And now for something completely different! Ever imagined what it is like for disabled people to work for the BBC? You can find the right job for you by visiting the BBC's careers site, but read the following interview to find out more about how a good friend of mine, Toby Mildon, got into his role as Project Manager, what benefits come with working for the BBC, and how you could join him!
Name: Toby Mildon
Role: Project Manager for a range of ventures, and TV Disability Activator, working to make sure disability is represented within the business and on TV.
Nature of impairment: Spinal Muscular Atrophy
Can you tell us about the journey that has led you to your current role at the BBC?
While my friends were all getting supermarket jobs when we were at college, I naturally wanted to work too. My disability meant I couldn't stack shelves, so I decided to go into my local branch of Lloyds Bank and asked the manager for a job. To my surprise he offered me one working in the back office. I worked for free because I was in receipt of benefits, but got rewarded in shopping vouchers and pub lunches.
I stayed with the bank throughout university, helping out during my holidays. My degree in marketing was a sandwich course (four years in total, with one year out in the middle), so I spent a year working for British Airways helping account managers sell spare engineering capacity to other airlines.
Fresh out of university, I joined Accenture's graduate programme and rose to be a consultant working with companies like BT, AOL, Microsoft and Vodafone on integrating new IT systems into their businesses, and helping staff with the smooth transition to using new technologies.
But I got itchy wheels so moved to Cerner, which is a healthcare IT company, where I worked as a programme manager implementing new systems into the West Country and London NHS Trusts.
After two years there, I wanted to get my teeth into something else, so I got drawn to the BBC on the recommendation of a friend. After searching online through the BBC careers site, I applied for a role that harnessed my project management and technology skills.
What do you do for the BBC now and what's a typical day look like for you?
I manage in-house User Experience & Design projects for news content, online or on apps, and help our creative directors commission digital agencies to implement any developments and changes we want made.
Toby Mildon, a Project Manager at the BBC
I also project manage our Diversity Action Plan, which is an initiative to encourage more disabled people to join our organisation in both technological areas, and across the business. In addition, I advise our Director of TV on how disability is portrayed on our screens.
So as you can see, my job is varied, which I like a lot. As such, I work in different offices or from home, and with multiple teams.
Every day is different - I might be brainstorming a project plan, writing a board paper (essentially a report for our leadership team detailing how a project is going), facilitating a creative workshop, drafting a contract, arranging pitches or meeting a head of commissioning to discuss disability stories and presenters; the list goes on.
What is the secret to your personal success?
I think it's important to have three things in life: a back bone (and mine is reinforced from a spinal fusion!), a wish bone and a funny bone. If you have determination, dreams and a sense of humour, you'll go far.
I've managed to 'tune into' and be passionate about jobs that inspire me, which in turn motivates me. I believe in the BBC's mission to inform, educate and entertain the world, and as long as I'm making a difference, I'll enjoy my work.
I've had several mentors and coaches to help me accelerate my career, including one through a Creative Diversity Network mentoring scheme, which is a project within the broadcast industry that allows you to apply for a mentor to help you progress. I have also invested in coaches outside of work to help formulate and action my goals.
What do you like about the BBC and working for it?
I believe in our mission, and I am proud of the high quality and world-class services and content that we produce. I work with really talented people who continue to inspire me. I'm also autonomous in my work - my line manager doesn't micro-manage me, and I relish this freedom. For example, I'm able to write this article on the train so I can leave the office early, which helps with my life/work balance, and therefore my health.
I like our casual and flexible culture and wearing jeans to the office. I like that there's quite a few disabled people in the office, so I'm not the 'odd one out'. I also love the exciting work that we do with other organisations. For example, we hosted a Women in Technology conference at the House of Lords recently, an event aimed at getting more women into technological roles.
The BBC is a place that flourishes on ideas and if there's something I want to try, my manager and colleagues are supportive. As an example, I wanted to and now do organise motivational talks for BBC staff (like mini training sessions), which the BBC Academy are interested in.
How does your impairment affect your ability to perform well in your job, and how have you overcome barriers?
My impairment doesn't affect my ability to achieve at work as I've eliminated all the barriers. I have 24/7 care and my PA accompanies me to work to help with everything from feeding and going to the toilet, to moving around the office and scanning documents.
Which of the BBC services, such as the Access Unit and BBC Ability forum, have you used to help you at work, and how did they help you?
The staff working at the Access Unit met me on my first day to assess me for what reasonable adjustments I needed, and later when my arms weakened, they made further adjustments, such as putting Dragon Dictate on my laptop. I have a permit to park in our basement car park, and on the days that I can't drive I claim for getting taxi's to work through Access to Work.
I'm also a member of BBC Ability (our disabled staff forum, which I have chaired since 2010), which offers an invaluable network of peer support and friendship.
What are your career ambitions for the next five years?
I'm rather passionate about diversity and audience engagement. Given the mix of our TV license fee payers, I believe that they must see themselves reflected in our products and TV shows. For example, I loved seeing disabled actor Liz Carr play lab technician Clarissa in Silent Witness.
I'd therefore like to lead on more of our high-profile diversity projects, either in my division or in our Diversity Centre (our central team driving diversity within the BBC and on our TV screens), and become the 'go-to guy' for disability matters on TV. Also, I work for the BBC four days a week and on my day off I'm a life coach, so I'd like to work with a few more private clients.
From personal experience, what do you think are the main false perceptions around disability and employment, especially in the media and technology field, and how can someone circumvent these perceptions?
I believe there are three top false perceptions about disabled people:
- That they are too costly to hire i.e. adjustments needed and sick leave etc.
- They don't have the same stamina as non-disabled folk.
- They are somehow less intelligent.
All three are complete rubbish, and have been disproven by academics and government research time and time again! And how do we overcome this? The press has to stop portraying disabled people as scroungers, work shy or a burden on society and its resources.
We need to stop thinking of disability as a minority - some stats say 50% of the world population is affected by disability - and this is crucial given that disability comes with an ageing population too.
Disabled people need the confidence to see themselves as resilient and resourceful individuals, which is crucial for work. It'll be a slow change because it's about altering staunch attitudes. We need a combination of direct action, policy lobbying and disabled role models spreading positive vibes to make a difference.
Finally, what advice would you give to individuals with disabilities wishing to work at the BBC or in media?
If you're the kind of person who is happy to take a leap of faith, just apply now through bbc.co.uk/careers. If you're fresh out of university, or have little work experience, check out our twice yearly extend internships for disabled people. If you need more input then seek careers help from a professional coach or mentor.
A lot of it is about making connections and networking, so start talking to people and getting yourself known, online or in person. It's so easy today to make connections through websites such as Meetup, LinkedIn or Twitter - you could even put a tweet out to try and organise work shadowing or work experience.
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