There are a few things I think I do poorly. For one, I do not do well participating in group sessions at conferences. I do not like the artificial nature of hypothetical situations. I do not learn well from role-playing. I do not like pretending to be someone I am not. I call this interactive-group-phobia.
I also do not take very good written notes. Taking a great deal of notes does not help me remember what I need to remember. If it is good information, it will stick in the grey matter. Chances are, if I take notes, I will not remember what I need to remember from the note. Sometimes the note makes absolutely no sense to me when I read it days later.
For example, I attended the Disability Mentoring Day at The Academy at Liberty Resources and I took a few notes. Like most notes, most of them refer to a website for more information or it is a note to reach out to so-and-so because I need follow up information on such-and-such.
However, every now and then, there is a random note that I do not remember what the context is. In this case, the note says, “Here’s something you can do better.”
Notes like this give me the creeps. It is definitely my handwriting. Thus, it must be my thoughts. However, it lacks clarity, and standing alone, it looks like something Guy Pierce would tattoo on himself in the movie, Memento.
Better Get It Together
Taking a step back, the event I attended which spurred the note, was an incredible experience. Referred by a colleague, I signed up believing it was going to be more information gathering. After signing on, I soon realized it was not all a Sit-And-Listen-On-A-Monday-Morning-Talk-At-You-Kind-Of-Thing. That was part of it. However, most of it was interactive in the form of mock interviews. This, of course, induced a small interactive-group panic.
Academy House assists those with disabilities into the workforce. I wanted to hear their stories. I wanted to know their thoughts on how I could be a better HR person. When faced with the idea of helping Academy House and their students, I thought I had nothing to offer. I thought I was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
I discovered quickly the only thing that was wrong was my head.
In conjunction with The Sierra Group, the Academy House organized a thoughtful and helpful program. After a speech from Craig Ey, Editor of the Philadelphia Business Journal, on the local economy, all employers/HR folks were asked to sit on one side of the long tables in the conference room. All the students were asked to sit on the opposite side facing an employer/HR person.
Each HR person was provided with a list of mock questions with instructions to be as forthright and candid with their critiques. After which, we were instructed to fill out Evaluation Forms and rate them on voice tone, eye contact, posture, listening skills and general interview skills such as, length of answers.
I Should Have Known Better
The whole process was made very easy for the HR folks. The environment was conducive for interviewing, providing feedback and offering constructive thoughts. As a result, I had the opportunity of meeting two women who put forth amazing effort in learning more about the selection process. Their minds were open. They asked me great questions, seeking advice. They pushed themselves to improve their lives.
Watching that occur and playing a small part in their lives could be one of the most important things I have ever done.
After the event was over, I asked the CEO of The Sierra Group, Janet Fiore two questions.
“This was a great event. Are you partnering with the local SHRM chapter to get more local folks involved?”
The answer was, “Not yet. But I would love to.”
Thus, I say to all local HR folks who are looking to learn more about folks with disabilities and assisting them with integrating into, or back into, the workforce, I encourage you to reach out to The Academy. It is time worth spending.
My second question was, “What is the greatest thing holding employers back from hiring those with disabilities?”
“Fear. Fear that it won’t work out.”
I knew the answer would be fear. However, I was surprised by the implication and irony of the avoidance. Those with disabilities are avoided because if they do not work out, employers may have to terminate employment. If they have to be terminated, employers would most likely not proceed with the termination and choose to avoid facing the workplace issue that is cause for termination. Hence, the choice is to avoid the disabled all together.
There Is Always Better
I know the above is an over-simplified and over-judgmental version of what is occurring with employers. I don’t claim to know all of the practices of every employer. However, if it is slightly true, which I believe it is, there is a need for a greater understanding. Maybe in your region, there are resources like The Sierra Group or The Academy House. I bet if you seek, you will find. I bet too you will find they can be great resource for understanding.
For even self-serving reasons, it is worth understanding. Of all the protected groups, age is the only one that will happen to you unless you pass away early in life. The one that can happen to anyone is disabled.
I am still not entirely sure what my note, "here's something you can do better" meant. It could have been anything. For now, I know it is having a better understanding of the disabled, assisting when I can, and being a better advocate for the disabled in the workplace. I think I can do all of this better.