Breaking Down Barriers One Snap at a Time
YWCA Australia transformed a room in their Adelaide office into a photography studio. Over the course of two days, 41 women came and went. Some stayed to chat, connect and network; others made just a quick stop. Each of these women is travelling her own path. She is unique in her thoughts, her feelings, her interests, her personality, her experiences. They all came from different lives and they all have different goals and dreams that have brought them here. What do they share? They live with disability and came to YWCA to get a professional headshot taken. They overcame a barrier.
Headshot Day was organised by Belle Owen and Lisa Gascoigne of Y Connect. Belle explained about the work they do, and why they organised Headshot day.
“Y Connect is a project that we started at YWCA Australia’s Adelaide branch because they recognised they wanted to be more intersectional so they wanted to have pathways for women with disabilities into the Y, and they saw there was a gap in, not necessarily employment services but employment support for women living with disability. So Y Connect actually aims to remove barriers for women living with disability in whatever path they have chosen for themselves in terms of their career.”
As a feminist organisation, YWCA knows it is important to empower and support women living with disability. They recognise that they need to, not only welcome all women into their community, but actively support women living with disability and provide resources that empower them to be who they want to be. Through Y Connect, women living with disability can see themselves reflected in the staff and in the Y community. This encourages them to engage with Y Connect and YWCA and use the resources on offer to build the life they want to live.
The women we saw at Headshot Day had very different reasons for being there. One woman needed a headshot for her Air BNB host profile. One wanted to use her photo to promote her business online. Another was in the performing arts industry and needed an updated portrait. There were women who planned to use their headshot to launch a career in public speaking to share their lived experience and stories. There were writers who needed headshots for blogs and author’s bios on their publications. Several women wanted their headshot to put on their LinkedIn profile. These are all instances where they, as Belle put it, “can’t really use a cheesy selfie”.
“Headshots are something that professional women are sort of expected to have in a lot of fields and not everybody knows how to go about getting a good professional one. They can be expensive. It can be intimidating to set up a photo shoot just for yourself. It might feel a bit frivolous. It might just seem a bit awkward, for whatever reason. There’s so many reasons that women don’t have one. In a lot of these fields, everybody’s looking at LinkedIn first, everybody’s looking at your website first. You need a strong representation of yourself so having a professional headshot is a really great way to show that you’re a professional woman and you’re serious about what you’re doing.”
The UN says that women who live with disability experience ‘double discrimination’ and therefore, face ‘significantly more’ barriers in their careers. This inequality can be seen in hiring, promotion rates, pay and access to training. Belle also pointed out that everyone uses their networks to find work and a lot of the women Y Connect works with don’t have the same networks. This can be for a variety of reasons: some women haven’t been in their field long enough to build those networks; some don’t know the right people; some do know the right people but they are affected by the burden of low expectations and so aren’t considered for opportunities.
“Networking has been really important, I think, for people and it’s really great that we’re able to use the Y network of women in terms of reaching out for mentors for women living with disability that are appropriate to whatever their chosen career is… So I think that having those connections is something that maybe does lack and we’re really trying to foster different ways to grow those connections for the women who are in the Y Connect project.”
While there is still a long way to go, events like Headshot Day move us a little closer to levelling the playing field for women living with disability in the workforce.
So what would a level playing field even look like? Belle said it would mean accessibility descriptions in job ads so that people living with disability can tell if the job suits them or not. There would be wide understanding of the benefits of a diverse work place, particularly a workplace that includes women who live with disability. Everyone would have worked with, networked with and socialised with people living with disability. Employers and colleagues would not be phased or deterred by someone’s disability. Women living with disability wouldn’t face barriers because of their gender or disability, which is what the Y Connect team are working towards.
“And so it’s great that we do have this community of women who share these stories but in an ideal world we wouldn’t need it. We would have women with disabilities joining the Y and networking with each other for women’s empowerment but not needing that specific disability space because we’re not facing those initial barriers.”