Open­ing up to the boss about a dis­abil­ity

Working Mother - - Inclusion Index -

Rachel Ger­ring loved work­ing as an ac­coun­tant for pro­fes­sion­alser­vices firm EY’s au­dit prac­tice in Min­neapo­lis.

When her first child, El­iza, was born in 2007,

she took a four-month ma­ter­nity leave, and then went back to work. But af­ter a few months back, she knew some­thing was very wrong.

“I found my­self strug­gling to get out of bed in the morn­ing. Once I ar­rived at work, I would close the door and cry for 30 min­utes ev­ery morn­ing,” she re­calls. “I mus­cled through, but it was dif­fi­cult to get things done. I was in a dark place.”

No one at work raised any is­sues about her per­for­mance, but she knew she wasn’t right—on the job or at home. She started to see a coun­selor, who told her she had a se­ri­ous case of post­par­tum de­pres­sion and needed treat­ment, in­clud­ing a leave of ab­sence.

It was au­dit sea­son, the busiest time of the year for her team, and she felt as though she was aban­don­ing her co-work­ers, but she knew she had no choice.

Rachel is the main bread­win­ner in her fam­ily, so leav­ing the job wasn’t an op­tion. She de­cided to trust her boss, a man who had been her men­tor and her sup­porter. “I felt safe in telling him. I knew that he would be re­spect­ful of the in­for­ma­tion. He was in­cred­i­bly em­pa­thetic and just lis­tened in­tently. He told me he had no­ticed my weight loss but didn’t re­al­ize what was go­ing on,” she says.

He con­nected her with the EY As­sist pro­gram, and she was put on a four-month paid leave. While doctors were eval­u­at­ing her for an­tide­pres­sants, she found out she was preg­nant again.

“It was a dou­ble whammy, but I got through it.” She re­turned for a cou­ple of months, and then took an­other ma­ter­nity leave for her sec­ond daugh­ter, Willa.

The ther­apy and med­i­ca­tions saved her life— and her ca­reer; she was pro­moted to part­ner in 2013, and now is a part­ner with the firm’s South­east Re­gional Growth Mar­kets. She told a few close friends at work but didn’t share the story openly— be­cause, she says, “I didn’t know how peo­ple would look at me”—un­til two years ago, when EY started an aware­ness cam­paign on non-ap­par­ent dis­abil­i­ties, such as men­tal ill­ness. The pro­gram has two prongs: urg­ing em­ploy­ees with dis­abil­i­ties to con­sider self-iden­ti­fy­ing so they can get sup­port, and help­ing all em­ploy­ees un­der­stand how to start di­a­logues with peo­ple, es­pe­cially those with men­tal ill­ness, so they can help.

“I would like to think that it’s easy at EY, but it isn’t easy any­where when you are de­pressed. Putting on your shoes isn’t easy, let alone this. But at EY, our busi­ness is our peo­ple (as con­sul­tants), and we need our peo­ple to feel com­fort­able to be them­selves ev­ery day,” she says, re­fer­ring to the in­clu­sive en­vi­ron­ment at the or­ga­ni­za­tion that af­fects all em­ploy­ees.

Rachel Ger­ring

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