02 April 2021
by Nikoleta Vartsaneli
Today is World Autism Awareness Day and it’s a day close to our hearts since our extended One GO Team includes individuals who are on the autism spectrum. We would like to take a moment to celebrate these people and those who love and support them, some of whom are our colleagues.
We decided to interview a few working parents who are doing a pretty damn good job in succeeding both in work and in life, growing in their career, remaining supportive to the needs of their department and colleagues and always attentive to the needs of their families. They are an inspiration to us and therefore we wanted to take the occasion to raise awareness, increase understanding and acceptance, foster support and inspire a kinder, more inclusive world, through their experiences.
Two of our colleagues are sharing their experiences being parents of children with autism and shine a light on their journey to parenthood, GO’s family friendly measures, work-life balance and the ways they and their families feel supported. Mandy is the Head of Corporate Communications as well as EA to the CEO, and has been part of our team since 2017. Bernadette joined our retail team in 2003 and through learning and development, determination and passion for growth we find her now at her current role of Human Resources Specialist. For those of you who don’t know them, these are two people you will find smiling all the time, they are very energetic and positive and always ready to lend a helping hand to their colleagues.
To begin with, let’s understand what autism is. Autism is a lifelong neurological condition that manifests during early childhood, irrespective of gender, race or socio-economic status and the commonly used term Autism Spectrum refers to a range of characteristics. Autism is mainly characterized by unique social interactions, non-standard ways of learning, keen interests in specific subjects, inclination to routines, challenges in typical communications and particular ways of processing sensory information.
GO is an inclusive, diverse and supportive work environment, promoting the rights and well-being of all its team. Throughout our history, and in line with our purpose, we have employed persons with varying forms of disabilities – we prefer to say different abilities, family friendly measures and flexible working arrangements through our wellbeing programmes and strategy, perks and benefits. Also, our GO Cares voluntary employee committee organises educational workshops on various topics, with the aim of raising awareness and educating our team, whilst also supporting many different organisations and causes through donations, whether financial, or other resources.
We would like to thank our colleagues for sharing their experience with us. Not only are they great and dedicated parents, but they also thrive in their careers. We hope through their words we will all learn something new and foster an inclusive and caring society where everyone can lead full and meaningful lives and no one is left behind.
As a parent, how does GO help you manage your workload? Do you feel that GO is flexible to your needs as a parent?
Mandy: Just like any other parent, juggling work and parenthood is a real struggle. At GO I feel totally understood and supported and I am lucky enough to have total flexibility to work around my family’s needs. My colleagues check in on me regularly and always offer a helping hand whenever required. At the end of the day, it’s all about give and take and finding the balance that works for you.
Bernadette: Similarly to Mandy, I am very thankful to be working in a company that allows me to work around my son’s needs. I am able to attend for therapy sessions with him and work my schedule around these sessions, be it early morning or later in the day.
Introduce your child to us.
Bernadette: Giacomo is a bubbly 6 year old. He loves to draw and paint, and also loves to listen and play music. Thanks to his music teacher, he is learning to play the piano and the recorder. On the weekends we love going to the countryside for long walks with our dog. Although his food selection is quite limited, Giacomo enjoys helping out in the kitchen whilst preparing dinner.
Mandy: Ben recently turned 12. He is full of energy, very sociable and loving, fun, is very creative, has an incredible memory and is a budding drummer – he absolutely loves music!
Like many children on the autism spectrum, Ben has other conditions, including Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD), although every child is different. This simply means that his awareness of the world is different to other children and he just learns in different ways.
How has home-schooling and work from home been for you?
Mandy: It’s been a real struggle, mainly because Ben is not that technologically inclined so he finds it hard to navigate online tools independently. Online learning for children with learning differences is challenging. We are managing because of our one-to-one sessions with Ben’s LSE. The school day is cut extremely short and there is only so much he can get out of online sessions because he is easily distracted. We are doing the best we can with the resources that we have, like family members who are supporting with Ben’s education.
Bernadette: As Mandy said, it is a bit tough lately. Work gives me the flexibility to stay with him during his online lessons but then at times I end up working longer hours, missing out quality time after school. I feel lucky to be able to assist him and he is doing quite well, but I definitely believe that he would do better in a school environment in the company of his teacher, LSE and his friends.
What are your aspirations for career growth and how does GO help you reach those goals?
Mandy: I just want to continue learning and growing as an individual and apply my experience and gained knowledge to what I love doing. The culture at GO fully supports learning and finds every means of providing the opportunities to help you grow and achieve your aspirations. I am very grateful.
Bernadette: I have worked in Human Resources for quite some time now and I have recently been appointed as a Human Resources Specialist. I see myself continuing to grow in this role, working hand in hand with my wonderful HR colleagues and our great One GO Team in general for years to come. I will be able to further my career goals thanks to the GO Academy, a platform for personal development which will help all employees to do their current job better and achieve further career aspirations.
Do you have any support system within GO?
Bernadette: Yes I have full support from my managers and colleagues, they understand that I might need to take time off without much notice to attend to my son’s needs or even for myself, to unwind and have some self-care time. The company also offers free counselling sessions in collaboration with the Richmond Foundation, so if I ever require professional support I know that I have a professional support system to turn to as well.
Mandy: I fully agree with Bernadette, we are One Team so I always have full support from my colleagues. As mentioned earlier, I do enjoy the benefits of remote working, flexible hours and our fantastic HR team have rolled out numerous wellbeing initiatives that I could tap into whenever needed.
What is your message to our audience?
Mandy: Today is just another day where we celebrate diversity. Be understanding. Be empathetic. Be accepting of the fact that we are all different but equally fabulous! Be grateful for the opportunity to see things through a different lens!
Bernadette: Autism affects the way these individuals communicate, relate to other people and perceive the world around them, thus it might take them more time to understand and do things. In fact the Maori word for autism is ‘Takiwatanga’ which means ‘in his/her own space and time’.
Bernadette and Mandy have shared their experience and we are really happy to see all the ways they feel supported and empowered to have freedom and flexibility to manage work and family commitments. GO offers flexible working arrangements, be it part-time or reduced hours employment, flexibility on our working hours, to start work early or late, to stop for a few hours and continue later in the evening, anything according to our needs and lifestyle. Our culture allows our team to embrace wellbeing to lead a happy and fulfilling life, with supportive leaders and colleagues, employee wellbeing initiatives that promote wellness at work, and professional support of Mental Health professionals.
As a whole, we hope to continue promoting, protecting and ensuring full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and help improve the quality of life of persons with disabilities.
To Bernadette, Mandy and all the working parents of persons with disabilities, we are very proud seeing you grow in your career, admire your openness to help us spread awareness and we commit to remain a supportive system towards you and your families.
To Giacomo and Ben, the future is yours and we can’t wait to see what it has in store for you!
About the Author and the Team
Nikoleta Vartsaneli is one of the HR Managers within GO’s Human Resources Team. She is a people’s person, living her own dream of doing what she loves the most, helping others achieve their goals and have a fulfilling career. The HR Team is on a mission to ensure GO’s people excel in everything they do, offer a unique employee experience and recruit the best talent.
Have a look at our careers page and get in touch with us if you want to take your career to the next step! For GO products and services, visit our official website or get in touch with our experts online or by visiting any of our GO outlets.