Home Blog Inspiration July 2021 What my life changing accident has shown me about Telstra’s amazing culture

What my life changing accident has shown me about Telstra’s amazing culture

by Nick Hoare

Business Partner

In my experience with people with disabilities, no one with special needs wants to be treated in a special way. What they want is to be spoken to in the same way and with the same respect, as everybody else. They also want the environment to enable them but without big signs saying “disability here”.
I have been in a wheelchair since I broke my neck last year, so I have a disability that’s obvious as soon as you look at me. But not everybody’s disability is visible and I think it is so important to be aware of this. Being open minded, creating awareness that so many disabilities exist (including ones you can’t see straight away) and fostering an inclusive culture for those with disabilities, is something every business needs to strive for.
It has taken a long time to make gender equality a conscious part of the conversation. I would love to see disability get there too. I’m happy to say that at Telstra, I see a company working hard to create visibility for disabled employees, ensure their voices are heard and understood, and give them as much opportunity to contribute and succeed as anybody else.
People with a disability face different types of bias in the workplace
I feel that most people generally operate from a projection of self: they view others as though they are operating with the same lens and make assumptions accordingly. For those with a disability - especially a non-obvious one - this can lead to biased perceptions of who they are, without others even realising it.
For instance, people used to think my old boss was a bit rude because he occasionally bumped into them. What they had no idea about was that he actually has no peripheral vision. It was a classic example of the bias someone with an ‘invisible’ disability can face: he was just perceived as rude because those around him in the workplace had no exposure to his disability. They weren’t aware he had a sight problem. 
By the way, he now explains it to everyone and apologises in advance about bumping into them!

Inclusive language helps to mitigate these issues
Inclusive language is key to an inclusive workplace. To me, this means being open to understanding why people behave the way they do and being aware that there may be a lot of stuff you don’t know about others in the workplace – whether it is a disability or something else.
Observed behaviours are often misunderstood whilst at the same time, they make perfect sense to the person exhibiting those behaviours. I’m really keen for people to appreciate the underlying motives and experiences that drive observed behaviours.
It means making sure there is a lot of communication throughout the workplace around the types of issues people with disabilities face at work because that’s what it’s all about: increasing awareness and education.
However, to touch on what I mentioned earlier, inclusivity doesn’t mean treating people with a disability in a ‘special’ way - it just means treating them as they want to be treated.
Telstra has a great group called TelstrAbility that is sponsored at the group executive level. This is aimed at giving employees with a disability full visibility at work, and amplifying our individual voices.
It is helping all Telstra employees gain awareness of what disability means, the enormous range it includes, and how many people are impacted by it.
My experience
My accident was life changing. I broke my neck and could not move my legs for weeks. I was in the hospital for a long time. But from the get go, my leader was unbelievable.
He was recently recognised for this incredible support at our company’s quarterly executive awards. I think it’s fantastic that Telstra went to the extent of highlighting and appreciating what he had done in that way. They were acknowledging the importance of leadership, which I think shows the company’s genuine support for its people on the whole.
In all, Telstra has been unbelievable in supporting me through the injury, the recovery, the ongoing rehab. I was told, ‘come back to work when and how you feel able to’. There was never any pressure at all. And when I did return, they did everything they could to make life easier for me. In my entire career - 20 odd years - I’ve never felt as supported as this in a company.
I always want to work in a place where the focus is on its people, and not just their work; where this priority is made clear by the company’s treatment of them. Telstra does so many things to support its people. When I got out of hospital, I saw some of the emails sent out about me and I got messages from many people including executives telling me how great it was to have me back. There was such a strong human side to all of it, which is so important to me. Not a lot of companies get that right. It made me feel really proud to work at this one!
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