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From prison to the boardroom: a lesson in embracing diversity

When completing an application for a new position, you’re required to address why you are the most qualified person for the role.

Your education, work history and personal achievements are commonly requested, but not your age, criminal history (if you have one), relationship status and sexual preference.

However, unfortunately, these factors are too often considered by prospective employers when assessing your ability to perform a role. This is a stigma Roger Antochi, GM of Talent RISE, is familiar with.

Roger Talent RISE

A difficult start

Roger’s story starts with parental neglect and leads to depression, drug abuse, homelessness and imprisonment. But that’s not where it ends – something a handful of employers, mentors and Antochi himself helped realise.

“By the age of fourteen, I was homeless,” he says. “My mother was addicted to alcohol and gambling and wasn’t around very often.

“I was still going to school as this was the only way I could find somewhere to sleep each night. When I couldn’t stay with a mate, I slept on the street.”

With little support or guidance, Roger turned to drugs. It was his attempt to cope with a life devoid of love, warmth, shelter and food.

“I started with cannabis then moved on to harder stuff,” he says. “I became addicted to ice and once spent 21 days straight awake and high.

“I committed petty crime to fund my habit, but it soon escalated to armed robbery. I was in prison by my eighteenth birthday.”

Life experience is a benefit

On his release from jail, Roger completed a Diploma of Alcohol and other Drugs at TAFE. The following year, he completed a Diploma of Community Welfare and a Certificate IV in Assessment and Training. Witnessing his passion and dedication, his teacher offered him a job. Roger quickly became one of the most popular teachers on campus given his personal experience.

Today, Roger is the General Manager of Talent RISE, a charitable foundation working with vulnerable youth to address the unemployment crisis through training, mentoring and job placement.

The simple truth

While he acknowledges employers are starting to consider the benefits of diversity, Roger believes there is still a long way to go.

“We all have a story to tell when it comes to our lives – some good, others not,” he says.

“There’s no doubt employers are more supportive and accepting of a diverse workforce now than they were a decade ago. But most are still too quick to judge. They’re scared to learn how your history can be an asset.”

For Roger, personal experience with the issues youth face today is an advantage in his field – but only to those companies willing to embrace and leverage his skills.

“An employer who hires – or doesn’t hire – someone based on their history alone, is not smart. And they don’t have the best interest of their company in mind,” he says. “2018 must be the year that individuals and companies embrace diversity.”

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