15 years on: Stepping Into Alumni’s full circle moment
Wed 22 July 2020
Image: Deb Heron, Stepping Into Alumni.
From joining AND’s Stepping Into internship program 15 years ago, to being in a position to host Stepping Into interns, Deb Heron has had quite the journey. Speaking with AND, Deb radiates confidence and gratitude as she shares that AND was the catalyst for everything that came after her experience with the Stepping Into program.
In 2005, Deb applied for the Stepping Into program in her penultimate year of study as she knew that having work experience helped in achieving employment. Due to being unsuccessful in attaining any internships, she feared it was because of her disability.
“I was applying for lots of roles and would apply against 80 other applicants at times and the feedback I was getting was that I was fine but just not the strongest candidate. It was always in the back of my mind ‘am I putting people off because I display differently?’” said Deb
Hoping there were internships that catered to people with disability, Deb searched ‘internships disability’ on Google, and she discovered AND’s Stepping Into program! She applied and expressed an interest in tax law, and a week later was contacted for an interview with the Australian Taxation Office (ATO). Although she was nervous at the start of the interview, she was put at ease when the hiring managers did not comment or draw attention to her disability, this was a first experience for Deb.
Reflecting on her time as intern at the ATO, Deb describes the experience as “transformational in every possible way”. In addition to improving her employability, the ATO had an inclusive workplace and culture that helped change the way she saw her disability.
“My biggest mindset shift is changing disability from something that I was embarrassed about and had to make excuses for – to now seeing it as something that is not only okay, but also something that has helped me, and helped me help others”, said Deb.
Through the Stepping Into program, Deb is now proud of her disability and feels that it is something that makes her unique. Currently working as an Assistant Director at the Disability Royal Commission, she believes she wouldn’t be able to have the same impact if she didn’t have a disability. She hopes to reassure and empower her future Stepping Into intern that everything happens for a reason, and to “remember you can make your own life and others better”.
“You cannot be what you cannot see. Your disability doesn’t define who you are and what you’re able to do.” Deb said
One of the most important things Deb gained from her internship at the ATO was confidence. The ATO provided an inclusive workplace by asking Deb what support she might need to effectively fulfil her role. On her first day as a Stepping Into intern, Deb had a workplace assessment with a physio who suggested equipment to reduce the pain caused by her disability. This allowed her to perform as productively as possible. She fondly recalls,
“I remember coming home after day 1 and I was thinking ‘this is it – I am a part of the Australian workforce!”
From an employability perspective, her manager at the ATO helped improve her performance during the job recruitment process through assisting with interview and graduate program preparation.
Deb said they “stayed in touch over many years and he was a real mentor for much of my professional career”.
From the confidence, empowerment and growth of her capabilities, Deb’s career advanced to a second placement at the ATO, then into the gradprogram. Her career has since taken her to the Northern Territory Government, a change in career paths to Perth, work for The National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) and to her current position at the Disability Royal Commission.
Now with a well-established successful career, Deb is incredibly excited for the full circle moment of hosting an intern from the Stepping Into program in the future!
“The Stepping Into program opened many doors for me and I want to give someone else the opportunities that were so kindly given to me”. Deb commented
Through her work experience, Deb further sees the importance of organisations and individuals putting diversity and inclusivity on their agenda,
“We have leaders at the highest level with disability and seeing them lead with such empathy and insight is life changing because they are role models, and this is what I want for current students with disability”.
“From the bottom of my heart thank you to AND because it was the catalyst for everything that came afterwards – and that is still to come”.
Find out more about AND's Stepping Into program.