For Bryan Lehane, there was a moment in March last year that changed his life. He was filling in an application to join Telstra’s graduate program, when he came across a box asking whether he lived with a disability.

“Normally I would never have ticked that box,” says Bryan. “But this time I did, and instantly I had this feeling of relief – that I was going to be able to talk about myself honestly, and be myself for the first time.”

Bryan lives with obsessive-compulsive disorder, a condition that has had him living with little rituals and habits and “checking everything 10 times” since he was a teenager. Although it can take him a while to leave the house, his OCD has also given him a meticulous level of organisation and attention to detail that have seen him hold various positions with three management consultancy firms.

But for the past 20 years, the 41-year-old father of two has hidden the condition that defines many aspects of his life.

So when Bryan joined Telstra as “the company’s oldest graduate” in February, it represented a rebirth for him – personally, professionally, and very profoundly. “I actually worked in the Telstra headquarters for five years as a project manager, but it was a role that didn’t really suit me,” says Bryan. “The role I’m doing now developing and testing software perfectly suits my personality and my aspirations, much more than anything I’ve done in the past… There are benefits to having a brain like mine, and this job lets me put those qualities to good use.”

Rapport and trust

In 2017, Telstra committed to have people with disability make up at least 10% of our graduate intake – a target that the company has hit for the past four years. This year, Telstra is increasing this target to have a minimum of 12% of the 2023 graduate cohort identifying as living with a disability.

It’s a figure that makes Megan Haren, diversity and inclusion lead for the graduate program, incredibly proud. “You can’t just ask someone to disclose their disability, unless you’ve built that rapport and trust, and shown how you intend to support them,” says Megan.

“If you have a medical appointment, of course you have to go. If you need specific working conditions, or a technology to make your working life easier, no problem. Let’s set you up so you can truly thrive!”

When Megan meets the new graduates for the first time, she describes herself as “a loving and interfering mum” – and, she says, there’s usually an instant rapport. “We make sure our grads know they always have a safe space to land. It’s up to them what they want to share. We’ll support them with working aids, assistive tech, help their managers support them better.

“Most graduates just want a bit of love and support – they don’t need masses of assistive tech or major workplace adaptations.”

Elizabeth Neal, who joined Telstra this year as a data analyst specialising in cybersecurity, has no issues talking about her dyslexia and ADHD; sometimes, she says, they really do feel like a bit of a gift. “As a kid, people used to think I was off with the fairies,” says Elizabeth. “I couldn’t read a book until I was 11 – but I used to be able to remember them word for word by looking at the pictures. But then when I was diagnosed, it all made sense.”

Elizabeth, 23, says her strong memory and pattern-recognition skills led her naturally to a statistics degree, and then last year to a Certificate IV in cybersecurity. “Now I have a job that helps me put my skills for finding and analysing patterns to good use, helping people avoid scams and recognise suspicious things online.

“I feel that what I’m doing is so meaningful, really helping people – especially vulnerable people. I’ve been vulnerable before, and I know how important the support can be.”