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Jacobs recognised as a great place to work for disability inclusion

Photo: L to R: Camille McGregor, Paul Rendle with Izzie, Doug Murray, Nerida Weller, David Gallagher, Lauren Guiney, Geoff Constable and Cassandra George
Photo: L to R: Camille McGregor, Paul Rendle with Izzie, Doug Murray, Nerida Weller, David Gallagher, Lauren Guiney, Geoff Constable and Cassandra George

Earlier last month, Jacobs won the “Disability Employee Network of the Year” Award from the Australian Disability Network at their Disability Confidence Awards held in Melbourne. We sat down with Nerida Weller to find out more about Jacobs’ disability inclusion strategies and programs.

Congratulations on winning, how does it feel to be recognised for your efforts?

Absolutely fantastic! It was an honour to receive this award in the presence of some very distinguished disability rights leaders and be recognised amongst other organisations who are also working hard to improve their disability confidence.  I loved being there with members of our Network and sharing in the suspense of the announcement and the thrill of winning. One my colleagues, Paul Rendle, was there with his family’s autism assistance dog Izzie. Paul and his family have helped us to improve our understanding of so many disability issues so it was wonderful that he could make it. I’m also proud to stand alongside colleague and fellow network member Geoff Constable who is a World Ambassador for Young-Onset Parkinson’s and our other ACE members who are making it easier to talk about disability in our workplace.

Nerida_Weller_from_Jacobs_pictured_leftPhoto: ACE Network Leader Nerida Weller accepting the Disability Employee Network of the Year award from Peter Wilson, Chair of Australian Disability Network on 8 May 2024 in Melbourne

Can you tell us more about the ACE (Access, Connect, Empower) Employee Network and how this started at Jacobs?

Our network creates a workplace culture where individuals with disabilities, as well as those who provide caregiving, are fully understood, supported and valued. Our motto is “strength in our differences.” The network’s chartering meeting was held in August 2019 in Washington USA with Executive Leaders of Jacob’s Legal, Social Procurement and HSE programs, nominated executive sponsors and employee representatives from UAE, Australia, UK and USA. Celebrated disability rights advocates John Kemp and Carmel Daniels Jones were our guest advisors. From this beginning, the network has grown to over 3,000 members globally with about 205 in Australia. We have an Executive Sponsor in each region and support from our HR and Wellbeing teams. ACE is one of eight employee networks at Jacobs, all supported by our Inclusion and Diversity program which is called TogetherBeyond. 

The network has created 18 unique Knowledge Share events in Australia and participated in awareness events with other employee networks with 5,264 attendances recorded. We connect our network members through a MS Teams channel, where individuals can provide peer-to-peer support, share information resources and raise issues relating to particular conditions or workplace safety in both public and focused private channels such as Carers, Hearing, or Neurodiversity. We also work with many business units to improve accessibility, create resources and help the organisation to recruit and retain neurodiverse and disabled employees. For instance, we recently had a lunch and learn with UK-based Professor Almuth McDowall who researches Neurodiversity in the Workplace.

Why is disability inclusion important to Jacobs?

There are many reasons. Let me mention one of the most important. Jacobs’ corporate motto is “challenging today and reinventing tomorrow.” We want to recruit and retain people who come with a range of life experiences, which really helps us develop innovative solutions for our clients. Adapting to living with disability often requires resilience and creativity, great qualities for the work that we do. We want to make sure that our employees with disability have what they need to do their job, can access appropriate wellbeing benefits and have the support of an understanding community like ACE. 

One in five Australians live with disability, with most disabilities being acquired during working age. People with disability are under-represented in Australian workplaces and can also experience bias and discrimination. Creating a proactive disability-welcoming culture can help people reach their potential, stay in work and improve overall company culture. Also, it can be fun!

What advice do you have for other organisations looking to further improve their disability inclusion strategies and programs?

Membership of the Australian Disability Network is a good way to tap into resources, talent programs and best practice. We’ve used their mentoring and internship programs for instance. We also recently joined the Hidden Disabilities Sunflower Scheme which has a program for creating a psychologically safe environment. Most disabilities are not visible to others which can make it hard to talk about or seek assistance.  

Photo: Jacobs President Global Operations and ACE Executive Sponsor 2023 Sponsor, Patrick Hill, with ACE member, Doug Murray, wearing the Supporter and Sunflower Lanyards respectively

Assistance_Dogs_GraphicPhoto: Example slide of an ACE Culture of Caring moment to share information on a disability topic.

Our ACE network members are good at creating “Culture of Caring” moments. It is mandatory to include a “Culture of Caring” at any meeting in Jacobs which can cover a safety, mental health or inclusion topic. These short presentations are an effective way for ACE members to create messages on allyship and spread disability confidence in all forums. For instance, we can help people use more contemporary language around disability and dispel myths about particular disabilities.

We’d love to meet with other AWA members for knowledge sharing and expanding our perspectives and networks. Please get in touch for a chat! 

Nerida Weller
ACE Employee Network Leader
Operations Administrator and Personal Assistant, ANZ Water