DHHS walking their talk
Wed 6 November 2019
Image: Kate O'Neill sitting with Stepping Into Intern Aziz Helou.
University of Melbourne student, Aziz Helou, was looking for some hands-on experience to compliment his studies when he applied for the Stepping Into program through Australian Network on Disability (AND).
Stepping Into is a paid internship program that matches talented university students with disability, with roles in leading Australian organisations, so it seemed like the perfect opportunity for Aziz to expand his skills and networks.
Meanwhile, at the Department of Human Services (DHHS), NDIS Transition Project Officer, Kate O’Neill, was after some fresh eyes for her team. For department with a keen focus on diversity and inclusion, it made sense to contact the Stepping Into team to help find a suitable candidate for an internship, and when she made the decision to offer the position to Aziz, she was not disappointed.
“Aziz joined us and brought with him a fantastic energy” said Kate. “Right from the start he had a curiosity and motivation to learn, quickly building a strong rapport with others across the organisation”.
Aziz had some previous professional experience, so Kate introduced him to government, community organisations and advocacy groups focusing on disability, and ensured he was exposed to a range of tasks that would benefit both the work of the Department, and Aziz’s own development.
“Being involved in different teams equipped me with a variety of skills I’ll be able to lean on in the future and discuss with employers. It also meant I experienced a range of leadership styles which was useful” said Aziz.
Aziz’s prior workplace experiences hadn’t always been inclusive. At DHHS, Aziz found the team genuinely inclusive and supportive.
“I had made a decision to be open about my disability, so my colleagues were aware of my personal situation” he said. “Happily, I was always afforded the utmost respect, and any adjustment I needed was met with enthusiasm”.
When it comes to fostering an inclusive and equitable workplace, empathy, the ability to understand what another person is experiencing, goes a long way in achieving success. Everyone’s level of empathy is different however empathy is a learned skill and many companies successfully incorporate empathy in the coaching. For Aziz, it was the DHHS team’s empathy that made him feel truly included.
Aziz was hit with a unique situation during his internship, the tragic events of the Christchurch massacre. As a believer of the Islamic faith, the news was especially confronting for Aziz and it was an extremely difficult time for him and his family. But Aziz was blown away by the emotional support he received from his workmates.
“There was an outpouring of support from the people I worked with” he said. “Colleagues came to my desk for a chat, my Manager who was interstate at the time emailed me directly to offer support and let me know she was thinking of me. It really showed me what a wonderfully inclusive team I was working within”.
Kate was heartened that Aziz knew he was welcomed, supported and included in the office, and enjoyed watching as he confidently discovered many different aspects of the disability sector.
The internship had significant positive impacts on the wider team who’ve benefited from fresh perspectives, mentoring opportunities and insights into becoming truly inclusive.
“We spend a lot of time thinking about diversity and inclusion, but I think we still have work to do,” said Kate.
“We’ve learned so much from Aziz, not only the legal perspectives he brings from his education and employment experiences, but from his own perspective as a person with disability. It’s been simply amazing for all of us”.
Find out more about AND’s Stepping Into internship program.