Kathryn Bergstrum (Health, Safety and Environment Administrator - MTM Track Renewals Project at Endorsed Employer [Laing O’Rourke] has amazing resilience, and in a previous article, we shared some of her story. Today, we’re sharing Kathryn’s tips for job seeking and creating a great career.
Kathryn’s experience has been that employers and colleagues can feel intimidated by her disability, and because they don’t know how to handle it perfectly, they do nothing. Bringing people close is important to overcome that, as well as education;
“When I first got here, there was a lot of people that were a little bit hesitant; it wasn't until they warmed up to me a little bit that those barriers came down.
Once they've met me and worked with me for a little while, I think the disability sort of melts away, and they become an advocate for me.“
For Kathryn, humour is important to reducing stigma around her disability. She was walking down a hallway one day, with Nick walking behind her. A colleague came up behind Nick but didn’t see Kathryn, and asked Nick to hurry up. He replied, ‘sure no worries, I’ll just push Kathryn out of the way, that’s fine’. She’s laughing as she tells this story, and says;
“That's where I like to get to - a place where it's not so intimidating and it's okay to joke about it. I think people get so clammed up about what they can and can't say that it just makes them even more fearful. I'm quite passionate about educating people about my disability; I break down that barrier by telling them it's okay to be intimidated, but, you know, I'm just like, you, my body just works differently.“
Laing O’Rourke are looking at ways to develop and increase empathy and understanding for disability. One idea being considered is to put a few of their leadership team and Kathryn’s colleagues in a wheelchair for a day, with the hope that they will get a feel for the fatigue she has by the end of the day, and the challenge of wheeling yourself around whilst not dropping a laptop and opening doors. Kathryn sums up the most important outcome of this exercise;
“Hopefully, it also breaks down the barrier of them understanding it’s just restrictions of my body, not my intellect.”
Kathryn’s tips for job seekers
Due to her own difficulty getting through to the interview stage, Kathryn is now passionate about helping others finding alternative avenues to gain employment.
To other job seekers she offers a few key tips. They of course apply to able-bodied job seekers as well – any advice for getting yourself closer to the potential employer, breaking down barriers and improving your chances of getting to interview are worth listening to!
1. Build your network
Kathryn worked hard to build her network, which was instrumental in helping her land jobs.
“I was a City Ambassador as part of the City of Melbourne tourism program for about five years, and worked casually in visitor services at the Australian Centre for Moving Image (ACMI). I found it effective to meet people and extend my network that way; voluntary work can get you out in the community and build your network, and you never know what jobs may come out of that.”
**2. Be proactive **
Kathryn’s philosophy is to never give up and she acknowledges that's not always easy when you keep getting knocked back. She recommends trying every single avenue that you can.
“I felt very isolated during my job search, and there weren’t a lot of resources to help. Even though I used services like disability employment service providers, I didn't always feel that they met my needs. I did a lot of my job searching independently, rather than relying on them to find me work.”
This segways into tip # 3: Seek out specific employment programs
There are all types of employment programs, from internships, to return to work programs to specific internal programs at organizations. The Australian Network on Disability (AND) have mentoring and graduate programs for people with disabilities.
You can also encourage your own company to be part of AND, to open more opportunities for non-able-bodied employees.
4. Identify your strengths and develop resilience
To remain positive in the face of such adversity, Kathryn has developed amazing resilience. We spoke about how she remained positive throughout her job hunt, when she was dealing with a lot of professional rejection;
Kathryn is adamant that everyone has strengths, and shares;
“People with disabilities are often underestimated. Because people see a visual, they don't think you're as smart, or you've only got a certain capacity.
But everyone obviously has strengths and weaknesses. Imagine if we embraced all the strengths from various people with challenges! You’d open the doors to so much talent.”
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