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Category: world hearing day
Maria Grazia Zedda is the Equality, Diversity & Inclusion Workforce Manager at HS2 and is one of Power 100 UK's Top Influential Disabled People.
For World Hearing Day 2020, we spoke to Maria about what challenges she has faced over her career relating to her hearing disability and what HS2 does supports deaf workers.
What career challenges have you faced relating to your hearing?
I have faced career challenges for a variety of reasons, pretty much what we refer to as intersectionality of characteristic-based bias. Bias against foreign sounding name, an Italian education, certainly my deafness during an interview has impacted me but it has never prevented me from getting a job. I have however experienced bias after I’m employed, generally rigid assumptions about what I can’t and can do.
How does your company support you?
High Speed Two have been great. I have a fantastic line manager who is instrumental in ensuring that I get the equipment that I need. Firstly, I was hired via blind auditioning, which was fantastic as it meant that I was shortlisted on my ability to do the job. I was then hired on the basis of my competence and experience, via an inclusively-designed interview sifting process. Then as work progressed I was able to explore different ways of working and using alternative means of communications, like messaging, video calls, etc.
What initiatives are in place at your company to support those that, like yourself, have a hearing disability?
At High Speed Two we have Clear Talent which helps us meet and track reasonable adjustments requests from job candidates and employees, so that’s a great initial step. In relation to my hearing loss, as I cannot access dial-in meetings and conference calls, I use a live online captioning service which has been a lifeline: I could not do my job without it. We also have introduced a meeting protocol to ensure people are inclusive during meetings, as these can be very difficult and stressful for people with hearing loss. We also provide loop system for hearing aid users when required, as well as specific technology such as “Roger Systems” that enhance sound for those with compatible hearing aids.
Have you ever been discriminated against because of your hearing?
I have been discriminated against many times by people refusing to make adjustments for me – mostly during meetings or events set up in an inaccessible way. Lack of accessibility and inclusivity is the problem, not my hearing loss.
How do you feel about diversity within your company?
I think we have amazing diversity at High Speed Two, especially in the industries that we work in (engineering, rail, construction) and although we can always improve our diversity, especially at very senior levels, I think that we work with many people from all kinds of backgrounds, experiences and walks of life.
Do you feel people from different groups and backgrounds are supported equally at work?
I think that we are creating a culture enabling equal access to the workplace for people from different abilities and backgrounds but we’re on a journey. I would be very suspicious of organisations claiming to have it all sussed out. I would say that HS2 is an organisation on a journey in which we are still learning to include everyone and learning what people need to feel included. We are striving to create a culture that’s inclusive, based on our core values of Respect, Integrity, Safety and Leadership. We have employee networks, celebrate diversity initiatives and we develop policies and leadership programmes in which equality, diversity and inclusion are embedded throughout.
What would you say to young people with hearing disabilities about their career prospects at your company and what they can expect in the way of support from your employer?
I would say that hearing loss absolutely does not have to stop you from achieving what you want in your life. You just have to be prepared and know yourself well and what you need to work to the best of your personal ability. Once you know what adjustments you need to be able to work, you can request them. Hearing loss or deafness is a protected characteristic. This is not to label you as “disabled” but to know that the law protects you should you experience discrimination. It can be tough at times and with hearing loss there are a number of ways you can feel excluded that are very pernicious, depending on the people that you work with. Know your strengths and know what you can offer and focus on what kind of person you are because, and not in spite of, your hearing loss. Do you pay attention to body language and the world around you? Do you juggle multitasking as you work and navigate a world designed for hearing people? Do you have a high levels of emotional intelligence to gauge other people’s behaviours as a way to make up for what you can’t hear them say? Then these are great interpersonal skills that are very valuable for good employers, they’ll want to hire someone like you. Don’t let others’ perceptions of hearing loss stop you: believe in yourself, your qualities and what you’ve got to offer. I believe I am a good communicator because of my hearing loss, not in spite of it.
What does World Hearing Day mean to you?
It’s an opportunity to remind people that so many of us have hearing loss and we all benefit from being included.
How can people celebrate World Hearing Day?
Find out more about hearing loss and how to include others, there’s a wealth of information out there, that will help you if you have hearing loss or if your colleagues or loved ones are experiencing hearing loss too.
How do you feel about the Diversity Role Model of the Year award you’ve been nominated for this year and what would it feel like to win?
I feel like I’ve already won because I am in an incredible shortlist of amazing people. Anything I win in terms of recognition is just amazing because it fulfils my deepest desire to help spread awareness about deaf and disability inclusion and work so that others who live or acquire a disability.
How does it feel to have been included in the Disability Power List?
It feels amazing and I’m so grateful. My teenage daughters saw the Disability Power List the year before and wondered why I was not in it, so now that I am, it makes me feel proud to be seen as a role model. I have a strong imposter’s syndrome but at the same time, I know that I need to be strong in myself and work to include others which has been my life’s calling. I want my daughters to feel that they have strong aspirations and can work to achieve them for themselves one day.
How has working with VERCIDA helped your company showcase their D&I initiatives and how can VERCIDA further support you?
VERCIDA have been fantastic in terms of the exposure and stories they help us get out there – we need this to be able to attract great candidates from all walks of life, candidates who will be able to deliver so much more than a railway. We need the best candidates and employees to deliver the new high-speed railway for Britain. We can’t do this without the ideas, creativity of people of all abilities, from every background.
How can companies support workers who have hearing disabilities?
It’s very simple: ask them what works for them individually. Not one person with hearing loss has the same access needs of another.
Do you think there is enough awareness around the challenges people with hearing disabilities face?
Absolutely not, not enough awareness at all and too much stigma around hearing loss, wearing hearing aids, cochlear implants or using BSL as a language. Also lots of assumptions about what people with hearing loss might need or not.
How can people become more aware?
There are many organisations that provide advice, but again, the main thing is to ask people with hearing loss what works for them before assuming.