A proactive approach to inclusive employment at The University of Sydney

Thursday, July 18, 2019

So, when Executive Officer Stella Vasiliadis saw a call for expressions of interest to host student interns through the Australian Network on Disability’s (AND) Stepping Into program, she was immediately interested.

A national program that matches skilled university students with disability to roles at leading organisations, Stepping Into is a rewarding experience for both the interns and hosts. Since it started, more than 1,200 students have gained internships with over 110 organisations across Australia, with 96 per cent of supervisors saying they’d volunteer to do it again.

With strong support from the Faculty’s Leadership, Stella was thrilled to set the wheels in motion.

“On a personal level, I wanted to learn how to support a staff member with disability in a proactive and inclusive way, more than just espousing our Faculty values,” said Stella.

“We were also keen to provide our student with some valuable work experience and ‘soft skills’ that would ultimately assist them with their employability and career path. We ended up gaining so much more”.

The successful applicant put forward by AND was Rachel Clark. For Rachel, getting a foot in the door of an organisation that genuinely wanted to champion access and inclusion and change the narrative around disability in the workforce was a huge drawcard.

“There’s no need to fear discrimination with Stepping Into – they’ve done the hard part for you by finding companies and organisations who back the rights of people with disability.”

She was looking to develop her professional identity and gain some meaningful, paid industry experience that would support her career aspirations. Her internship, she says, gave her a lot more than she originally hoped.

“Stella quickly became a mentor and the professional guidance and support she offered has been, and continues to be, invaluable,” says Rachel.

Stella was keen for Rachel to work on a project that had clear parameters and tangible outcomes at the end of the eight weeks, so Rachel was tasked with capturing stories from alumni, students, staff and partners for the Faculty’s 40-year anniversary. They would become part of a collection called 40 years, 40 stories.

It became clear to Stella that Rachel had a strong work ethic, was open to feedback and enthusiastic to learn. Because of her passion and commitment to the project, Stella arranged an extension beyond the original eight-week internship. As a result, the Faculty now has 18 polished stories for the 40 years, 40 stories project, as well as valuable learnings around access and inclusion.

Rachel sees the extension of her internship as a pleasing indicator that she met not only her personal aims, but also the aims of the Faculty Leadership.

“I gained industry experience in project management, stakeholder management and content production. Importantly, it’s also cemented my desire to work on education and the policy surrounding it.” 

Her thoughts on disability as a barrier to employment?

“I think the stigma of having a disability is the biggest deterrent for employment, rather than the disability itself. My disability has never been a barrier, but can often be the reason I’m overlooked.”

As for Stella, having Rachel in the workplace has opened her eyes to the types of unintended obstacles that can get in the way of inclusive hiring.

“I think workplaces put up barriers for people with disability without realising it,” she said.

“Even getting through the initial recruitment and selection processes can be difficult for people with disability. We’ll need to rethink our processes if we want to be employers of choice for people with disability. Stepping Into has been a revelation and a true learning experience for the whole team”.  

Host an intern with disability this summer with Stepping Into

Stepping Into is open across all industries and has become a highly valued talent pipeline for organisations actively seeking to employ people with disability as part of their recruitment strategy and in their graduate programs. The program provides an effective foundation for organisations to change attitudes, build disability confidence, improve hiring practices, enhance inclusive leadership and cultivate a diverse and inclusive workplace culture.

We’re currently accepting expressions of interest for our summer program. If your organisation would like to host an intern, please contact Program Manager Isabel Heiner via isabel.heiner@and.org.au to register your interest.