won’t be something that sets them apart.
“It sets us apart and it really shouldn’t,” she says. The goal is that you won’t be the exception.”
Unfortunately, a societal stigma exists around the neurologically disabled. We are quick to assume how they should, or need to be treated, causing them to feel less-than or incompetent.
“Youth baby talk – that’s a huge issue. I remind people, ‘We do not change the tone of our voice,’” says Singer.
Individuals who have neurological disabilities might have “youthful or childlike desires,” but those desires aren’t an opportunity to treat them as such.
Singer also acknowledges that other businesses assume hiring from the disabled community won’t offer them any benefit.
“There’s fear of the unknown, fear of this assumption that it will be costly to their business… like ‘I’m going to have to pay someone, but the efficiency won’t be the same,’” says Singer.
Prioritising inclusivity has strengthened Milk Jar’s community and subsequently prompted their success.
Making a difference
Raelene Henderson, the company’s director of staff and inclusion, prides herself on being a part of an organization that is so intentional about what it does.
Having worked alongside Singer and watched their community impact grow, Henderson acknowledges how the difference doesn’t come from the candle itself, as she reflects on her interaction with customers at the 2022 Spruce Meadows Market.
“It felt like we weren’t just selling a product to sell a product. It really felt like people knew us as this business who was making a huge difference in the world,” says Henderson.
Milk Jar’s diversity has sparked creativity, identity, and most importantly, conversation surrounding how businesses can give staff a greater purpose.
With processes that set their employees up for success, Singer recognizes the importance of simply working together.
“We’re showing you can go into business because you have a purpose, and you want to make an impact,” says Singer.
With that, Milk Jar has allowed their products to become an extension of the community they’ve created.
This March, they launched a highly anticipated rebrand to showcase who they are even more. Designed with inclusivity in mind, their rebrand is colourful, fun, and filled with new characters and slogans.
As they continue to raise awareness around the disabled community in business, Milk Jar remains a local leader for workplace inclusivity, inspiring others to consider what might be stopping them from doing the same.