Jennifer Gorman is the Regional Director for Dolphin Disabilities Mentoring Day. The day-long event carefully pairs job seeking people with disabilities (PWD) with mentors in their industry.
Developed by Scott and Jamie Burton of Dolphin Digital Technologies in 2011, the event is meant to “help bridge the talent, communication and knowledge gaps between business, employment and community supports, and people with disabilities”.
This year’s event engaged 344 participants in 12 cities across Canada.
We talked to Jennifer about how the event impacts not only the mentors and mentees, but the wider dialogue about PWDs in the workplace.
Thank you for sharing your experience with Dolphin Disabilities Mentoring Day with us. Can you tell us a bit more about how the event works?
A mentor and mentee will spend a full natural workday together. The mentee gets an opportunity to show their skills a little bit and talk about their experience, what they’re after, really focusing on their strengths and their skills.
It gives them an opportunity to see what the reality of that workplace is and what’s involved in the mentor’s day-to-day functions.
How can an event like this help PWD job seekers?
They have the opportunity to ask insider kind of questions that you wouldn’t get from a job posting or by Googling a company online.
[Job postings] are so generic and vague sometimes, that it doesn’t give you a feel of what the day-to-day workflow is like, the pace, it doesn’t tell you anything about the physical environment.
I think for anybody that’s entering the labour market, if you haven’t already been in a very similar position, you don’t necessarily know how you measure up in terms of your qualifications and background and aptitudes until you get that little peek in the door.
And for individuals with disabilities, that is even greater sometimes because they’re not sure if their disability-related features are going to work in that space or how it will be received by the other people in the work space.
And how do mentors benefit from getting involved?
One of the things that is so critical about Disabilities Mentoring Day is that it changes attitudes. It helps employers to see the person and their assets rather than focusing on perceived barriers.
Many employers are blown away by the level of talent the mentee brings to the experience, and have commented that they’re unsure who the mentor is in the pair because the mentee offered excellent input and taught them so much.
When Disabilities Mentoring Day began in 2011, there were seven mentor/mentee pairs. This year there were 172 matches. Why do you think it has grown so fast?
There are corporations that are looking at this as an opportunity for their own internal staff training, and also to build their disability confidence. This is an incredible tool for that, because it doesn’t require a tremendous commitment from the employer’s end – it’s primarily a one-day experience.
It also provides the education they may need to take a closer look at their HR policies and best practices for inclusion of PWD.
Organizations sometimes don’t realize some of the ways they are trying to recruit may be excluding great talent from even getting through the gate.
What’s an example of a recruitment strategy that inadvertently puts up barriers?
Sometimes people with disabilities have holes in their resumes. So if a screening system is looking for continuity in dates or buzzwords, they can be missing out on some fabulous talent. Disabilities Mentoring Day brings these things to light for an organization.
We have employers say, “You know what, to be honest, I wouldn’t have hired that person had I not got to know them.”
So they start to scratch their heads and go, “Wait a minute. Maybe we have to be rethinking how we’re doing this.”
Using a tool that screens resumes for targeted words, putting a lot of weight in previous work experience – those really can be filtering out incredible talent.
Because whether an individual is going to do a really good job on the job isn’t necessarily reflected in their resume.
Are some mentees hired by mentors after the event?
I believe last year, the statistic was 18 per cent were hired. But that’s not the focus. Disabilities Mentoring Day is not a job interview. We try to make sure that the mentees getting involved with this understand that this is a strategy for career development – don’t anticipate that you’re going to get a direct hire if you have a successful experience.
However, having said that, if an employer is seeking those kinds of roles and they have the opportunity to be exposed to this [candidate] and feel they’re a good fit, why wouldn‘t they hire them?
How do you measure success?
We take a look at whether a company recognizes that it was good professional development to participate, whether they would participate again the following year or recommend it to their colleagues to participate the following year.
We look at growth in the initiative itself. That, in itself, tells you that this is successful and this is what people want, when it’s grown at such an incredible rate.
What would you say to a business that’s on the fence about getting involved with the next Disabilities Mentoring Day?
Everyone’s been talking forever about the business case. We can all talk about the stats.
But Disabilities Mentoring Day is about seeing the business case in a practical application. That has impact. That sticks with people. It’s one thing to listen to somebody telling you a story or listen to statistics, but when you can actually feel it and experience it, it becomes personal. This is when the metamorphosis takes place and talent simply becomes talent and disability fades to the background.
You’re going to open your eyes, you’re going to see the impact immediately, for yourself, first hand.
The Discover Ability Network was developed to connect employers with the many skilled and qualified people with disabilities who are looking for a job.