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Open Interviews: Championing positive approaches to disability at work

  April 12, 2017   


This week, we are celebrating Loss of Limbs Awareness Month by speaking to MyPlus graduates and professionals from three different sectors (Banking, FMCG and Energy) about their careers and overcoming the challenges of working with a disability!

Students’ Club: Firstly, tell us a bit about you – what you studied at university and how you started out in your career?

Emily: My father encouraged me to do an economic and financial degree. When I started at University, I didn’t know much about the financial industry, and it wasn’t until I attended networking events and participated in internships that I came to realise how much variety there is in job roles in this sector. Attending the internships helped me to work out what roles I enjoyed the most and where I felt I had the greatest potential to thrive. What impressed me at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, was their commitment to diversity and inclusion, team work and meritocracy. Everyone was extremely supportive, helpful and welcoming.

Cesar: I studied Chemistry in Mexico and then in the USA for my PhD, originally looking to become a University Professor back in Mexico. During my time in the USA I had an opportunity to experience very rich collaboration programs between universities and companies, such as P&G. I had an interview on campus in 1998 and long story short, was then hired to start as a laundry detergents formulator in the P&G technical centre in Mexico City.

Karen: I have worked for EDF Energy for nine years and currently work in the training team at the company’s Hartlepool Power station. Prior to this I worked as an HR Advisor.

Students’ Club: What was it like joining a new organisation – were there specific challenges you had to adapt to?

Emily: Before joining the internship, BofA Merrill’s HR team made sure that things were put in place for me, so that when I arrived, the relevant people were already aware of my disability. That saved needing to have a potentially awkward conversation on the first day.

Physical modifications were needed for my chair; as I only have one arm, so, if I don’t sit correctly, I can get chronic backache. I met with occupational health, knowing I could follow up with HR if I needed to. I’ve found everyone at the bank to be very open. Not many people have come across someone with one arm; it’s a rare disability to have, and the BofA Merrill team have been very accommodating with looking into different ways to help me and make my life easier.

Karen: My disability is just a part of me and who I am. I don't come across many difficulties and have certainly never come across anything that I have been unable to deal with. My first visit to Hartlepool Power Station was a slight challenge. I have an artificial left arm and unfortunately couldn’t activate one of the monitored access gates. I had to approach someone to carry out a different process, which felt a little bit awkward since I had just joined the business. However I was immediately put at ease and there have been alternatives put in place for me; it is not an issue.

I had a workplace assessment to ensure my computer and work area met my needs. I also have an adapter for my telephone which has a wireless earpiece. I feel that I am treated as an individual who is valued and included for my abilities. I was recruited into my job at EDF Energy because of what I could bring to my role, without my disability being a factor. I think this encompasses EDF Energy’s commitment to an inclusive culture.

Students’ Club: It’s encouraging to hear that employers are willing and able to provide the adjustments you need to succeed in the role! Aside from these, how do you manage your disability at work?

Emily: Having lived with my disability all my life, I am fortunate to know where my weaknesses are and how to prevent these from hindering me. However, it is inevitable that new challenges arise and my disability can put me at a slight disadvantage in certain circumstances. In these cases, I use my own initiative and assertiveness to ensure I recognise any potential challenges, then confidently express my concerns and make it clear what I require to overcome the challenge. The key is to be open and articulate about any concerns you might have.

Cesar: At P&G we don’t focus on whether someone has a particular degree or background. People let you show what you can contribute to a project or interest shared and later on they will seek you again for the skills demonstrated and the tangible help you can offer them – it doesn’t matter if you have regular arms or the extra special ones I have. Therefore, the only point to manage is new interactions. When I first meet someone because of my very obvious disability I can feel they see the need to help me in everything, so in a gentle way I simply tell them not to worry and that I will let them know if I actually need help. Soon enough they see I can do most things and begin to be at ease around me, until sometimes they completely forget the disability.

Students’ Club: That’s a good approach to being disability-confident, thanks for sharing that! To conclude, do you have any more tips or advice to offer to graduates looking to start work with a physical (or an invisible, not-so obvious) disability?

Emily: If you have a disability, accept that it’s what makes you special, and that’s who you are. I would also advise you to be very open about it. The more transparent you are about your disability, the more people are able to provide the support you need in order to succeed in your career. If you don’t discuss your disability, your employer won’t know how to support you and to enable you to shine in your strengths. At BofAMerrill in particular, they are very open to discussing ways in which they can help employees with disabilities.

Karen: I have always had the attitude that the only person who would stop me from doing something is me. This is a simple statement, and I know from my own experience that having a disability is not a simple matter. What I mean by this is if I see my disability as a barrier, other people will also. Turn that on its head and think of all the things we need to do to make things happen, sometimes we can come up with barriers which we perceive to be there but are not. My son also has a disability and I am pleased to say that at 12 years old, he is showing so much courage and confidence; he has a real ‘can do’ attitude which is an inspiration to me.

Cesar: Disabled or not, we are all human and we don’t like uncertainty. Tell people upfront what you need from them and from day one start showing everything you have to offer.

Students’ Club: Thanks for the advice, everyone!

Read their full profiles: Emily Roe, Karen Harris and Cesar Vagas-Razo.

These stories are tagged with: being open being open Adjustments Adjustments Inclusive Workplaces Inclusive Workplaces Graduate Experience Graduate Experience