In 2014 the former APS Diversity Council asked the Australian Public Service Commission (the Commission) to develop a strategy to 'change managerial mindsets and improve agency systems to advance the recruitment and retention prospects of people with disability'. The Commission's Disability Team developed the 'ten plus ten' model as part of a collection of experiential activities known as 'changing managerial mindsets' which was trialled in a number of agencies throughout 2015.
These activities drew on research which showed that increased awareness about disability issues is most effectively gained by direct exposure to people with disability -- see for example Kleeman and Wilson (2007).1The 'ten plus ten' model is based on this evidence-based approach to experiential learning as well as the use of story-telling as a mechanism for achieving positive change.
The purpose of the 'ten plus ten' approach was to directly engage Senior Executive Service (SES) leaders with the experiences of employees with disability in the APS. Feedback from participants in the initial and subsequent 'ten plus ten' events has been overwhelmingly positive.
The 'ten plus ten' model
'Ten plus ten' events provide a forum for SES and senior management to hear first-hand from employees with disability about their experiences, both positive and negative, in their APS workplaces.
Ten employees with disability share with ten SES employees or managers their experiences of working in the APS. These meetings have proven to be a useful learning exercise for all participants. They highlight areas where leaders and managers can focus to improve the employment experience of employees with disability.
The model can be adapted for events on a smaller scale, with several agencies running 'five plus five' events.
Holding a 'ten plus ten' event
Some key messages and guidance have been developed based on the Commission's own experience of running these events and learnings from other agencies.
Keep all correspondence confidential and do not publish any personal details of participants with disability. Strict adherence to the Privacy Act 1988 is required throughout the process.
Participation of employees with disability must be strictly voluntary. The event organiser should meet beforehand with the employees who volunteer. The purpose is to prepare them for what may happen during the meeting. If possible, a rehearsal should be held, with each employee running through what they plan to say.
Some discussions may trigger unpleasant recollections. All employees should be advised beforehand of options such as access to Employee Assistance Programs for counselling and other services.
Provide employees with the guidance at Appendix A about disclosing personal stories.
Inform participants that they can pull out at any time, before or during the meeting, if they are feeling uncomfortable about sharing information.
Some participants may wish to discuss outcomes after the meeting. Ensure time is allocated for participants to debrief after the event.
Attendance should be restricted to the ten employees with disability and the ten managers, plus the person convening/chairing the meeting. No observers should be allowed.
The role of the convenor/chair is to act as facilitator and mediator, ensure the wellbeing of employees and encourage them to tell their stories in an open and accepting environment.
Typical agenda includes:
- Welcome and opening remarks by chair—explain the process and that the Chatham House Rule2 applies—no participants may be identified
- Listen to experiences of employees with disability, approximately five minutes per employee (50 mins)
- Questions from managers and chair-led discussion (30 mins)
- Break if needed—discussions may be stressful
- Follow up with any further questions and discussion—suggest focus on your agency's diversity agenda and disability action plan (30 mins)
- Convenor closes and invitation to debrief (10 mins)
- Chair and participants debrief (30 mins)
Discussion/experiences will vary but may include topics such as:
- Training, development and promotion
- Leadership and the role of Disability Champions and managers
- Reasonable adjustments
- Unique barriers that other employees might not have to deal with
- Fitness for duty assessments
- Sharing information/disclosure
Appendix A: Guidelines for participants with disability during the 'ten plus ten' event
Benefits of telling your story
- Senior leaders gain insight into the experiences of individuals with disability employed in the Australian Public Service (APS)
- Senior leaders hear directly from employees with disability about what has and has not helped them with their employment and career progression in the APS
- Senior leaders develop the motivation and drive to take action to improve the APS employment experience of people with disability.
Planning how to tell your story
- Consider the messages you want to give. Make sure that what you're sharing specifically relates to these messages
- Consider the changes you want the senior leaders to make. Cater your story to show how and why these changes could help people with disability
- Use specific small stories as examples of your experience to help the listeners understand your perspective
- Do not name other individuals when telling your story—a broad reference to a person's position in relation to you is OK, e.g. 'my former manager', 'one of my current colleagues'
- Focus on help you sought and received, and practical solutions others can apply to remind senior leaders that positive and productive actions are possible
- Be mindful of the five3 minute timeframe you have to tell your story
- Consider possible questions or reactions the senior leaders or other participants may have and how you would like to respond to these.
Safety when telling stories
- Do not go into detail or name medication, self-harm or suicide methods or thoughts
- Decide how much information you feel comfortable sharing
- Maintain your boundaries regarding information you are and are not willing to share, to avoid reliving negative experiences. You are encouraged to say 'I am not comfortable sharing that information' or 'I do not want to talk about that here' if someone directly asks
- Use personal statements like 'In my experience…' or 'For me…' as everyone with disability experiences things differently and you can only speak for your personal experiences
- Be prepared for some difficult questions or no questions at all. Everyone processes and reacts to things differently
- Look after yourself after the event. Debrief with the event facilitator, a helpline or trusted family member or friend. Do an activity you enjoy or that relaxes you.
- A 'ten plus ten' meeting is not the place to bring up new allegations of bullying or harassment. For this you need to follow your agency's official complaints process.
Further information about telling your story:
1 Kleeman, J. & Wilson, E. (2007). Seeing is believing: changing attitudes to disability. A review of disability awareness programs in Victoria and ways to progress outcome measurement for attitude change. Melbourne: Scope (Vic).
3 Adjust as appropriate