Your first job is like stepping into the unknown

Mon 7 September 2020

A woman (Devni) and a man (Luke) incorporate attire standing together smiling.

Image: Devni standing with Stepping Into supervisor Luke Franks. 

Like many young people, your first time working in a corporate environment is a daunting experience. From buying your first professional outfit, worrying about how you will do on your first day, to making sure you take the right train and arriving early for your new journey with the organisation.

Devni is no exception, but she did have a bit of a head start as she had been empowered through AND’s PACE Mentoring program. This made for an almost natural progression to the Stepping Into internship program that would kickstart her career. On paper, Devni achieved what every intern hopes to achieve, but her Stepping Into experience also gave her something more valuable. Devni said:  

“What I gained from the experience was more than what you gain from a job – I gained confidence. It’s something I now carry through my daily life and will throughout the rest of my career. Confidence to own my disability and talk about it. I can have conversations to create opportunities for myself and other people with disability,”

Devni applied to Stepping Into in her final year of study to gain work experience and build her professional network. She was also confident that the Stepping into program would be supportive of her disability and that she could bring her whole self to work.

“Being able to be upfront about myself from the get-go was one of the reasons I got involved with Stepping Into. Being at the start of my career, having a program like Stepping Into meant that I could take on a role that meant I could bring my whole self to work and not leave anything at the door.”

Luke Franks, People and Culture Business Partnerat Arup, said that for them getting involved in the Stepping Into internship program was a “no brainer”:

“One of Arup’s aims is to deliver work of quality, and to do that we must attract, hire, develop and engage a diverse collection of humans and continually work on building an inclusive culture. Stepping Into is a great way to tap into new talent pools and think differently about how we bring people into our organisation.”

After applying, Devni achieved a Stepping Into internship at Arup, which then resulted in an ongoing role in the organisation! Devni engaged in a wide variety of activities that aligned with her passions and fields of study. Her key roles were working across the People Services, Talent Acquisition and Diversity and Inclusion teams. Luke shared how much he loves having Devni on board:

More than her intelligence and well-aligned skills, it has been Devni’s attitude and approach to work that I have most valued. She has a genuine thirst for learning and will go above and beyond to support the team.”

Through building meaningful relationships with her colleagues and working in an inclusive workplace, Devni’s perception of her disability also changed. In future, Devni says:

“If a workplace isn’t comfortable with me and my experiences, then that isn’t the right place for me”.

Before Arup, Devni’s disability had been a barrier to employment due to inflexible work conditions and misunderstanding of non-visible disability.

I would need a day off to see my doctor for example… it would often be a straight no” said Devni.

And due to a chronic, non-visible disability, Devni could not always provide medical certificates,

(to others) “it seems like there’s nothing wrong and I couldn’t justify why I couldn’t come in to work... I had to keep working even though I wasn’t healthy”.

Devni’s Arup supervisor, Luke, found that supporting an employee with disability was ultimately about communication and implementing effective workplace adjustments.

“If anything, we just needed to provide some easy flexible working options here and there… it was about listening to Devni to understand how we can best support her.” said Luke

Many supervisors learn to be inclusive through AND’s programs,

“Disability can be a barrier to employment yes, but often not because of the candidate – the barrier often sits on the employer side. It’s our role and responsibility to invest in an inclusive process for attracting, hiring, onboarding, and developing great people.” said Luke

Devni said that it was the disability confidence gained from her PACE Mentoring and the Stepping Into experiences that encouraged her to pursue her goal in law. This year, Devni is completing the Juris Doctor degree at Melbourne University while working at Arup, and her new goal is to influence policy within the corporate and community sectors.

Just as Devni had an enriching experience in the Stepping Into Internship program, so too did her supervisor and the organisation. Luke said that an obvious win for Arup was continuing to have Devni on the team! The Stepping Into experience had reinforced the benefit of thinking differently about where and how Arup attract and select talent.

Luke said on a personal level he gained a further appreciation for thinking outside the box when sourcing talent for a role and for him,

“It is a reminder for me to ensure that when we engage candidates in a selection process, we should always ask if they are comfortablewith the process and if there are any adjustments we can make to set them up for success”. He concludes “it’s in no one’s best interest if we don’t do this”.

The Stepping Into Internship program goes beyond work experience, offering immense personal and professional growth. Arup is keen to see fellow organisations take the lead and spark change within their business for better inclusion people with disability.

Find out more about AND's Stepping Into program

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