New disability employment pilot program for certain businesses including Kmart, Target

Program works directly with people 'who have a lived experience of disability'

New disability employment pilot program for certain businesses including Kmart, Target

In November, a new Career Pathways Pilot program was launched to provide people with disability opportunities for job fulfilment and career progression.

The 18-month program was funded by the Department of Social Services and will be run by the Australian Network on Disability along with some members of the Business Council of Australia (BCA). These members include Woolworths Group, Coles Group, Compass Group and Kmart & Target Australia.

“There is an over-representation of people with disability in entry-level roles and a lack of career advancement opportunities for people with disability into leadership roles, as well as a lack of representation of people with disability on company boards,” Australian Network on Disability’s head of strategy Amber O’Shea said in a statement at the time.

She added that the Career Pathways Pilot is co-designed and led by people with disability “and focuses on career progression which challenges middle managers’ and senior leaders’ pre-existing biases and perceptions that people with disability are only suited to entry level roles.”

Kmart and Target’s strategy

Kmart and Target joined the program to ensure its team members reflected the community in which they operate, Tristram Gray, chief people and capability officer at Kmart and Target, said.

“That's been a really important part of our success, making sure we are reflected,” he told HRD Australia. “And therefore the meaningful employment of people with a disability is really one of the core elements of our diversity and inclusion strategy,” he said.

Gray highlighted that the program is about going beyond entry level roles for people with disability.

“This gave us an opportunity to not just focus on a job for people with disability, it's about providing the opportunity to have an equitable access to opportunity, resources, but importantly, career pathways for people with disability in the business,” he said.

“We have a number of people already in the organisation who work at various levels. But this was a way to… think about that systemically but also sustainably, and then share that experience – given the partnership with the Australian Network on Disability but also the federal government – with other employers in the country as well.”

How the program will work

Under the Career Pathways Pilot, Kmart and Target will work with employees with a lived experience of disability, as well as the Australian Network on Disability, to create an employment strategy.

“Historically, organisations with all the best intentions have been somewhat…almost patriarchal in terms of saying, ‘Okay, here's all the solutions for people with disability’,” Gray explained. “But very rarely have they engaged with people with disability to make sure their voice is heard at the table.

“We're working directly with and involving leaders and team members who have a lived experience of disability in a series of co-design workshops that then formulate into a strategy around their advances.

“So they have a voice at the table, they're helping tell us what works for them, what we should be looking at, what are the issues, what are the barriers. And also importantly, what are some of their ideas and thoughts about how we can solve or remove those barriers for them.”

Gray said the pilot program is in its beginning stages and the companies are “just about to kick off those workshops.” He also mentioned that the overall strategy that comes out of the pilot program will need to be holistic and sustainable, rather than being applicable for one store. 

“We've got 55,000 team members across our business [and] 450 stores,” he said. “So a whole ecosystem, a holistic way of looking at things, is really important. That's the way we'll be approaching it.”

Meaningful career advancement

Gray acknowledged that Kmart and Target have partnerships with various organisations to support its approach to the employment of people with disability. These include partnerships with the Australian Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, Down Syndrome Australia and New Zealand, and Get Skilled Access, a disability inclusion consulting business founded by 2022 Australian of the Year, Dylan Allcot.

“Partnerships are really important,” Gray said. “We don’t assume that we’ve got all the knowledge.”

He also highlighted his key vision for the pilot program.

“[It’s] really about seeing more of those team members with a disability advance their careers within the business in a way that they would like them to advance, particularly in a meaningful way,” he said. “And into more senior technical roles in our business or indeed more leadership roles, whether it be line management within the store or management of functions within our office locations.”

Fostering inclusion

Grey described Kmart and Target’s view on inclusion.  

“Inclusion is about how do we foster that culture and mindset in our organisation that enables team members but also customers to feel valued, respected regardless of their background, their experience,” he said. “And that they have equitable access to opportunities, resources, products in the business.”

He went on to describe how Kmart Group has a ‘quiet space’ in 26 stores for people who find it challenging to shop in high sensory environments. During those hours, the lights are dimmed, and the volume of music is turned low.

“We've also started trailing a number of wheelchair accessible registers both for customers but also team members,” Gray said. 

When it comes to fostering inclusion internally, Gray believes businesses should involve team members from different walks of life and listen to their experiences, rather than making assumptions.

“You have to have those people at the table and you have to ask questions of those people,” he said. “I think often in businesses, leaders lack the confidence of asking people, doing listening sessions, understanding what someone else's lived experience is.

“It's about asking people from the shop floor right the way through your organisation because those people will always bring something different. You'll learn something from that [and] you'll actually help develop and co-design and co-create better solutions.”

Gray also believes in the importance of executive sponsorship – and that person doesn’t have to be the CEO.

“Having someone at that executive table who supports, leads, advocates, accelerates and demands focus on diversity and inclusion is really important,” he said. “Unless there’s a sponsor or an advocate there, it's very hard in the organisation to make real, systemic or scale changes.”

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