Last Friday, AllOut Marketing was featured on the Need to Know Rochester program produced by WXXI, a PBS affiliate in Rochester, New York. The topic was close to our heart: underutilized talent among deaf professionals in Rochester.
Rochester is known for its large deaf community, with the nation’s highest number per capita of working-age deaf and hard-of-hearing adults. AllOut Marketing opened a location in Rochester in 2010 and, having had the pleasure of working with deaf professionals since 1997 throughout the US, we looked forward to networking with the Rochester community.
A Perplexing Discovery
As we networked and volunteered in the Rochester community, we made a startling discovery: only a few deaf professionals appeared to be gainfully employed outside academia. In fact, we frequently found ourselves volunteering alongside very capable and talented, yet unemployed or underemployed, professionals.
Considering the size of the deaf Rochester community, where were all the gainfully employed deaf professionals outside academia? And why are there so many highly qualified deaf professionals outside Rochester wanting to move back, yet can’t? Why is the Rochester business community not utilizing the talent in their own backyard? Those were the questions we explored as we got to know Rochester better.
After AllOut Marketing exhibited at a local job fair for deaf professionals last fall, we found ourselves inundated with high-quality résumés. We also noted that we were one of very few local businesses at the fair.
We decided to do something about it.
Getting on TV
We connected with WXXI and presented this issue. Alicia Lane-Outlaw, our chief creative officer – herself deaf – did an initial radio interview via an interpreter. WXXI then decided this issue was important enough to feature us and others on their Need to Know Rochester program.
We worked closely with WXXI to assemble a panel of deaf professionals, including our new marketing director, Adrianna Smart. In putting this program together, we provided much background information, and connected WXXI with additional resources.
Unfortunately, due to logistical difficulties, some of the panelists’ key points were lost in translation. We are providing an updated transcript below that more accurately reflects the messages conveyed by the panelists.
Panel Discussion Insights: Transcript
ELISSA: Just to follow up on that report, we’re joined by members of Rochester’s deaf and hard of hearing community. We’re going to talk about the issue from a variety of perspectives. Adrianna Smart works at AllOut Marketing. She’s a marketing director there and has experience in a range of corporate settings, including Birds Eye Foods and Excellus Blue Cross-Blue Shield. Davin Searls is the Executive Director of the nonprofit organization Discovering Deaf Worlds that advocates for people in the deaf and hard of hearing world. Thank you. And Brian Milburn has a Ph.D. and is a lecturer at NTID. He wants to encourage entrepreneurship among NTID graduates. I’ll start with you, Brian. We heard in that story what could be happening in the Rochester area in terms of the economy. Do you think that young people are leaving the area; the deaf and hard of hearing community members are leaving the area?
BRIAN: For Generation Y deaf people, many are leaving Rochester. After they graduate from RIT/NTID, they realize that there’s nothing there in terms of jobs. So they aren’t interested in staying in Rochester, and leave en masse.
ELISSA: Is it strictly because of jobs — Two questions: Is it strictly because of jobs that you think it’s happening? And also, there’s been a lot of flight in general in the upstate area by young people, so is this also just part of that same migration trend of young people getting educated here and then leaving?
BRIAN: Yeah, really it’s both hearing and deaf. I believe that it’s not just related to jobs, but also related to transportation. Rochester has an inherent reliance upon cars, and it happens that Generation Y people are resistant to cars. That affects both hearing and deaf worlds.
ELISSA: All right. Adrianna Smart, talk about this from a corporate perspective a little bit. You’re in the corporate world and have a long history in the corporate world. Do you feel that you face resistance — that the deaf and hard of hearing community face resistance from employers in a stressful economic situation? Do you think that’s happening here?
ADRIANNA: Yes, I do. Many companies right now are faced with, and are trying to figure out, this issue. There are so many qualified candidates applying for the same jobs. Deaf, hard of hearing and hearing people are applying, so companies have a large pool of qualified candidates for the same jobs. But on the flip side, large companies are aware of diversity, so they need to figure out who’s the most qualified and/or meet their diversity needs. The key thing here is to network in Rochester. Deaf and hard of hearing people need to know and figure out a way or strategy that will help them land that job.
ELISSA: So you’re saying the issue is really more of an issue of getting good candidates in front of employers, it’s not that employers are reluctant. Is that fair to say?
ADRIANNA: Large companies are faced with a large qualified pool of candidates. They’re trying to figure out whom to hire, and they may be resistant to hiring deaf and hard of hearing candidates in some ways. It’s really hard to say. I think that is more of a challenge for them there. I see a mixture of it right now.
ELISSA: As a member of the business community, what do you hear? What do you hear from people? What do they say about their… about… companies say about struggling with this? Do they talk to you about it?
ELISSA: Can you repeat your question? The large companies, they’re struggling with what? —
ELISSA: Yes, when you were at Birds Eye, when you were at Excellus, and other local companies, did people express their struggle to find candidates and work really hard to make sure that they have the diversity in their workforce of deaf and hard of hearing people? Is it a struggle for them?
ADRIANNA: Well, they’re trying to find qualified candidates to fill their positions. For a deaf person, it’s a challenge because they need to show themselves as highly capable in doing the job, and try to beat out others. It’s much more competitive.
ELISSA: All right. Davin, let me talk to you about this a little bit. Your organization works in an international context, and of course when people are young and just out of school, most of our story is focusing on recent graduates. The sensibility about getting out in the world, traveling about, moving around a little bit,… I guess my question is: Is it such a bad thing for somebody to leave their community when they’re right out of school and gain some experience? Why is the issue of employment so important in this community?
DAVIN: I’m a big believer of real world experience – going out and seeing the world. So the fact that some people are leaving is not necessarily a bad thing. Then, are they coming back? That’s the key question here, because it seems that they’re not really motivated to come back again. Rochester has a wonderful community, and when out and about, you meet random people. In the store for example, people who sign or who can finger spell. It’s a great welcoming feeling, but as far as jobs are concerned, whether or not people come back for those jobs is questionable.
ELISSA: All right. Do you think there’s a certain time in their life when they may consider coming back? Is it more about life stage or is it about the community itself, the things it has to offer beyond just the deaf and hard of hearing community?
DAVIN: Hmmm, I think it depends. For myself, I grew up here in Rochester. I left for college, and I never thought I would come back to Rochester. It’s a typical story, you know, a young person who leaves home feeling like they’ve had enough of that place, but I came back and I set up an international, non-profit organization here, rather than in New York City or D.C., because of the Deaf community here. Our roots are tied to the Deaf community in Rochester, and that beats New York City or D.C. for that very reason.
ELISSA: All right. Adrianna, let me ask you another question about employment now. You mentioned that employers are looking for the most qualified candidates. Are there misperceptions about how to find qualified candidates and how to get to people who may be qualified who are deaf and hard of hearing? Do you sense that business may have misconceptions about where it’s like to work with or have a deaf or hard of hearing person on staff?
ADRIANNA: I think some companies do have misconceptions of what’s it like to work with a deaf person. They’re not sure how to communication would flow in the workplace and how the person may adapt to fit their corporate culture. So companies need to know or accept that they’re hiring someone who is culturally different. Communication is easy to fix, so when they hire someone who comes into the workplace, they have to embrace the fact and be ready to be open to the fact that the person will be able to add a unique perspective to the workplace, and help them problem-solve, which is a great thing.
ELISSA: How have you experienced, in your work experience,.. How have you experienced that growth, that getting to know somebody, that getting to know each other and the sort of growth within a company?
ADRIANNA: Well, it’s been a great opportunity for me to go into various companies where I’ve worked and networked a lot. I talked with a lot of people within and outside my teams. The bonus of working for marketing/communication field, is that you work on a lot of cross-functional teams in different areas. There are opportunities for me to email, talk with people in the hallways, and chat online. That helps open doors for me. I proactively pursued volunteer assignments at work and found ways to educate my colleagues, used humorous stories to break down barriers – anything to get people comfortable in working with me. I try to find ways to help problem-solve as well.
ELISSA: Right, so even as a job candidate it’s important, probably, to say I really want to get involved, just like any other candidate.
ADRIANNA: Exactly. Be proactive within the work environment. Definitely.
ELISSA: All right. Brian, you’re on the ground at NTID. We heard some cautious optimism from the students that were in the story that Kate reported about job prospects, but we also know that many graduates are becoming more entrepreneurial in general. They’re getting on-line startups; they’re working in an area to try and encourage each other and to become more entrepreneurial. How do you feel about that issue at NTID among graduates from there? How do you encourage entrepreneurship just as it’s encouraged in every other community?
BRIAN: Well, I think encouraging entrepreneurship for deaf people in Rochester would be an awesome thing. It would be a catalyst for further revitalization of Rochester itself. To invest in deaf people and their entrepreneurship, would bring a big impact on Rochester. It would encourage more deaf people to choose to stay. Rochester is an awesome place for deaf people. Many hearing people know how to work with deaf people; we shouldn’t miss that opportunity.
ELISSA: All right. Let’s talk a little bit about technology. This is one I want answered. How has technology helped any one of you overcome obstacles you might have faced in your business, in your careers? Adrianna?
ADRIANNA: Using technology has helped me overcome many issues. I find technology has helped me opened communication between colleagues. Using technology has also helped me connect with others who are familiar with technology and finding those who are comfortable in communicating with me through emails, instant messaging, or through Skype. I had also used technology to help the team as well.
DAVIN: Yes, I’d like to add that technology really does make a situation that people might perceive as impossible, possible.
ELISSA: Give me an example.
DAVIN: For example, there are Deaf truck drivers. Truckers use CB radios to communicate with each other, but now we have the technology to translate what’s being spoken to a text message, putting Deaf people on equal ground. Another important component is not just the technology but the humans who use that technology; they must be willing to use it and willing to interact with each other. We need both hand-in-hand.
ELISSA: All right. This is a question for either Davin or Brian. Can you give us a sense… I guess we’ll start with Davin because you have an international context. Even though we’re struggling here with the economy, we’re struggling with jobs, would you say we’re better or worse off here than… compared to other countries who are producing really skilled deaf and hard of hearing graduates?
DAVIN: I’ve been to other countries where there are fully Deaf-run restaurants, or in China, Deaf-run massage clinics. So, I’ve seen Deaf people become entrepreneurs and excelling in different ways, in different countries. There’s no doubt it’s possible, but it hasn’t fully taken place here yet. When’s the last time you saw a Deaf waiter or cashier here in Rochester? We don’t see Deaf people in these jobs often- but they can excel.
ELISSA: All right. And you’re shaking your head, Brian.
BRIAN: Let’s think about cities where most residents know at least the signed ABC’s – where are they? Rochester is that city, one city by itself. There’s no other countries that have cities with the same unique situation. Sweden comes close, I’d say, but the country’s not there yet. Rochester is unique, a “shining city” in this world, and we need to take advantage of that.
ELISSA: All right. And we have a couple minutes left. Let me just start with Brian. In terms of some of the students we saw in the story, the people coming out of school, what’s your best piece of advice for them in terms of getting themselves in front of employers? What are the biggest hurdles they face and what would you say to them?
BRIAN: Ah, my advice to those students. I would say to network as much as they can. Educate other hearing people how to interact the best way possible with them, and you can even teach people some sign language. When you meet hearing people, you can teach them some sign language. Also, meet as many hearing people and deaf people as possible. Deaf people should brainstorm together on how to develop connections, develop employment, and put investment back into the community.
ELISSA: And Davin, you’re going like this, and Adrianna, you’re in agreement too?
ADRIANNA: Yes. Graduates need to recognize that most of Rochester’s economic growth is from the small businesses. They should actively network within the community and find out who the key players are, whether the CEOs, VPs, and show them what they are capable of. Get someone to vouch for them is the key to networking well within Rochester. They need to creatively strategize with their networks. Also from the flip side, small businesses need to be open to hiring diverse candidates. Research shows that diverse teams help companies become very successful.
ELISSA: All right. And Adrianna, you have the last word. Adrianna Smart, Davin Searls and Brian Milburn, thanks for talking to us today about this issue.
Special thanks to Brian Milburn, Davin Searls, and Adrianna Smart for assistance with the transcript.