The Digital World: the great equalizer

 

wheelchair-567810_1280

Digital platforms offer exciting opportunities to re-define job descriptions, reduce or eliminate commute times and to share employment skills with a broader audience. Moreover, technology allows for formal training online with various providers (colleges, universities and for profit schools) that can meet the evolving skills required by various industries. Access to information is extremely powerful. Simply put, the digital world is the great equalizer for many physically disabled workers; it evens out the path.

Given the advancement in digital technologies we have a greater sense of industry trends in real-time by virtue of what our clients tell us. I have spent the last several months reviewing job postings both internal and external to my organization in addition to industry news articles with the goal of understanding where the industry of financial services is going as a whole rather than focus, as I have, specifically on the business unit within which I am currently employed (financial planning and wealth management). The reason for the narrow scope relates to the fact that most opportunities outside of my current business unit were traditionally located in Toronto. Now, thanks to digital technologies, those jobs are more likely to be based in “Toronto”. The latter seemingly more flexible around geography with some opportunity to work from home or another regional office.

monitor-1308951_1920

Technology has not only changed how work is done, but it has also changed how we develop our saleable skills. Online learning platforms have made it possible for many to improve their credentials while managing full-time employment. We can continue to re-define ourselves or re-invent ourselves through the pursuit of academia and general interest courses. I have started to take courses at the University of Toronto in digital strategy and communications with the hope and belief that such training will be a solid complement to my existing skill set while squarely addressing a core area of business strategy for the foreseeable future. Over the next 10-15 years of work, it seems likely that I will continue to take courses in a never-ending effort to remain relevant. This principle is true for all in the digital age. To have a level playing field in the pursuit of training is an important foundation to advancement in the workplace.

I have often thought that if I had to be disabled, there was not a better time in history to be so than the present. Barriers are coming down everywhere I look. Innovation allows me to compete in the workplace at a high level. I feel like I am gaining momentum in this journey. Rolling “up hill” is met with less resistance. The world is different now. It is somehow smaller and I feel ready to embrace this benefit. In this day and age, I am told that “everyone is a publisher”. It seems apropos that I in turn, write my own story……….

 

Making the Most of Performance Appraisals

career-262793__480

Chances are you meet with your supervisor at least once a year to review your performance and set goals for the future. Are you making the most of these meetings? If you spend too much time in those meetings dwelling on the past and what you intend to do in the short-term, you may be missing an opportunity to carve out your career path. If addressed proactively, I believe these meetings are a perfect forum to  discuss career advancement.

These meetings will typically focus on what you are doing well as well as areas where you have room for growth. The challenge with these meetings is that the emphasis tends to be on ways of improving your abilities with respect to your current role. If you are looking toward advancement, the feedback being received may not provide the level of value necessary to achieve your goals.

Discussions around career advancement may identify different development opportunities that would not necessarily have been addressed had the focus remained on your current role. It is up to you to control the conversation and frame your strengths as a foundation for other opportunities. This shift in focus should help your engagement in these meetings. While annual reviews often address recent performance results, a forward thinking approach will assist you in shaping your career.

Gaining valuable experience

During these conversations, I recommend reviewing job descriptions with your manager for those opportunities in which you are interested. There may be opportunities within your own role to gain some of the requisite skills for that next opportunity by broadening your approach to your current position. For example, if project management skills are cited for the next role, you could volunteer for an initiative within your current department that, once completed successfully, could serve as evidence of such experience. In such an example, be cognizant of the need to apply metrics to the project to ensure that you can adequately convey your success in an interview. Your manager can also attest to the level of competence achieved, thus creating a viable reference in the process.

Formal education requirements can also be addressed in these meetings. If courses, designations etc. are cited as core requirements for a particular role, preparation for these meetings represents the perfect time to proactively enroll in these training programs to highlight your commitment to the development process. Furthermore, in some instances, there may be opportunity to realize some tuition reimbursement or paid time off as a means of employer support for the initiative. It doesn’t hurt to ask!

Moreover, I have previously referenced the benefits of mentorship. Development meetings present a great opportunity to table this idea. Your supervisor may have great insights with respect to potentially suitable mentors.

The next time you are scheduled for a performance appraisal, I recommend that you commit to yourself to make the most of the meeting and come prepared to jumpstart your career. Best of luck!

 

 

Making the Most of Career Night

event-852833__480

I am attending a career night in the next two weeks to learn about various roles within the organization with which I’m currently unfamiliar. I am confident that this event will provide me with opportunities to clarify and execute some of the strategies that I have discussed in recent weeks. I intend on arriving at this event with a sense of purpose. I have two hours with an impressive audience. I need to make this time count!

Leaders, at various levels within the organization, will be presenting an outline of their current position as well as the path they took to get to where they are. For me, there is a lot of value in learning about these well-worn paths to see if they are readily accessible by wheelchair. Moreover, their journey may include stops (hops, skips and jumps) that I had not considered for myself. Lastly, this event may assist me in finding a suitable mentor; a strategy I referenced in a previous post.

Making the most of the evening

checklist-1766064__480

Attending a career night or networking event is an investment of your time. To that end, I recommend that you arrive prepared for success coupled with specific metrics that help you to quantify your return on this investment of time. In short, are you going to attend or are you going to participate? The answer to this question will go along way in determining the long term value of the event in the context of your career advancement. I have itemized a few key items that I plan on addressing at this event.

  1. Bring business cards – make it easy for others to connect with you after the event
  2. Make meaningful connections with at least 4-5 people – come prepared with insightful questions that lead to a greater sense of the attributes required for the position, the metrics used for performance grading, the rewards and challenges  inherent to the role and the type of individual they seek for future opportunities. This last question is important as it will provide the details necessary to successfully navigate an interview in the future.
  3. Dress like it’s a job interview (because it is!) – If leaders are investing their time travelling to various locations to discuss career opportunities, I feel confident that they are attributing metrics to their investment of time too. For them, cultivating a pipeline of talent will be a core element of their department’s success.
  4. Have a follow-up strategy – continuing to cultivate relationships with those people you connected with at the event is an important step in demonstrating genuine interest in the opportunities discussed. Also, as employee advancement continues from a macro view, your name is more likely to be added to various pipelines to address the “backfill” required in the resultant vacancies. In short, remember to keep engaging your target audience.

I hope these tips are helpful when you attend your next career night. If you have any tips about what has worked for you, please feel free to share. I would love to hear from you!

 

Being Disabled is Expensive!

Career advancement serves many functions including a sense of accomplishment; but let’s be honest, it also provides increases in pay. If you are disabled, this is important because being disabled is extremely expensive!

In 2015 I incurred over $8,000 in out of pocket expenses that I could not recoup with government assistance or from my extended health care benefits. To be clear, this was not all of my expenses, just those that are not covered. If I did not have extended healthcare benefits with my job, these expenses would have been significantly higher. The following video shows the same lift that I have in my garage that I use to get in the house. Given that it is not technically a mobility device, it is not eligible for subsidy under the assistive devices program.

It is important to note that my vehicle has modest modification at present. It seems likely that modifications on my next vehicle will be substantially more expensive. The good news is that there have been great advances in the engineering and design of accessible vehicles. The bad news is that these advances come at a steep cost. The cost of a modified SUV can run as high as $75,000 CDN.

I am sure there are countless people out there with similar stories. Depending on the level of need, expenses can vary greatly; special clothes, upgrades to the home, wheelchairs (deductible not covered by the assistive devices program), personal assistants etc. Career advancement improves our standard of living by improving access to greater tools for independence.

The Benefits Don’t Stop There

Improved career prospects, and a corresponding increase in disposable income among the disabled, should be seen as a catalyst to increase the cycle of innovative product and service design among sector participants. At the very least, an increase in disposable income would put many current offerings (like the SUV referenced earlier) within the reach of a larger population. Such innovations could succeed in reducing the amount of time we currently devote to managing disability. This will lead to an improved standard of living among the disabled and profits for the companies that produce the aforementioned products and services. These improvements, in turn, make the continued pursuit of career advancement a possibility by making our daily routines more efficient. That is a worthy outcome that serves the greater population indeed!

If you had an increase in disposable income, what would you buy to make your life easier? I look forward to hearing your stories and learning about your experiences. Keep rolling!

Canada’s top 100 diverse organizations

trophies-710169_1280

If you are fortunate enough, as am I, to work for one of the top 100 diverse organizations in Canada then your prospects for advancement seem bright. Without support from an employer, building a career would seem like quite a daunting task. Understanding an employer’s position on inclusion is an important factor for evaluating prospects for career advancement. This is the focus today. A culture of inclusion, or lack thereof, represents, in my estimation, the single biggest factor in career advancement over which we have little control. That being said, there are still some things we can do.

My employer offers an advocacy group that specifically addresses the needs of disabled employees. I recently joined this group. This represents an opportunity for me to remain current on trends within the organization. Moreover, I can participate in various initiatives over the year that serve to broaden my network and increase my own level of understanding with respect to all persons with disabilities. In short, I am confident that I am in an organization that provides me with a foundation for success. I recognize that everyone may not be in a similar circumstance.

It is important for you to be really honest with yourself when evaluating your own situation. How inclusive is your employer? Take the test. What did you learn? Did the results surprise you?

If these are initiatives that do not exist in your current place of employment but you still view your employer as being supportive of inclusion then I would encourage you to research similar programs elsewhere. The lack of a formalized approach at your organization may be a function of its size and resources and not necessarily a lack of progressive thinking. If the desire to become a more inclusive employer is there, I would encourage you to offer to lead the implementation team for such an initiative. A proactive approach, in this regard, would serve to highlight your leadership skills and project management skills while addressing a need for your employer. This experience will look great on your resume as you continue to navigate your own path to career advancement.

If, upon reflecting on the test, you realize that there seem to be limited prospects for you as the result of ambivalence toward inclusion, there is good news! There are at least 100 employers out there that represent a great landing spot for that next opportunity! While I wouldn’t recommend leaving your current employer until you have found your next position, I believe there is value in knowing why you need to leave and where you need to go when developing your exit strategy. I hope you have found benefit in the exercise of determining the long term viability of your current employment arrangement.

Please let me know your thoughts and share your successes.

 

The next opportunity is a hop, skip or a jump away

Even from a wheelchair, it seems I can hop, skip or jump to that next opportunity. This 8 minute video will show you how. It is well worth the investment of your time.

In my previous post I referenced the importance of establishing a career path. Today I will look more specifically around outcomes and timelines in order to ensure I am efficient in my approach.

I ultimately want to pursue a director role within the next 5 years. In order to get there, I need to establish the skills and the experiences that I need to acquire. In my estimation, the move to the director role can be achieved in two steps at a maximum and one at a minimum. I anticipate that the requisite skills for a director role will speak to sales management experience as well as product launch experience. If the next role is a product launch team manager, then I might be able to address the experience component of the next role with one position. This approach would certainly reduce my five year timeframe. However, in more practical terms relating to the presence of opportunity, it seems more likely that I would pursue a sales manager position and a product manager position separately to gain the necessary skills. To that end, I will look at two different combinations to get to the director position from the next level using the skip and hop methods respectively. A jump from my existing position to the role of director, in the context of the existing talent pool, seems highly unlikely. This strategy seems more likely to be relevant when advancing from the director position, but perhaps, I am getting a little ahead of myself here.

As technology continues to change the way business is done at an accelerated rate, it becomes easy to draw the conclusion that the skills training required in five years time is probably not being offered today. In order to address the evolution of the director position it becomes increasingly important that I continue to pursue formal training through on-line courses.  Moreover, it is imperative that I maintain pace with customer trends, new products and services within the financial services sector, as well as new entrants to the market to ensure my skill set remains competitive in the market place.

How else can I prepare? As the video would suggest, I should review my resume and interview skills to ensure that I am not holding myself back with respect to opportunity due to deficits in these tools.

Have you ever taken the hop, skip and jump approach to career advancement? What worked for you? I would love to hear your stories!

 

 

Mentors: the shortest distance between 2 points

mentor-2063045_1280

It is said that the shortest path between two points is a straight line. A workplace mentor is the straight line who can help you navigate your career. I am now looking at this strategy for my own journey. Finding a disabled mentor may prove to be challenging, but as it turns out I may not need to do so.

Workplace mentorship programs are common in many organizations today. The main challenges are finding out what you want from a mentoring relationship and what you bring to a mentoring relationship.

The aforementioned article got me thinking. What do I want? Advancement. This seems like a very broad and somewhat ambiguous goal. I now recognize that I need to be very specific about where I am headed in order to understand who to seek out as my guide. This is an important step in the process as it provides a means of understanding and, most importantly, defining “my career path”.

“If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there” – Lewis Carroll

This seems like a daunting task, but empowering as well. The answers are within me. I just need to ask myself the right questions and from there determine the outcomes I seek.

What specific roles interest me? What skills do I need to hone? What experience do I require?

I anticipate that business strategy initiatives, corporate training and sales management within wealth management represent the best areas of focus for me. They all speak to my existing skill-set while offering specific challenges important to my journey. While I recognize that I have cast a rather large net, I think the exercise has been helpful in narrowing my scope, within the context of a large corporation, to one business segment.

Now that “what” has been answered to the best of my ability, I can change my focus to “who”. Given that I understand where I want to go, I plan on researching roles within these areas to determine suitable mentor candidates. It is a commonly held truism that “we don’t know what we don’t know”. The value of the mentor is in providing more narrative and scope to my answers by sharing insights to what I don’t know.

It’s important to realize that the mentoring relationship, by definition is not all about me. Mentoring is a two-way street. I had not considered the importance of reciprocity. I must ensure l0ngterm viability of the mentoring relationship by bringing value to the process. In my circumstance, it seems quite likely that my chosen mentor could benefit from seeing the organization from the perspective of a disabled person.

I feel better prepared about the direction I am taking to move up the career path. I am curious to know what your experiences have been? Have you been a mentor? I would love to hear your stories to help me on this journey.

 

 

Corporate commitments

I am encouraged that many leading organizations are expressing their commitment to opportunities for the disabled. The following video from L’Oréal adds a significant element to its commitment. You will notice that the recruitment strategy specifies “at all levels”.

This is a subtle, but important, departure in my opinion.

Organizations are truly beginning to understand the benefits of hiring the disabled. We offer a unique perspective. When I started at my current employment location, I pointed out accessibility features that warranted retro-fitting(i.e. location of automatic door buttons, angle of entrance ramp was in excess of 1:12 prescribed angle ratio, paper towel holders in the accessible bathroom were out of reach for those who use wheelchairs). Within a few months of my arrival, these upgrades were completed. My co-workers commented that they were amazed that these items had not been considered when they were installed. My reply was that most of the accommodation upgrades that were installed  were likely conceived by people who have the ability to walk with the primary goal of meeting the legal requirements for accessibility.

I encounter modifications almost daily, in public places, that were implemented for the purpose of accessibility, but unfortunately fall short. Whether it is ramps that are too steep for manual wheelchairs (scooters and power chairs can tackle larger inclines), washroom stalls that have the handrails, but are not large enough to accommodate a wheelchair, designated parking spaces that are not wide enough for me to unload my wheelchair etc.

When I needed to purchase my wheelchair, I did most of my research on line. Most posts that I watched were done by people who use wheelchairs. This represented an obvious starting point to me. When I went for my wheelchair needs assessment, everything was completed by someone who does not use a wheelchair. This seemed like a bit of a disconnect for me. Her recommendation was in stark contrast to everything I had learned. I went with my “gut” and followed the recommendations of my YouTube mentor and ordered the chair based on her recommendations. When I went to pick up the chair, my sales representative remarked that she was glad that I had chosen what I had as it was a perfect fit.

rogue-1
Rogue Rigid Wheelchair that I use

You may notice some differences about my wheelchair in comparison to many available on the market. Firstly, there are no armrests, handles for pushing me or clothing guards (I have them if I need them though). The footrest allows me to tuck my legs at 90 degrees. My wheels can be taken off by pressing the button in the centre of the hub and thus allowing for easy transport in even the smallest of vehicles. With my wheelchair, I believe you see the person first and the chair second. That was the look I was trying to achieve.

I have a colleague who uses a wheelchair. When she saw my wheelchair for the first time she was impressed with its small frame, versatility and minimalist approach. She started to draw comparisons with her own chair and asked rhetorically, “Why her sales person had not recommended a similar chair for her?”

std_wheelchair_lrg
Traditional wheelchair similar to that of my colleague

In all of these situations disabled staff would have improved the client and/or end-user experience. Organizations are starting to understand that correlation. With improvements to career advancement, I believe disabled employees will also benefit from having mentors in higher positions. These examples form the core of my message for career advancement and demonstrate that experience is a great teacher and resource that every organization should promote.

Stretch your thinking

I recently read an article outlining appropriate jobs for the physically disabled. The scope suggested many professional jobs in an office environment. I believe that many of the themes represent a great starting point, but the true opportunity for career advancement relates to broadening the view. As a  simple exercise, I started adding other descriptors to each job title, such as; Director, manager, supervisor, senior, vice president of….. I think you get the picture.

As the result of this broader view, late last week, I submitted an application for an internal posting. The position is for a senior manager in business development. The job description aligned fairly closely with my skill-set, so I decided to take my first step toward the next opportunity. I have two main goals for the application process. First and foremost, I do want the job. However, should I not be the successful candidate, I am viewing the process as an “awareness campaign”; an opportunity to let everyone on this hiring panel know where they can find me. I am confident that other positions will be advertised in the future and I want to ensure that I have taken the opportunity to help them stretch their thinking.

I am also committed to stretching my own thinking and pushing my boundaries. The potential contributions of the disabled are as varied as there are people. Some people have set the bar extremely high. I have been fortunate enough in my life to witness the impossible many times. It seems relatively easy to pursue my ambitions in the context of what many others have done. So, I invite you to click on the links and ask yourself to stretch your thinking and see if you want to be a musician, a professional athlete, a member of parliament or a national hero? I feel compelled to follow these examples; after all, they carved “the path” in the first place and gave me the strength to roll.

 

Getting ready to roll……

To paraphrase Henry Ford; whether you think you can, or you think you can’t, you will be right. The journey starts the day you become aware that you “think you can”. For me that journey took 3 years. Today, I am ready to start rolling “up the career path”.

Employment for the disabled can be challenging. I am fortunate. I am gainfully employed in a professional capacity. I hold a graduate level degree (MBA). To be clear though, I am underemployed. I do not have anyone to blame. My career choices represented comfortable decisions at the time. They allowed me to focus on my “new self” while  navigating the challenges I have encountered. When I search the internet, I don’t see much information on “underemployment” for the disabled. Unemployment, in general, is of greater emphasis. As it turns out, I just might be a bit of a pioneer of sorts. The timing seems perfect for anyone such as me to demonstrate our capability.

My shift in focus is now on what I can do, not on what I can’t do. I know it sounds easy enough, but I have often perused job advertisements with a focus on elements of the job that would be barriers. I frequently viewed travel requirements and locations as reasons to self-disqualify. I now view those obstacles as opportunities for my employer to re-evaluate the current job description and make the necessary adjustments to attract the best candidate.

With technology improving and digital platforms becoming more prevalent in all aspects of a business, the opportunity to take care of distributed talent represents a welcome trend for persons with disabilities. Mobile work opportunities at various levels within an organization make geography and weather less relevant to those with mobility issues.

My initial focus to navigate career advancement is to establish an updated profile within our HR database. I encourage you to make people aware of who you are and equally as importantly, where they can find you. Secondly, I will review industry trends in financial services that present significant advancement opportunities within the context of my core capabilities. Thirdly, I will seek to determine what skills can be honed to meet the changing landscape in financial services. In short, what skills do I have to sell and what skills do I need to increase and/or develop to roll up to that next opportunity?

We all have unique perspectives in this world. Over these last 3 years, I have been a catalyst for change. I have advocated for improved accessibility at one of our branch locations. I have championed the diversity dialogue for our regional team. If you are trying to navigate your workplace from a wheelchair or within the context of any barrier, I implore you to look around and see who is watching you, who is following your lead and recognize, as I have, that your co-workers are expecting you to lead the way. Change for career advancement will happen when those who are disabled are better represented among  an organization’s leadership.

I have always believed that the greatest attribute of our being is the ability to define ourselves.  I also believe that leadership comes through self-seIection. Remember,  that which makes you unique is your competitive advantage. I invite you to share your own stories of career advancement, of defining yourself and removing that which gets in your way. Let’s roll …………