Teena’s stepping into a new direction

Fri 21 April 2017

Teena, from the ACT is in her thirties. After deciding to pursue a career change, she is currently studying for a double Masters in Accounting and Commerce.

Having recently completed a Stepping Into internship with the Department of Finance, where she worked as a Project Officer in the Risk Group via Project Deployment Team, Teena has agreed to share her experience of the program.

Why did you get involved in the program?

I learnt about the program on the AND website after I received an email from the disability wellness group at Macquarie University. I decided to join because I want to be an advocate for others living with disability and help those who have no experience to develop their confidence to be around people with disability. I want to show that individuals like me have valuable skills, and given the right opportunity can and will make a positive contribution to the workforce.

What did you hope to get out of it?

When I applied to become part of the Stepping Into program I was looking forward to having a positive experience with an organisation that is experienced in working with people with disability. I wanted to gain confidence in the workforce and be assured that if anything happened I'd have full support. The role is different from my usual profession in IT, but aligned to my current study specialisation, so my aim was to get the right experience that I could carry over and use in my next permanent role.

Department of Finance ComCover Team

This was taken December 2016, I'm the one wearing royal blue lower right. My supervisor, Tracie-Ann Maher, is standing second from the left behind the Assistant Secretary of Department of Finance, Fabian, in coat and tie.

Has your disability been a barrier to employment in the past?

Yes, in many ways. My condition [epilepsy and seizures] is hard to recognise compared to other disabilities and in my case there's no definite day or time it will occur. What makes it even more complicated is that there's little awareness and a great deal of stigma surrounding it. People often don’t know what to do and how to react if something happens.

What frustrates me most is that my condition doesn't prohibit me from living my life or from working. But, in the past I've been told that roles no longer exist or that a position has closed after the business learnt of my disability. The role is then re-advertised with a different position title a few weeks after. It makes me very reluctant to disclose anything. Even when I have the exact skills they're looking for, the right knowledge and experience, and the interview goes well, I'm still rejected. It's very hard to find an organisation that has good culture and is accepting of individuals with disability.

What did you learn or gain from the experience?

My internship at the Department of Finance gave me a different perspective about my current profession in risk management. I also developed a different view of organisational culture and why organisations that are experienced working with people with disability are a great place to be. The Department of Finance helped to make my internship a near perfect experience.

I've learnt from this experience that when someone inside the organisation truly advocates for you, not because there is a requirement and they have to meet diversity targets, but because they're skilled and confident working with people with disability, the individual and the team all benefit. It makes it easier to be open because you're not being judged every step of the way.

Moreover, I gained new mentors, friends and networks on top of the work experience that are very relevant to my future career and doing the tasks within the risk management profession.

Did you achieve your aims?

Yes. I was able to advocate for my condition and for myself. I was able to explain what my condition is and help my colleagues learn what to do in case they see someone having a seizure or epileptic attack. My condition isn't an everyday issue and there's no need to act differently when I'm in the room.

My supervisor was able to help me learn about the role and give me the knowledge and experience I need to confidently take on my next role. The next step is to find a permanent position.

What advice would you give to anyone considering participating in the Stepping Into internship program?

This is a good opportunity and the support you'll receive from AND is superb. I think there are three things to consider:

  1. Assess yourself, your current knowledge and learnings and apply to positions that suit your skills.
  2. If you need clarification don’t hesitate to speak with the project coordinator or the program manager as they have the right skills to match you with the right employer.
  3. Tell your coordinator your goals and focus on them. 

You can find out more about the Stepping Into program here.

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