#2 Meet Olivia: Be. Intern


Be. Intern Olivia MextedVictoria University Tourism Management student Olivia Mexted was one of the first interns on the Be. Employed Internship Programme, with a placement at CQ Hotels Wellington. We caught up with her to see how she’s getting along…

First, tell us a little about yourself.

I grew up in a small rural town in the Bay of Plenty, on a dairy farm with my parents and two older brothers. My oldest brother and I were both born with our sight condition (Achromatopsia) and were both mainstreamed throughout primary and secondary school. I’m about to complete my Honours in Tourism Management at Victoria University, with a focus on Access Tourism.

How did you first hear about Be. Employed?

I first heard about Be. Employed over a catch up lunch with Minnie, as I’d met her a few weeks previously and was extremely interested to hear what Be. was doing. She mentioned the programme as I was looking for job opportunities and it sounded like a great way of getting work experience in a sector I was interested in.

How did you find your internship? What did you do?

My internship took place at CQ Hotels in Wellington with my role covering sales, marketing and events. The staff were extremely welcoming and made me feel right at home. In terms of adaptions around the work place, I used a magnifier on my computer screen and was given an extra monitor for some tasks to make it easier on my eyes. If I required a break from straining my eyes on the computer they happily found me another task to perform. CQ was really accommodating and I really appreciated everything they did for me over those four months.

What were some of your key learnings from the internship?

One of my key learnings from the internship was independence. Once I learned the ropes they allowed me to be self-directed, but there was always someone around if I had questions. I also learned what it was like to work full-time, which was a struggle in the beginning! I got to see how a hotel functions and my passion for access tourism developed as I saw what CQ had already implemented around accessibility.

You spoke at the Our Place conference to share your story. How was that experience for you?

Months ago, I was asked by Be. if I would be willing to speak at the Our Place conference and share my story. At the time I thought it would be easy, but when it came to writing about it I kept thinking “Why people would want to hear about my life? I haven’t done anything special or significant.” I chose memories which I hoped others with disabilities would be able to relate to and judging by the outbursts of laughter from the crowd, I believe I achieved this. I was chuffed when people I’d never met came up to me afterwards to congratulate me and tell me they appreciated what I had to say. It was nerve-wracking, as the lights were bright on stage and I struggled to read my notes, but I made it through and was proud of myself for doing so!

What are you doing now, and what do you plan to do next?

I currently work part-time at the Tourism Export Council which has shown me another side of tourism and given me more contacts and knowledge in the industry. I am also in the early stages of my Honours dissertation on Access Tourism. I am planning to compile Best Practise examples who are already in the accessibility market and find out how they got there. The end of my studies are fast approaching so I’m thinking about career options and what to do next. My goal is to work within the disability sector but at this stage I’m unsure how to get there… watch this space!


#1 Sarah Mitchell: My Leadership Journey


It’s been a big 12 months for Be. Employed Programme Director Sarah Mitchell, as she rounds off her first year of placing interns into meaningful work environments. In this blog post, she reflects on life, experiences and leadership…

Sarah MitchellThe last decade of my life has been largely spent living in Asia and focussing on my family. During this time I have been on a leadership journey – one of motherhood, and being a role model for my children.  At the beginning of 2014 I felt significant change in the air and I was both terrified and excited.  Questions constantly filled my head; who would employ me, what would I do, could I be more the just a mother… was I a leader?

On May 1st 2014 I had the pleasure of hearing Minnie Baragwanath speak at a Human Resources Institute of New Zealand (HRINZ) presentation. I was immediately drawn to her warmth, passion and inspiring story.  I felt a real connection to Minnie. Our stories, though not identical were very similar indeed. Visually-impaired women having been categorised and stereotyped due to society’s preconceived ideas of what we can and cannot do.  This was not the model I subscribed to and as such I decided early on in my life that I would do and be the best I could, despite less than perfect vision.

From the initial meeting with Minnie I felt excitement – Be. Accessible was creating social change and empowering access citizens to reach their potential.  I left the event with a twinkle in my “good eye” and a skip in my stride, knowing that somehow I had to be part of this amazing team.

On the 1st of August 2014, three months after our initial meeting and after a couple of rounds of “horse trading”, I commenced employment with Be. Accessible as the Be. Employed Programme Director.  The evening before my first day at Be. it felt like Christmas Eve and as I walked through the doors to my new job, with friendly faces and sunshine streaming through the windows, I had an insight into what it must feel to win lotto.

Since joining the Be. Team, I have gained a newfound confidence, a feeling that was lost for many years.  Each day I am learning through an inspiring team, courageous conversations and a collaborative approach to 100% accessibility for all.  I have the most amazing job in the world; as the Be. Employed Programme Director I help to find meaningful internship placements for tertiary students with access needs – I get to change people’s lives, by giving them hope and allowing them to see their own true potential.
Sarah, far right, with participants from the Be. Employed pilot programme.If getting my dream job wasn’t enough, I really couldn’t believe it when I was accepted onto the 2015 Be. Leadership Programme.  This one year professional development programme is allowing me to explore new thinking around leadership, it has given me the inner strength to reflect on a number of difficult and confronting personal and professional questions and I have the privilege of hanging out for two to three days every month with the most amazing group of individuals who are all changing the world in some way.

To me, leadership is about creating an inspiring vision for the future. Whether this vision is for an entire nation or an individual, the essence is still the same.  A good leader must motivate and inspire parties to believe in themselves and the bigger picture.  Every day in every way, Be. Accessible and in particular Be. Leadership is challenging the old Sarah to look at situations and experiences through a new lens and is allowing me to develop both personally and professionally. I can’t wait to see where my path of leadership takes me.