How I came to Dow Europe

portrait picture of Deborah (Picture: Deborah Stettler)
Her coworker like Deborah for her fun-loving and friendly manner (Picture: Deborah Stettler)

Deborah Stettler met many obstacles while looking for a job, despite their excellent qualifications - because of their disability. But when she attended the first Applicant Workshop of Dow Europe and the MyHandicap in 2010, things started to change for good.

Thanks to the Applicant Workshop and her open and friendly manner, Deborah Stettler finally found a job at Dow Europe after a long job hunt. More than that: "The workshop was a great blessing for me, at last an opportunity to exchange with other affected people!"

Deborah Stettler was born with Roberts syndrome. For her, the syndrome affects her arms – they are not fully grown and she wears a hearing aid. Unlike many of other Roberts affected people, Deborah’s organs are all intact. Her disability never was a real limitation for herself but for her job search.

"There I want to work"

Deborah knew the company Dow long before as she grew up in Horgen, Switzerland, where the European headquarters of the company is located. "I assumed that as an American company, Dow might be more open minded towards people with disabilities" She was right. But getting there was a long journey.

Deborah spent the early years of schooling in private school but after primary, she wanted to go to the public school. In a class with 20 other students, it was a very great challenge for the hard of hearing young girl. But not she was overwhelmed but her teacher who did not respond to her needs; why Deborah decided to terminate the secondary level in a private school.

"In hindsight, I wish I had more courage and would have made the teachers realise that my individual needs were no special favours’ and I had a right to get them," Deborah regrets today.

Labeled as unsuitable

It went on rocky. Looking for an apprentice position, she was told by the Swiss disabled assurance that she would not be really qualified for an office job, and gave her little chance of a successful education in the public sector. "Fortunately, we learned that there was a vocational school for hearing impaired," says Deborah. After a meeting with the rector, it was clear that she was in fact quite suitable for the school as well as for an apprenticeship.

So Deborah went looking for an apprentice position. After 135 applications and some unpleasant job interviews, she finally received her apprentice position as a clerk in Zurich. After the apprenticeship, she went abroad, taking a language course in Nice and travelled for three months in the United States after passing her professional exams.

Adventure Job Search

Equipped with A-levels, completed apprenticeship and good language skills, Deborah eventually went on search for a permanent position. But it quickly turned into an adventure with lots of downs and one rejection after another. At the beginning, she mentioned her disability in her application letters but was never invited to an interview.

"It was very difficult for me to find the right words to describe my disability, so that it would not be regarded as a problem." Finally, she did not mention the disability any longer and sure enough, she was invited to interviews.

"In order not to surprise the human resources manager too much, I mentioned my disability immediately after the interview was arranged." The reactions were positive for the most part but still Deborah did never get past the interview.

Deborah in the water (Picture: Deborah Stettler)
The avid swimmer gives her all in the water (Picture: Deborah Stettler)

Chance at the applicant workshop

"At this time I got a hint by the ministry to the unemployed that Dow Europe is open to people with a disability and I should try my luck there.“ What she did.

She sent an unsolicited application to Dow and mentioned, despite their negative experience, her disability. At the same time, she discovered the Foundation MyHandicap and as luck would have it, the Foundation just organised an Applicant Workshop in September 2010 together with Dow.

"This was my chance!" recalls Deborah and took it “because I often felt misunderstood in my search for a job and did not quite know how I could prevail in spite of my disability to get a job."

The Applicant Workshop proved to be a blessing for the young woman. Exchanging with other affected persons made her regaining her strength: "And to hear about a company for which disability is totally unimportant as long as the person is able to perform successfully!"

Feelings of success at the workshop

In addition, she immediately felt at this workshop that both Dow and MyHandicap saw the participants as valuable potential applicants and employees and would not reduce them to their disabilities or to any potential problems.

"We were just normal people. At last!” said Deborah. "I had already given up that there were companies like Dow," However, at the workshop she learned what really matters for Dow - namely, the abilities of a person and not their disabilities.

Disability as an opportunity

"I can only say that this workshop helped me a lot and I think it was what I had been looking for for months; a setting in which people with disabilities could learn how they can sell themselves well and their disabilities."

At Dow Europe Deborah's disability was considered as an opportunity because the company counts on diversity. A global company cannot afford not to be divers, explains Dow.

Christmas present employment

But unfortunately, at that time, there were no suitable positions available. However, Dow kept Deborah’s records and assured her that it could change fast and new possibilities would come. In fact, this was the case in December; Deborah was asked for a temporary position.

"I introduced myself to my current work colleagues, and I knew after five minutes that I want to get into this team." tells Deborah. The gift came just in time for Christmas: Deborah received the job.

"In January 2011, I took my place, which was initially limited to the end of June. But it was all very clear that I would not stay only six months.” The contract was extended and finally Deborah received a permanent position.

School of Life

The long and hard way was a good lesson for Deborah. "I have experienced at lot and when looking back, I am very grateful to have experienced all these things, even if they were not nice."

Deborah shared her experience with the participants at the third Applicant Workshop in March 2012.

"The participants were as thrilled as I was and they could hardly believe that companies like Dow really would exist." But for Dow Europe and the Foundation MyHandicap, the person counts – with his/her abilities rather than the disabilities.

We thank Deborah Stettler for sharing her story and we wish her all the best at Dow Europe.

Text: M. Plattner - 04/2012

Translation: MPL - 07/2012

Pictures: Deborah Stettler