For Ploy Sirayanyong, joining Telstra as a graduate fresh from university was a nerve-wracking leap of faith.
Not only was it her first foray into the job market, but with a rare eye disorder curtailing her central vision, the whip-smart 21-year old was wondering if she’d ever land “a proper job”.
Three years later, Ploy has worked across Telstra's sales, marketing and e-learning businesses, and is currently making waves as a product marketer for cloud-based portfolios.
“It’s been really inspiring to experience so many aspects of the business,” says Ploy. “Since I joined, the whole of Telstra seems to have got better at supporting people with disability. There’s better awareness, better tech, and much more effort to make workplace adjustments from the get-go.”
For Ploy, those adjustments include a screen reader and a laptop magnifier, video-enhanced web conferencing, and various Apple accessibility products. But the best assistance of all, she says, has been the attitude of her colleagues.
“My managers and workmates have all been fantastic – so kind and supportive, always checking what’s the best way for me to work.”
Ploy believes that Telstra’s commitment to have people with disability make up at least 10 per cent of the graduate program has been a game-changer for the company.
That commitment, made in March 2017 in Telstra's first Accessibility & Inclusion Plan, was scheduled for June 2019 – but it was reached a year earlier, when 11.7 per cent of Telstra's starting graduates in FY18 identified as living with a disability.
“It’s very easy for someone like me to start thinking that any organisation focused on making money just won’t hire someone with a disability,” says Ploy. “But companies with a clear commitment to inclusive employment make a huge difference – even if they have to involve targets.
“This kind of target shows a proper commitment that, straight away, you can see filtering down through the whole organisation.”
Stepping into a new paradigm
Part of the success of Telstra’s graduate program is down to its long-standing partnership with the Australian Network on Disability (AND), which has helped them find 128 interns through its widely-lauded Stepping Into program since 2014.
AND's Stepping Into manager Isabel Heiner says Telstra’s involvement has been critical to the interns' success.
“Telstra has been really accommodating with flexible working times and conditions, as well as taking care to match interns to jobs that relate to their degrees,” says Isabel. “They give interns their own projects, great supervisors, and a place that feels safe to have the conversations so many of them want to have.”
Much of this safety is down to AND, which provides tailored training to all intern supervisors as part of its broader advocacy and capacity-building partnership with Telstra's Accessibility and Inclusion team.
“It’s all about tapping into talent early on, and Telstra is making sure they don’t miss out on anyone who could be the best person for the job,” notes Isabel. “So many students never have a chance to gain practical work experience – and that’s even more the case for students with disabilities.”
Just ask Fufu Hu, a 22-year old software engineering student, who has just started the second part of an extended three-month internship at Telstra.
“I’ve been involved with three separate software-writing projects already,” says Fufu. “It’s been a great experience. My colleagues and supervisor have all really helped make my work more productive, and I’ve learned the importance of so many aspects of professional communication and collaboration. At uni I got some good guidance on knowledge and problem-solving, but this internship has filled so many gaps for me in terms of practical skills for my working life.”
Fufu has experienced debilitating depression in the past, but says his internship has been a wholly positive experience for his mental health.
“Doing this job and interacting with my colleagues makes me really happy,” he says. “I’m not just saying that. The support here is fantastic. I’m doing real work, tackling real problems, and making a positive contribution every day. Of course it makes me feel happy.”
This story was reproduced from All In – Telstra's Accessibility & Inclusion newsletter, December 2018.
About Stepping Into
Exclusively available to members of the Australian Network on Disability, Stepping Into is a national initiative that matches skilled university students with disability to your organisation's recruitment needs and graduate programs through paid internships. Created in 2005, the program is internationally recognised as an effective way for organisations to identify talent and cultivate a diverse and inclusive workplace culture.