Disabilities Mentoring Day… A Mentor’s Experience
Disabilities Mentoring Day… A Mentor’s Experience
I participated in the 2023 INNoVA Disabilities Mentoring Day (DMD) as a Mentor at the end of October. I had such a meaningful and insightful experience that I felt compelled to write about it.
Disabilities Mentoring Day (DMD)
Disabilities Mentoring Day is meant to build connections between business and talent; it matches employees from business to individuals with disabilities for a mentoring and experiential learning experience. It is meant to be a learning exchange where both mentees and mentors benefit; networking opportunities, disability confidence building, skill enhancement, career advancement support, feedback opportunities.
Meet and Greet
Before the mentoring day, I had the opportunity to meet my mentee in advance, 1 on 1, for a “meet and greet” session. In order to respect his privacy, for the purposes of this article I will refer to my mentee as “Jack”. Like many first introductions, it was awkward. Meeting someone for the first time and beginning to make a connection takes intention and yes, it can feel a little uncomfortable. To be honest, I was a bit nervous… although I have had a long career in my industry and a professional network, I wondered; “will I be good mentor?”, “Do I have something new and meaningful to offer to Jack”, “will we be a good mentoring match?”… my internal questions were drowned out by the external questions asked of us…
We had some questions to guide our time together… “what is your favorite food?”, “what makes you laugh the most?”, “what are you looking forward to the most about DMD?”
“What is my favorite food?” I thought about this question. I know that it was not directly related to mentoring but I understood that it was meant to “break the ice” between two people wanting to begin a connection. Before answering I reflected on this, homemade pizza it is for me! Making pizzas from scratch at home means a quality family experience with my partner and children. We come together on the weekends, around the pizza dough, and pick our own toppings. Making pizza in my household is so much more than making pizza to me, it means family connection, quality time, laugher and continuing to build memories with my family. Before I answered, I invited Jack to go first and provide his answer to the question.
“My favorite food is homemade pizza” says Jack, he explained that ever since he tried making it at home, he can “never go back” to pre-made pizza; he just cannot imagine now having it any other way now. I had a surprised and knowing smile; and shared that my answer is the same as his and my reasons are related to that quality time with my family. He reflected on my answer and said that hearing what making pizza means for me, has made him reflect and realize that this part of the pizza making process is also enjoyable for him, with his partner.
We both laughed and nodded – initial connection made and awkwardness slowly diminishes.
In order to get ready for the mentoring experience and ensure accessibility we were guided on a few areas:
- Ask your mentee if they need any accessibility accommodations, and know INNoVA can support with that process
- Inform your mentee of the schedule for the day (agenda)
- Get to know your mentee’s career aspirations and share your career journey
- Be ready to invite the mentee for your business meetings and introduce them to your colleagues
I asked Jack about his career goals in advance, to allow me to schedule the flow of our day in a way that is meaningful to him. He let me know that he is currently taking a Mental Health Peer Support Worker program. He explained to me that his career aspiration is to find a way to utilize his significant lived experience with mental health and trauma, to support others along their journey to recovery. The way Jack explained this to me showed me that this goal is very intentional, deeply meaningful to him. I felt honored to get to know this part of his career aspiration and personal journey.
The Mentoring Day Experience
I created an agenda for the day; I invited Jack to a training session that I was co-leading that day, then a client business meeting, then I engaged my various colleagues to meet with him and share their own areas of expertise. I ensured that the day had built-in flexibility for breaks and pre-scheduled breaks. When discussing what his needs were, in order to make this day successful for him, he let me know that he benefits from taking breaks where he can physically move around. I ensured that this was possible.
Jack had the opportunity to witness a typical workday for me, plus connect with my coworkers who were able to highlight their various areas of expertise; from innovative uses of technology to connect people with disabilities, to accessibility marketing, to speaking with a coworker who had already herself participated in DMD as a mentee and is now working with us.
Jack expressed that his session with our Front-End Application Developer gave him some interesting insights. He explained that he got a demonstration of Discord (a platform typically used in gaming), and our Developer was able to show him how we are able to use it in innovative ways; to facilitate the connection between people with disabilities. This was particularly interesting to Jack, as he is interested in creating peer support relationships, specifically for people with lived experience of trauma and mental health backgrounds.
Who knew that a meeting with a Tech Developer could generate so much insight for a mentee who was not necessarily focusing on the tech industry – but was able to gain perspective on how the innovative use of technology could support the creation of peer support communities for people with disabilities. The connections and insights were empowering to witness for me.
Prior to our mentoring day session, Jack emailed me an excerpt of his writing. He had let me know that he uses writing as part of his healing journey, to help him unpack and understand the mechanics and impacts of trauma. I will embarrassingly admit, I did not have time to fully read his writing in advance of our day. However, as I got to spend time with Jack in the morning of our mentoring experience, I was very intrigued by his journey and his ability to articulate and make meaning of life experiences. I was intrigued.
I decided to make it a point to read his writing during my lunch break.
I very quickly became deeply engaged in his writing… he had a very easy-to-understand way to explain what trauma is, the different types of trauma, how a fractured nervous system operates and healing from trauma. I noticed in his writing that he had an ability to very deeply and methodically unpack such a heavy issue, with examples to facilitate comprehension.
What stood out to me, was a section in his writing where he wrote about how the abilities of an individual are directly affected by the degree of unhealed trauma over the course of their life.
This led me into a deep reflection… so much of my work is focused on building organization-wide accessibility. What about hidden individual wounds that perhaps contribute to difficult work environment? Whether it is a CEO, a supervisor or a front-line worker. There was a lot to unpack here.
His writing also led me to reflect on my own personal journey and realizing that my mentee and I had a shared (but different) experience with mental health. Part of my own personal healing journey has also included the deeper understanding of mental health, trauma and its impact on the nervous system. What an honor to connect with someone who understands this. Suddenly I was realizing how much I was benefiting from his gift; the connection with a mentee that has such a significant lived experience, the wisdom in his writing, his ability to unpack a heavy and typically stigmatized topic in such an eloquent way and his openness in wanting to use his extremely challenging experiences to drive his career aspiration to support others in their healing journeys.
I realized that I was getting more benefit from being a mentor than I ever imagined… and that an awkward conversation about making homemade pizza could lead to such a meaningful connection and experience.