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Interview: Suzanne Colbert

Photo of Suzanne Colbert
Suzanne Colbert

Pathways14 themes are inclusive, innovative and ingenuity, can you tell us about your work and how it is related to this?

My job is to help large businesses become more accessible and inclusive.  My job is to ask good questions.  Good questions can lead to innovative solutions.  In 2005 we asked some law firms why law grads with disability couldn’t get jobs at their firms.  Then we asked them what they could do to make it easier.  The result was our internship program which started off as ‘Stepping into Law’ – now there are so many disciplines it’s just called the Stepping into program.  In order to solve a problem, we need to put people together who have the authority to solve the problem and have the desire to solve the problem.  I always look for the win/win in every situation.  When it comes to people problems – often if one group ‘wins’ another group loses.  We need to be more inclusive and innovative and always look for the win/win.

Students with disability may interact with AND through the internship program which offers paid placement at some of Australia’s leading public and private organisations. How do these programs differ from things like Work Integrated Learning or Professional Internships as part of some students’ degrees?

Work Integrated Learning and Professional Internships are usually essential requirements and are counted towards achieving a degree or qualification.  They are fantastic practical steps in achieving degree related experience.  The Stepping into internship gives students an opportunity to stretch their thinking about the types of work that interest them and are available to them (on their pathway to their degree).  It’s a chance to diversify your experience and get to know a blue-chip employer.  A Stepping into internship does not count towards your degree. 

Why is it important to progress the inclusion of people with disability in businesses?

Businesses are better when they are diverse and reflect the community they serve.  Diverse businesses make better decisions and are more likely to be successful. 

You’ve been involved in the disability sector since 1990, just before the DDA was brought into act, how have you seen the landscape for employment of people with disability change over that time?

There’s much greater awareness of the skills and talents of people with disability. Employers – especially large employers are more likely to have ‘Diversity and Inclusion’ strategies in place which include becoming more accessible and inclusive to people with disability.  Unfortunately, this awareness hasn’t yet translated into an increase in employment for people with disability.  Hopefully that’s the next step.

What issues do you think higher education students in Australia are facing today?

The world is so fast paced, and we are always ‘on’.  Focusing attention is really important.  Our attention spans are getting shorter.  We need to work on ensuring we have a reasonable span of attention to stay with challenging work – and to do ‘deep thinking’.  To protect our jobs from artificial intelligence we need to do work that has unique problem solving (including solving people problems) and this needs deep thinking.

What skills do you hope people who attend your session leave with?

I really want people to think about the diversity of people with disability and to appreciate that the transition from education to employment is REALLY important.  Getting this transition right is probably more important for university students with disability because we live in such a competitive world and students need to stack the odds in their favour.  The most important skill to learn is how to ask really good questions.