At the Inspirefest BTYSTE Leaders’ Lunch, three amazingly diverse figures revealed the challenges of navigating a not-so-diverse workplace.
While students from across Ireland were leaving the public and judges amazed by their scientific prowess at BT Young Scientist & Technology Exhibition (BYSTE) 2019, three diversity champions were telling their story at the Inspirefest BTYSTE Leaders’ Lunch.
The panel discussion focused on winning strategies for building an inclusive and equitable workplace, featuring those often discriminated against for their mental health, race or for being a member of the LGBTQ community.
After an introduction by Inspirefest founder Ann O’Dea, computer science student (and soon-to-be graduate) Karla O’Brien, who is also a former speaker at the main event, spoke of her recent attempts as a transgender woman to get a job.
Incredibly, she spoke of her experience working with a recruiter who said that everything about O’Brien’s CV was great, but – speaking of internal company recruiters – that “sometimes [they] already have enough LGBT in their company”.
“I couldn’t believe that,” O’Brien said. “[It was like] if we were a majority we were going to take over the company. It was at that point I realised that I need to get my degree so they have no reason not to hire me.”
Following O’Brien was another inspirational voice, this time Ciara-Beth Griffin, founder of the app Mi Contact and someone who was diagnosed with high-functioning autism at the age of 14.
Not long out of secondary school, the former BTYSTE award winner spoke of how she would experience crippling shyness when asked to speak in front of the class. When it comes to job interviews, she pointed out the difficulty someone with autism may have in maintaining eye conduct with the interviewer, something considered key to success.
‘A lot of people hear the word autism and they panic’
In an attempt to alleviate the negative effects that minimal eye contact had on her life, and the lives of others on the autism spectrum, Griffin created an app called Mi Contact.
“There wasn’t a chair at the table for me, so I decided I was going to drag my own chair and make a space for me, so I did this in the form of an app,” Griffin said.
“A lot of people hear the word autism and they panic, for some reason, because they typically think of the worst-case scenario. It’s how bad is it, as opposed to what does it allow you to do.”
The final panel member was PwC UK’s director of client experience, Heather Melville, who spoke impressively about her own experiences breaking into the traditional British corporate world as a young single mother and a black woman.
Emphasising that listening is actually the most important skill of them all, she proved that even the most traditional CEO can listen, be challenged and change.
“What we want to do around those boardroom tables is create an opportunity where you can have diverse thoughts and discussions because, ultimately, it’s what we need to survive [in the outside world],” Melville said.