One of the many benefits of membership in both Disability:IN Connecticut and the USBLN is the opportunity to participate in mentoring programs. The USBLN’s Rising Leader’s program is one such opportunity. The USBLN Rising Leaders Program is accepting applications for mentees. If you are a student or young professional, you can apply by going to http://www.usbln.org and clicking on the link for Rising Leaders.
As a Disability:IN Connecticut leader, I noticed that the members who have participated in mentoring opportunities report that those experiences are exceptionally rewarding. I believe that the mentoring relationship can make a significant and positive difference for mentees who seek career guidance and support. Sometimes just having someone to speak with about your goals and aspirations and hearing that you can “do it” will inspire a young professional with a disability to do what is necessary to achieve their goals and overcome the obstacles which they encounter. If you read the biographies of famous and accomplished people, no matter their background or ability, each of them had someone in their lives who believed in them and encouraged them to follow their dreams. As a mentor, you can be that person. Stay tuned for that opportunity to be a mentor in Disability:IN Connecticut’s 2018 online mentoring program.
Here is the first blog post by Marc Dupont where he speaks about the experience of being a mentor followed by a post from his mentee.
During the last few months I have had the opportunity to participate in the USBLN Rising Leaders program. I am mentoring a masters’-level student with a disability. This experience has proven to be very rewarding, and I highly recommend working people to consider becoming a mentor for multiple reasons.
Unemployment of people with disabilities (as well as under-employment) has historically been higher that other groups. Government mandated attempts have brought attention to this issue and may or may not have improved the situation. Ultimately what must change to improve the employment situation is peoples’ attitudes and beliefs in regards to people with a disability. This is often called, “culture change.”
Mentoring addresses the required culture change at a grass roots level yet it is very effective. The mentors start to see first-hand the value the mentee would bring to the organization. Through the discussions and relationship that builds, the mentor starts to understand that the disability, while being a challenge for the mentee, is simply a logistics issue. This logistics issue, commonly thought of as accommodations, most times can be detailed by the mentee. Because of the relationship, the accommodation ultimately is seen as just another office accessory like a phone, stapler or chair.
The focus of the mentorship is on the mentee’s career. In my case, my mentee is a master’s level student studying cybersecurity. He has already had multiple internships at small companies and government agencies. He has participated in student business competitions. He is preparing to obtain professional certifications. I have no doubt he will secure a job upon graduation, and the hiring company will be fortunate to have him.
Because my mentee is pursuing a career that parallels my work experience, I have been able to arrange discussions with additional people who can provide my mentee with valuable career guidance. At the same time, these people are learning first hand that this person, who happens to have a disability, will be a person quite possibly doing exactly what they are doing.
It is these contacts that might ultimately have more of an impact than the mentorship. These people are talking to a highly skilled person with a disability. Through these conversations, cultural change is occurring. The mentee might not end up working at these employers; but these employers are likely to remember speaking to this skilled person with a disability and, therefore, be willing to consider an employee with a disability in the future.
One of the challenges I have given my mentee is to become a member of an organization that is dedicated to improving employment for people with disabilities. I recommend this to every person with a disability. It is so important to do this so as a group we are helping our group become more accepted in the workplace. This organizational experience again is one more way to change culture.
The workplace is becoming more accepting of people with disabilities, but there is still a great deal of opportunity. Consider becoming a mentor to a student with a disability. You both will benefit.
The mentee perspective:
If you are a graduate student there are few things more daunting than the realization that graduation is quickly approaching and you still have not secured gainful employment. The circumstance can be even more frustrating when you spent the last few years taking the traditional steps students are told to follow to secure employment including participating in resume workshops, attending job fairs, and practicing for interviews. The challenge can be further compounded for students who are also living with a disability.
So, the question becomes: as a student, what steps can I take to define my career objectives and put myself on the fast track to achieving them? An option that has worked for me has been to seek guidance from a mentor with experience in the field in which I aspire to build my career.
I have spent the last six months participating in a formal mentoring program for college students with disabilities. This mentorship was my first experience as a mentee in this type of program. I hoped that the program would give me the tools to more clearly define my career path and gain insight from an individual with more professional experience than myself. One of the things that I discovered early on was that if I wanted to achieve greater clarity about my career path I was going to have to be willing to take actions I had not taken before.
It was a valuable experience for me to have a mentor who has lives with physical challenges similar to mine. I found that our conversations gave me the tools to adequately address career and workplace challenges related to my physical disability. This support gave me the opportunity to focus on developing job skills that will make me a competitive candidate and deliver value for an organization rather than putting undue attention on accommodations I might need.
The mentoring experience has helped me improve my networking skills. I had the opportunity to interview individuals serving in roles that parallel my career interests. These interviews provided relevant and practical insight that I have been able to use to improve my communication during interviews and strengthen the presentation of my resume.
During the mentoring program, I was simultaneously participating in a summer internship. The meetings with my mentor proved to be a valuable resource in helping address many of the workplace challenges faced by a person with a disability. Having the support of a mentor is especially helpful during the starting phase of my internship, as I had never participated in the on-boarding process with a large organization before. It was very beneficial for me to share my workplace experiences on a regular basis. The opportunity to discuss my work assignments and communication strategies reduced my on-the-job learning curve.
The skills and experience that I have gained through the mentoring program have provided me with a heightened confidence in my abilities. I have a much clearer understanding of the value I can bring to an organization. This realization emphasizes the impact that individuals in the disability community can have when we take time to volunteer and help one another.
Although I still have many personal goals that I have yet to accomplish, I now recognize that I have the power to share my experience and help someone else in the process. The mentoring program has driven me to seek opportunities where I can positively impact others as this experience has done for me.
In the future, I will participate in trade associations that focus on securing employment for those with disabilities. I want to use my experience to educate organizations about the benefits of hiring candidates with disabilities. My goal is to help them realize that they are not merely taking a risk by hiring a candidate with a disability, but instead seizing an opportunity that delivers unique value to their organization.