There’s a great quote on Motability customer Helen Cooke’s website: “I don’t believe I am any more special than anyone else. But I do believe my disability has given me something extra.”
It is this ‘something extra’ that Helen tirelessly talks to organisations about, helping them to realise the advantages of attracting and hiring disabled employees, including graduates. Helen is the Director of MyPlus Consulting and founder of the MyPlus Recruiters’ Club and the MyPlus Students’ Club.
Recognised nationally as a leading expert on disability and graduate recruitment, she works with organisations to provide them with the expertise to be ‘disability confident’ in attracting, recruiting, retaining and developing disabled employing.
She’s well placed to do the job: as a graduate, employee, employer and consultant she also has personal experience of disability, being a wheelchair user following childhood spinal tumour.
After graduating from the University of Hull with a BA (Hons) in Management Systems Helen started her career on the Marks & Spencer graduate management program before moving on to work for Mars Inc.
At Mars, she ended up being responsible for internal and external recruitment as well as establishing graduate management programmes for the sales and the marketing divisions.
She says “It was at Mars that I recognised that I may have something to offer, as a result of both my first-hand experience of disability and my HR and recruitment expertise,” she says. “After 10 years there, I decided to set up my own business to help employers recognise the new possibilities of recruiting individuals who have a disability.”
Starting a business
In 2006, Helen founded MyPlus Consulting, which now has a wide-ranging list of clients including Barclays, EY, JP Morgan, BP, Enterprise, Linklaters, Hogan Lovells, the Bank of England, the Civil Service and Motability.
“Research shows that disabled people are far less likely to be employed than non-disabled people,” says Helen. “In 2015, 11.5 per cent of first-class degrees were awarded to disabled graduates, yet these graduates continue to struggle to secure places on graduate programmes.”
To address these issues MyPlus Consulting works with organisations to help them understand why and how their recruitment processes may be excluding talented individuals and work out what changes need to be made to ensure their recruitment processes are inclusive to all.
“There’s a strong business case for recruiting disabled staff,” Helen says. “For example, it widens the pool of talent to choose from – organisations want to recruit the best talent and the best talent isn’t necessarily non-disabled.”
“Organisations that understand their disabled staff also better understand their disabled customers and recruiting disabled staff enhances an organisation’s positive reputation. That’s all in addition to complying with legislation.”
MyPlus provides enlightened organisations with expertise to be disability confident in their strategy and processes and their knowledge of disabled people.
Helen says, “The challenges facing disabled people are varied but organisations need to understand that the three most common issues they have are lack of confidence, concern about informing a potential employer about their disability, and concerns about asking for adjustments. If organisations are transparent in recognising and demonstrating how they will address these issues that goes a long way.”
“It’s also important for organisations to realise that disabled applicants look for jobs and want to be recruited in exactly the same way as their non disabled counterparts, they don’t want a separate process. This means organisations need to have the confidence and knowledge to directly engage with disabled people and attract them to their organisations.”
Organisations involved in graduate recruitment can sign up the MyPlus Recruiters’ Club, which helps them achieve progress in attracting, recruiting, retaining and developing disabled graduates.
Members of the MyPlus Recruiters’ Club can access ‘Disability Café’ training events, workshops and seminars where they learn about key issues in graduate recruitment, share good practice and network. The events also provide the opportunity for members to engage with disabled graduates who share their invaluable first hand experience.
As well as working with organisations Helen has set up the MyPlus Students’ Club – a website that provides students and graduates with disabilities or long-term health conditions with advice and information so they have the confidence to enter the recruitment process and working world.
The website includes a wide variety of profiles of successful candidates. For example, Shehryar Rizvi is an information security analyst for Barclays, Hanna Longford got a job as a newly qualified solicitor for Pinsent Masons, amputee Lucy Freeman is a teacher for Teach First and Steven Jones even landed himself a job at Motability Operations.
The MyPlus Students’ Club Website also provides a platform for businesses to showcase themselves as disability confident employers and employee success stories.
Life and leisure
But it’s not all work and no play for Helen, her biggest love outside of work is skiing. In 2001 she took a sabbatical from Mars to volunteer for the Whistler Adaptive Sports Programme, which aims to get disabled people into skiing. She’s continued to encourage other disabled people to take up the sport through the Back Up Trust, which supports people with spinal injury. Helen also became a Trustee for the Back Up Trust in 2016.
“I try to go skiing at least once a year, more if I can. I love the freedom that being on the slopes provides as well as the great après ski! Skiing is a great way of escaping the stresses of running a small business, switching off and having a laugh.”
I have been fortunate to have enjoyed, and continue to enjoy, an interesting and challenging career. As a result of the work we do at MyPlus, my aim is that employers will provide opportunities for others with disabilities to enjoy the benefits that work brings, and individuals will recognise their ‘plus’ and realise new possibilities in the world of work.