"Oh no,” the recruiter exclaimed over the phone during my job interview.
Up until that moment, the conversation had progressed extremely well. I was about to be connected to the hiring manager at a financial data and technology firm. The tone changed in an instant, as if I’d mentioned interning for Bernie Madoff or demanded access to the corporate jet. But I’d said something worse: I have a disability, and asked what accommodations might be available, such as telecommuting. “We… we can’t offer any accommodation,” the recruiter stammered. Before I could respond, she gave me a curt goodbye and hung up.
I have spinal muscular atrophy. Due to my neurological condition, I need certain assistive technology tools and accommodations to work. If you’re like most of the recruiters and financial managers who interviewed me in 2013–14, you just stopped reading this article and tapped your browser’s back button.
If you’re still reading, thank you. These are my experiences as a disabled investment professional.
Since I completed my master’s in finance over six years ago, I’ve been interviewed for many jobs in the investment industry and related niches. Only one of those interviews, which was for an unpaid internship, led to any actual employment in finance. That particular internship evolved into an equity research associate position — a job that was eliminated within a year when the firm downsized.
You might be thinking I’ve identified an HR problem instead of a flaw in the culture of finance. My experience, however, indicates the hesitancy to hire the disabled is primarily a finance issue. While I was sometimes nixed as a candidate by recruiters and HR employees, as in my opening story, I frequently passed the initial interview only to be told that a firm’s partners or a department manager vetoed hiring me.
I recall one very positive interview with a real estate investment firm that was looking for someone to manage their financial models, one of my strengths. The HR manager said she would recommend me for the position as a telecommuter. I just needed to A) match my work hours to theirs (I’m in Virginia and the firm was in California) and B) visit the main office on the coast for meetings and “team-building” one week a year. I happily accepted those conditions, as visions of surf and sand danced through my head. “It’s important that you and the rest of the team feel connected,” the HR manager explained. She proceeded to describe the typical end-of-meeting-week party, which must have been quite an experience… and a hefty bar tab.
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