Kelsie joined Oracle Cloud Infrastructure as a Senior HR Business Partner just over six months ago. An exciting start to a new chapter punctuated by Zoom meetings, a flurry of introductions, and an armful of new responsibilities. Amidst at all, you wouldn’t know that Kelsie had a lot more on her plate than just a new job. Kelsie, and two of her three daughters, are living with invisible disabilities.
The start of something new
When Kelsie joined Oracle she had told very few people about this private part of her life, including her previous colleagues, and even some of her family. So it was with a little trepidation that she felt herself being drawn to a budding new group at work: the Oracle Diverse Abilities Network (ODAN).
“As a new employee I was looking through a lot of newsletters and emails that came out, and I saw one that was sharing this new ERG they wanted to start. It focused on employees with disabilities, and they were looking for leaders,” she begins. “So I threw my name in there and it really just kind of went from there. I learned a little bit more about it from D&I and then spoke to my manager about it. And that’s when it really took off, in that moment.”
The turning point
What Kelsie is describing is the chain of events that led her opening up to her new colleagues, a feat she had never dreamed of doing until then. She was in a small leadership meeting for ODAN when she first spoke about her Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), something which she’d been living with for five years. This act of bravery led her to share about her daughters too.
“My heart’s beating really fast,” Kelsie admits as she starts describing her family life to us. “My fifteen-year-old lives with epilepsy. We’re really grateful that—knock on wood—it doesn’t affect her on a daily basis. It’s under control. My eldest daughter, who’s going to be 17 soon, was diagnosed this past winter with end stage renal failure; kidney disease. We’ve gone through a number of surgeries and have pretty much lived at the hospital ever since her diagnosis,” she admits. “But what’s been amazing is watching how courageous she’s been. It’s happened so fast, and even though she’s struggled, it’s never held her back from moving forward, and I think that’s what’s been so impressive.”
Bravery inspires bravery
It definitely hadn’t been in Kelsie’s plans to fill her colleagues in about the more personal parts of her life. “It just happened,” she remembers. “Starting the ERG, connecting with employees, thinking about my daughters…I heard so many stories from parents, from caregivers, and employees who shared why they’ve been waiting for this ERG to be developed,” she continues, “And it’s all personal, that’s the amazing thing. It has nothing to do with work; people are just looking to connect. And what I heard in people’s stories was courage. I feel like there was something in me that needed to be ready and hearing their stories gave me the courage to get to that point.”
ODAN created the safe space for Kelsie that she didn’t know she’d been waiting for. “I only realized after that conversation; I haven't even known these people for four months! And I think that's why this ERG exists,” she observes. “It was so powerful for me that we had this in common, this need and desire to connect and support each other, whether we’re living with a disability or supporting someone with a disability, or just supporting disability awareness, we can all lean on each other. And that safe space happened organically. It just reinforces why I’m involved in this, and why I'm so excited to be a part of ODAN.”
Her mother’s influence
While Kelsie’s own children were what spurred her to join ODAN, her passion for helping others began long before they were born. “I grew up in Hawaii and my mom was a public school elementary teacher helping students with disabilities,” she recalls. “I spent a lot of time in her classroom helping her with the students, getting to know them, and really just learning about disabilities. I watched my mom advocate for students from a very deep, passionate place. Really that's where my love of advocacy comes from, where it started. Thanks to her classroom, whenever I think of advocacy I think of support and community. And that’s what’s needed for employees with disabilities everywhere, in every workplace.”
What ODAN means to people like Kelsie
It means a lot to Kelsie, given her personal background, to be part of building this inclusive space at Oracle. “Not only will I gain from it, it makes a huge company seem a lot smaller and more intimate. This is not something I’ve really talked about, ever,” she continues, “there are some family members that don’t even know. I would say it's impacted my life on a daily basis probably without even realizing it. But I've learned over time by having great support from friends, that there's things I can do—not to just live with it—but really flourish with a disability. A lot of it is about tools, resources, and support, which brings me back to the ERG. Not everyone has that support in and outside of work, and that's what I'm really hoping we can provide as a group.”
While Kelsie says ODAN is still in the early stages, they already have important goals in mind. The first step will be surveying employees. “We want to hear from our whole community: What’s important to them? Where do they think the gaps are? Where are the opportunities?” she lists. “I’ve heard there’s quite a bit of desire to learn more about accommodations and how to request them. We also want to offer disability awareness training and etiquette, specifically for leaders. All of our goals touch on how we can become more inclusive and educate ourselves so that we can really support our people.”
A life-long calling
Given Kelsie’s natural gift for helping others, it’s really no surprise that she’s blazing a trail for herself as a leader in HR. “I partner with and provide support for different organizations within Oracle Cloud Infrastructure,” she explains. “It could be anything from employee and labor relations, performance management, leadership development, to talent acquisition—anything that impacts our business and its people, HR business partners touch.”
When it comes to work culture, Kelsie says her experience of Oracle has been very warm and inclusive. “I think within any large company there's always cultures within the culture. When I think of the culture at Oracle, I think of my immediate team and the people I interact with every day. They’re the people that have the most impact on your experience as an employee,” she suggests.
“The surprising thing is that the majority of my team are new to the company, yet we’ve somehow managed to become really well acquainted with each other and feel truly comfortable, without ever meeting each other in person,” she says warmly. “Our team is a very unique, diverse group of people, and we go above and beyond to make sure that we’re all heard and that diverse perspectives are considered. OCI is taking a lot of intentional steps to make sure that we’re moving our inclusion journey forward, and I know Oracle is too.”
The secret to career growth when you’re taking the road less travelled
Listening to Kelsie speak about her story, it’s clear that if anyone can offer some sage career advice, it’s her. What words of wisdom can she share for people who are living and working with a disability?
“I’m really passionate about development, both personal and professional. So I’ll share the same advice that I would with any employee, with just a bit extra: I think it's about being authentic and listening to yourself in terms of what really matters to you, what you value, and what you’re passionate about. You can't go wrong when you follow the answers to those questions.”
Kelsie doesn’t skirt around the fact that living with a disability does change the way you have to approach things. “When you're living with a disability, I do think your path is different. You have to consider a lot of different things—I know I did,” she shares. “Even though I had a support system and an inclusive workplace, there's still that worry in the back of your head. You never know what people are thinking, and it’s the unknown that’s scary. That’s what takes courage,” she instructs. “You have to be able to lean on people for support, let them inspire you and give you the courage to put those worries aside—and say, you know what? I'm just going to go for it. Is it going to be hard? Yes. Is it possible that people might judge me? Of course. But I have aspirations just like anybody else, and when I talk to my daughters about their goals I want to be able to believe what I tell them about their epilepsy and kidney disease: Yes it's created a different path for you, but it’s not a lesser path, or a worse path, it's just a different path.”
How co-workers can learn to be more inclusive
On the flip side, can Kelsie share some insight into how her colleagues can be more inclusive of people who live with visible or invisible disabilities?
“I think it’s human nature to have judgments,” she observes. “We all have different experiences, whether it's formal training, knowing people with disabilities, or just hearing stories. But I would ask that people pause. You may think that you know someone’s disability or situation. But the reality is that you probably don’t,” she counters. “Everyone’s story is very unique. I know my daughter's kidney disease journey is very different from all the other kids who we see in dialysis every month. My journey with PTSD is very different from others. So I would ask that people pause judgement and ask questions. Ask if someone is open to you asking questions and learning about their story. Sometimes half the battle is just giving someone the space to share. From there hopefully comes empathy and compassion.”
Kelsie says she’s never opposed to people wanting to understand more about her. “I think it's a great way to connect,” she offers. “If it’s coming from a good place, which I feel like it usually is, nothing can go wrong in that conversation. We’re all going to make missteps whether we’re talking about disability, race, or ethnicity. But if we’re willing to learn from one another, we can work with that,” she emphasizes. “We can go from there.”
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Editor’s note: since the date of our original interview with Kelsie, her eldest daughter received a kidney transplant. We are pleased to share she is doing well!