During the last few months, I have had the opportunity to mentor a masters’-level student with a disability. This experience has proven to be very rewarding, and I highly recommend becoming a mentor for multiple reasons.
Unemployment of people with disabilities (as well as under-employment) has historically been higher than 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 and 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.
This featured blog was written by Marc Dupont – Integrated Digital Environment (IDE) Team at Sikorsky (Lockheed Martin Company).