Fear of the unknown- it works both ways!

It is true that when PIP and I put together a work experience placement for an adult with a learning disability, fear started to erupt… PIP needed to find the right student for us; we are an international law firm with huge offices and a complicated travel route from PIP. And that’s not to mention the prospect of working with almost 500 new colleagues – it can be daunting for the most experienced of workers!

At Mayer Brown we have a great diversity and inclusion programme, with many initiatives to widen our talent pool. Our belief is that if you have the talent you should have an opportunity to work at the firm. We recruit regardless of background but offer support to enable people to apply, work and achieve their full potential at the firm. However, when I started to promote the programme, the prospect of a new colleague with a learning disability did provoke a bit of fear, and questions started — “What are they capable of?”, “How will I understand them?”, “How will I support them?”.

Suddenly I knew this project was going to be great! If I could successfully showcase someone with a learning disability to the workforce and calm their fears, we would break down barriers and further our diversity programme.

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And so we met PIP student Lauren. Before she arrived, PIP did some fabulous preparatory work. We were sent a profile of Lauren, which she had created herself. PIP confirmed that one of their staff would attend the placement with Lauren. The fact that these two elements were put in place was comforting and reassuring for us. I asked a number of people in the office to work with Lauren whilst she was with us and sent them her profile -they knew instantly that Lauren had a wicked sense of humour and that it was fine to talk to her about her disabilities. They also knew to expect that she had some difficulties with speaking. We all looked forward to her arrival.

During Lauren’s work experience she was given real tasks to do. She worked with our design team, reprographics, our secretarial team and CSR. She designed and produced a poster, helped organise a charity fundraiser (and even shredded documents) with huge joy! Over lunch, Lauren met many of our colleagues and regaled us with stories about her family and life.

Yes, at first Lauren was anxious, and for those of you who may have met her, unusually quiet (!) but we all soon got to know that she is a wonderful young lady. Lauren may have a learning disability but she has an exuberance for life and new experiences and is a great person to have around. We discovered that Lauren was more than capable of doing what we asked of her. And to top it all, she had a really great day, learning a lot about us as an organisation, and about us as people too. I knew this placement would be a positive learning curve for Mayer Brown, but what I didn’t anticipate was the volume of emails and comments that I received from people about how positive the experience had been!

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As we approach our next work experience placement I am pleased to say all the initial fears about working with someone with learning disabilities have been allayed. Lauren has since secured herself a job in another business, and I hope it won’t be long before we have a PIP student working for us.

This post was written by guest blogger Heidi Newbigging, CSR manager at Mayer Brown International LLP

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