New online platform to help women with intellectual disabilities navigate the workplace
7 February 2022 at 4:06 pm
During her time working in the disability sector, Tara Shekede became frustrated with the lack of resources to help people with a disability live and work independently, so she decided to create her own.
In an Australian first, a new accessible, online program to help women with intellectual and cognitive disabilities understand their workplace rights was launched last week.
Called Women in the Workplace, the program is the brainchild of Tara Shekede, founder of Me Plus More — an online resource platform for people living with intellectual or cognitive impairment to learn independent living skills.
Shekede founded Me Plus More after spending years working in the disability sector and becoming frustrated with the lack of good tools and resources to support people in learning independent living skills.
While Me Plus More is a platform open to anyone who identifies with an intellectual disability or cognitive impairment, the new Women in the Workplace program is aimed solely at women.
Passionate about advocating for women living with intellectual disabilities, Shekede was thrilled when she saw funding available from the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet’s Office for Women.
She applied and received a grant for almost $225,000, which has covered the costs of launching the Women in the Workplace program.
“I feel so strongly about women with intellectual disabilities being able to get out into the world. In mainstream society, women don’t necessarily have a fair go and for women living with disability it’s even worse” Shekede told Pro Bono News.
“The funding has allowed us to launch the program as well as hire people with lived experience. I’ve been able to employ a woman with down syndrome to help me create the program, and her role as a subject matter expert is just invaluable.”
The program itself is a first-of-its-kind and provides, over a 12-month period, 12 streams of learning covering all aspects of the workplace.
“Topics we cover include woman’s rights as an individual, the anti-discrimination act and rights in the workplace. We also go through why someone might want or need a job, how to do well at an interview, how to write a resume as well as how to stay safe at work,” Shekede says.
“We also have topics around consent and sexual harassment awareness. So understanding what consent is and what harassment looks like both in the workplace and outside it.”
The program also teaches areas around boundaries, personal hygiene, what to wear to work and what life looks like as a working woman.
“While we focus mainly on the workplace we also talk to our community about life outside the workplace,” Shekede says.
“So relationships within the workplace including what’s a colleague, what’s a friend and how those relationships can move outside the workplace and what’s appropriate and what’s not.”
Getting women into the workplace
Shekede hopes that the program will not only encourage more women living with intellectual disability to enter the workplace but also show them that they can grow within their chosen career.
“A lot of people with disability stay in the same job for 20, 30 or 40 years,” she says.
“Some do it because they love that job and don’t want to move and that’s fantastic but others don’t necessarily know that they can move on and have career progression.”
While the platform only launched at the beginning of February, women are already signing up. Shekede says that from the women she’s met so far some are currently in jobs while others have signed up because they’re keen to start looking.
“The jobs women on the platform are doing are quite varied. We’ve got one lady who works in a bank and someone else is working at a sports TV channel,” Shekede says.
“Some women are in open employment, some are working part-time, some are working with support and others aren’t. It’s varied, which is wonderful because we cater to everyone.
“My aim with the program is to show employers that women with an intellectual disability are great employees, they’ve got so much to offer and there is so much to be said for the importance of having a diverse workplace with different ideas.”
Find out more about Me Plus More and Women in the Workplace here.