“If you have met one person who is autistic*, then you have only met one person. That is because the way autism presents and impacts a person is very individual and is exactly why it’s called a spectrum disorder.
Kathy Ivkovic, Model Risk Manager at Bendigo and Adelaide Bank, is on a mission to raise awareness of neurodiversity and disability in the workplace. Through a recently established diversity and inclusion group at the bank, she hopes to create greater opportunities for people who are neurodiverse or living with a disability so they can flourish at work and reach their full career potential.
“Our initiatives aim to create a better understanding of the positive character traits of neurodiverse people and people with disabilities. Too often we focus only on the challenges and don’t appreciate the many strengths.”
Creating real change for neurodiverse people
As the parent of a young person with autism, Kathy understands first-hand the obstacles faced by those who identify as neurodivergent, but she has also gained insight into how broad the term ‘neurodiverse’ really is, and the positive skills neurodiversity can bring to the workplace.
“I’m very aware of the capabilities of neurodivergent people and what they can achieve with the right planning, support, and understanding. The high levels of unemployment really bother me, and I want to take steps to create real change.”
At Bendigo and Adelaide Bank Kathy is part of a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion awareness working group that formed at the start of 2023. As part of her work in the group, Kathy hopes to showcase the personal experiences of team members who identify as neurodivergent or who are living with a disability.
“We’re still in the early days of this journey, but I hope to give employees the platform to speak about how being neurodiverse impacts them in their personal and work life.
“We can then enable leaders and managers to participate and support staff confidently. If we can help current staff feel more comfortable or be more productive, then that’s a great outcome!”
Celebrate our differences at work
Bendigo and Adelaide Bank is committed to creating a safe, inclusive, and empowering environment. In partnership with the Australian Network on Disability, Bendigo and Adelaide Bank has developed an Access and Inclusion Plan, with the aim of making information and services accessible to everyone, including its customers. And to further this aim, Kathy is passionate about ensuring their workforce is as diverse as possible.
“It’s important that we have team members and leaders from different cultures, walks of life, those with disabilities and people who identify as neurodivergent. Only then can we enable broad perspectives to influence the decisions we make, the way we work with each other, how we relate to our customers, and to fully reflect the community we live in.”
It’s not one size fits all
Through her work with the diversity and inclusion action group, Kathy also hopes to shift the narrative away from a one-size-fits-all approach. Instead, it’s her goal to highlight how those who identify as neurodivergent or who have a disability often present in entirely unique ways.
“I think in part, many of the challenges faced by neurodiverse people or those living with disabilities, are exacerbated by the way people react to those who think and behave differently to the majority, or what we would consider to be mainstream social behaviors.”
Kathy’s son has taught her so much about the complexity of the challenges faced by those who are neurodivergent and how they can change daily – but he’s also shown her the many great qualities that would be an asset to any workplace.
“Autism is just a unique way of thinking, perceiving, and navigating the world. My son is considered ‘high functioning’ and most people can’t tell he is autistic. He can struggle in certain social settings and aspects of organization, but he has a great work ethic and is always respectful to his teachers and peers.”
Support for families too
Kathy’s children are now teenagers and need less hands-on care than when they were young, but she still needs flexibility at work so she can be available for her family when they need her.
“Balancing my caring role with my professional one is still a work in progress. A common concern among parents whose children have a developmental delay or physical and/or intellectual disabilities is how they will go back to work when they have a life of constant appointments and uncertainty regarding their family members’ level of independence.”
Kathy’s manager at BEN was aware of her caring responsibilities from the outset and gave her the flexibility to work from home two days per week and to change her hours last-minute if necessary.
“I’ve always felt fully supported by Bendigo and Adelaide Bank. My manager never made me feel guilty and he really helped me regain my confidence after being out of the workforce when my children were small.
“In hindsight, the way my manager treated me has created a sense of loyalty from my perspective. A company can have inclusive work policies in place, but if staff are unable to exercise these in a positive and productive manner then they are only words on paper.”
Leading by the example set by her own manager, Kathy hopes to continue to support others who also have additional caring responsibilities, so they can thrive at work without having to compromise their family commitments.
“People who prioritize caring are undervalued and underappreciated by society, and this needs to change.
“When I think back to what I was told to expect as a mother of a child diagnosed with autism and how far my son has come, he has exceeded my expectations and I have also been able to return to work and have been supported to try to balance both aspects of my life.”
Turning challenges into opportunities
Caring for a child who is neurodivergent is not easy, but Kathy says wouldn’t change it for anything as it’s through the challenges she has learnt what’s really important to her.
“One of the hardest experiences of my life was giving birth at 28 weeks. But it was also probably the best thing that happened to me. I was forced to choose my children and my family over my career, and it was the right choice for me and my family. It taught me to listen to my inner voice, rather than what society sometimes tells you.”
Kathy also credits her positive attitude for her success and encourages others to always look for opportunities when they come up against obstacles.
“I have a strong work ethic, which I think has been influenced by my parents who, like many migrants who came to Australia with very little, they had to work hard to have a good life and provide for their families.
“I don’t give up when things get tough and always try to have a joke, even in the hardest moments. I stay focussed on how I can get a positive outcome from any situation. I plan for the worst and hope for the best, and this has put me in good stead for life as a mother of a child who has experienced various challenges in life.”
Looking towards a diverse future
Bendigo and Adelaide Bank is setting the benchmark for helping people who are neurodivergent and/or living with disabilities thrive and succeed in the workplace, and Kathy hopes they will set an example for other businesses to follow.
“Being able to contribute to these kinds of conversations and initiatives in addition to my day job, means I enjoy working at BEN even more. I feel I’m making a real difference.
“I hope I’ve been able to create an alternate view of how we attract and retain neurodivergent talent, and that not all people present the same way. I also hope team members and people leaders start to think of it as what skills and capability can neurodiverse and/or people with disability bring to the workplace, rather than seeing it as a deficit.”