Defying the odds
Story updated September 2020.
Image: ANZ Engineer, James Leonard with Toby.
Late last year, James shared his story (below) of defying the odds, both in his personal life and career. I recently caught up with James again, to see how he was doing during this turbulent year.
Like most people, he has his good and bad days. One of the good days saw James open the recent ANZ leadership conference, presenting to more than 200 leaders across the bank. The virtual conference started with James sharing his career story, along with his personal experience so far of working from home.
James says he has found working from home mostly enjoyable and the absence of office distractions has seen him become more productive. “As an Engineer, I can tune out and focus on the work without getting distracted by the activities going around the office. With that said though, I do miss my team and the social interaction I get from the office.”
However, James has found himself a new co-worker. “Right now, my little dog, Toby, is my coworker. He is a dream; he agrees with every business decision I make!” James says jokingly.
Another positive is that he is not spending as much money on coffee, although he misses face-to-face interaction. “I really do miss catching up with my colleagues for a quick coffee. I look forward to going back to the office and seeing the ANZ family again.
Hopefully, we will be back (in the office) before we know it!”
Certain experiences and moments in life can stick with you, be it good or bad.
ANZ Engineer, James Leonard recalls one particular experience he had in primary school explaining, “In grade six we participated in a school program where students experienced what it was like to run a business. For two hours on a Friday, we’d run stalls and trade monopoly money."
“My experience with that wasn’t very good. I ended up being on the dole within the program. So I got the message very early on that if you’ve got a disability, you are not going to be wanted in the workplace, you are not going to be able to contribute to a workplace,” he says.
Growing up with Cerebral Palsy (CP) wasn’t easy for James. He was constantly told things would be different and having the odds stacked against him in certain situations, including work was not uncommon.
Years later, James successfully landed his dream role in Digital Customer Experience (DCX).
While studying for his degree in Information Technology at Swinburne University, James took part in the Positive Action towards Career Engagement (PACE) Mentor program which he says was the kick start to his career.
He believes it was this which ultimately helped him defy the odds, saying the program helped open his eyes to what can be achieved.
“Early on we should be teaching kids with a disability that's not the way it's going to be or has to be. They can achieve their dreams and be just as successful as any person,” he says.
Image: James with some of his team mates on a volunteering day.
It’s who you know
Run by the Australian Network on Disability (AND), ANZ is a proud principle partner of PACE Mentoring. The program connects jobseekers -both students and adults - with a disability to mentors from within ANZ. This provides mentors with the opportunity to develop their leadership skills and disability confidence, while jobseekers gain vital workplace experience, develop skills and expand their networks.
James reflects very fondly on his time as a mentee.
“My mentor was great. We had a great relationship, and not just because we barracked for the same football team” James says with a grin.
“He really understood me. Over the six week program period, we talked about different things. He explained the business structure, and he helped me brush up my resume and conducted mock interviews. Just generally preparing me for my career”.
Speaking of networking, James says “It’s one of the key pieces of advice my mentor gave me; get out there and build your network. This eventually lead me to land a fulltime job in an area I am passionate about – technology.”
James leveraged opportunities to meet many different people from around the business, and with a little help and guidance from his mentor was offered an internship.
What was meant to be a six week stint in Finance, ended up turning into a three year tenure.
James jokingly says with a laugh, “I think that's because I’ve got a hearing impairment. So I can’t hear anything in my left ear, but I can hear in my right. So I reckon they were telling me that I don't need to come back after the sixth week, but I actually kept on coming back. They didn't question it, I just kept turning up."
At the end of the three year stint, James’ goal was securing a spot in ANZ’s Graduate program. He met with as many people as he could, seeking advice and getting himself know in the business.
James achieved his goal when last year, he was offered a spot on the program. He moved around the bank on rotation through various roles and parts of the business - an experience he says he loved.
“I got to meet people who were around the same age, in similar areas of work and interests. I loved that aspect. Before the Graduate program, I didn't know how much a bank could offer in technology. But there are so many technology opportunities within the bank. I always thought of Google and Amazon being where all opportunities would be, but there’s probably just as many opportunities here as those companies,” he says.”
After completing the Graduate Program, James was offered a full time job in Digital Customer Experience (DXC) as an Engineer; a role he is loving.
“I’m really, really happy with this role. I get to work on new apps, with a great bunch of people and am always learning.”
Communication is key
Recent findings from the Survey of Community Attitudes towards People with a Disability showed less than half of those surveyed agreed workplaces are accepting of people with disability and believe uncertainty can be an underlying factor shaping attitudes towards people with disability.
James thinks communication breakdown could be the cause.
“If businesses have never been exposed to people with a disability, they don't have an understanding of their limits. And at times, the people with disability don't know how to communicate their limitation, or are not comfortable doing so.”
He explains, “For example, someone might need to work from home on a regular basis as the travel is a problem for them but the job is advertised as five days a week in the office. It’s all about communication. If the employee can communicate their needs, the employer is in a better position to accommodate and vice versa”.
James says a lot of people don’t want to disclose their disability. However, in doing so they’re more likely to be successful in their career. He adds that organisations need to make sure people feel safe and supported enough to disclose.
“What I love about ANZ is they care about everyone's voice and you feel safe and part of the team. They are serious about being diverse and inclusive,” he says.
“Working really helps your mental health. And for a lot of people with disability, that's very much a challenge for them. They’re living with limitations that are really out of their control. Organisations can do so much to support these people, simply by including them in the workforce.”
PACE program lead for ANZ Ricki Sandler is proud that ANZ provides the support it does to those with disability.
“I am extremely proud that since 2013, ANZ has been the principal sponsor of the PACE Mentoring Program. Since that time ANZ has had almost 500 mentors participate in the program – creating an extraordinary impact across the organisation by building disability confidence across all teams and a range of levels of staff, challenging views and tackling any unconscious bias about people with disability.”
Image: Outside of work, James is passionate about sports and has started playing Aussie Rules football.
A positive outlook
James believes in the importance of a positive attitude, especially for those with disability. “A lot of people with disability grow up with the idea they can’t do certain things.”
“I was fortunate from a young age to be taught if I wanted to do something, I should just give it a try. My mum got a lot of slack for that at the time, but I thank her so much for instilling that attitude in me. It’s what’s driven me to enjoy the life I lead today.”
James recently completed another mentoring program. This time he was the mentor. He’s pleased to help others in a similar situation, along with learning from being on the other side of the mentor/mentee relationship.
Asked if he would do it (mentoring) again, he says with a big smile "In a heartbeat.”
Breaking the silence