A disability doesn't have to hold you back from being the best in banking. Darren Dunne tells Katie Morley about life as a deaf person at Nomura.
When I look back at my past, and the barriers that people with disabilities faced when I was growing up, I can see that there was a lot of discrimination. People couldn't achieve a lot if they were deaf back then. Now things are different. We've broken those barriers, and times have changed for the better. I'm from a deaf family and both my mother and father are deaf. But my sister can hear - she's actually an interpreter. We lived in Ireland for most of my childhood and at the time they were very much behind Britain in terms of disability awareness. So when I finally moved to Britain, I changed a lot - partly because there are many more opportunities here for me than there were in Ireland.
As a kid, I never thought I'd be where I am today, working in an investment bank - but I really do believe that anything is possible. Awareness is spreading throughout society about all sorts of disabilities, and this can only lead to things improving. Deaf people are achieving more and more all the time. I studied Accountancy and Finance at City University in Dublin, and originally wanted to become an accountant because I'm fascinated by numbers. However, once I left university and had a taste of what accountancy is like, I wasn't keen at all. You wake up every day and know exactly what you were going to be doing - and that's not exciting enough for me. I love banking because it's very performance-driven and involves working with high levels of risk. I've been with Nomura for five years now, as a business analyst within Operations. I have to be constantly on the ball and able to come up with new solutions to problems. For example, three years ago I had an idea for a new method that we could use to identify risks. It was a great feeling knowing that I'd come up with it .
Sometimes people ask me whether I feel like I've had to work harder to prove myself because I'm deaf - and it's true, I do think I have had to. The normal time to arrive in the office in the morning is half past eight. But I arrive at half past seven - always at least one hour early. I do it because I need enough time to check emails, and to plan my day. I receive so many emails, which is hard because English is not my first language - sign language is. So I need extra time to sort them out. I do exactly the same work as other people - it's just that I do it in a slightly different way to them. For example, I can't communicate on the phone, but that doesn't matter because we have our own version of MSN Messenger in the office. I do have to put that extra mile in to keep up with things, but my colleagues don't see me as different
There are two major challenges for a deaf person in the workplace. The first is the shortage of interpreters . In London, there are only around 30-40 interpreters for every 1000 deaf people, so they're really difficult to get hold of. Often, you try to reserve an interpreter, and they're all booked up. I have to think three months in advance to be able to get one. Another problem with interpreters is that they find it pretty difficult to pick up the banking jargon. If I have a meeting, I have to brief them with the vocabulary a long time beforehand, as they can find it a bit mind-boggling! The government pay for disabled people in the workplace to have ten hours of interpreter time a week, and your company have to pay once you use up more than 15. But I don't think this is anywhere near enough - 20 hours would be a better allowance in my opinion.
Meetings are the second aspect of work that can pose difficulties for me as there's a lot of presentations and talking to clients involved. I've had situations where my interpreter has cancelled or been late, the client has arrived, and I've had to delay the meeting. It looks bad, but there's little you can do about it. Internal meetings are much more flexible though, as people here have had deaf awareness training so they know about sit-in interpreters - if there's no interpreter, they'll delay the meeting.
Nomura have been really supportive about my disability in general. They gave me a Blackberry handset that would usually only be given to senior management so that I can look through my emails if I haven't had time to do so during the day, and if there was an emergency they would be able to immediately contact me through this technology. If I ever need anything to support my disability, I just ask and it's usually approved. I know that there are a list of several people at Nomura with disabilities, but when I look around, I don't know who all of them are. When you look at me, you would think I was hearing - and there are a lot of other people with hidden disabilities just like mine. But I think the fact that we don't stand out is a really good sign. I like to get involved with activities here at the firm - we arranged a five- a side football game that takes place twice a month - they're really flexible about letting you do things like that.
The number one thing you need as a disabled person working in a bank is confidence. It doesn't matter what people think, as long as your approach to life and to people is good. You have to be able to motivate yourself - and then you'll naturally gain the support of others. Always remember that it doesn't matter if you ask stupid questions - if you're not sure about something, just ask. I don't just sit and wait for people to tell me how to do things. Everyone here is extremely approachable and friendly anyway, but I'm a confident person and I'm not afraid to talk to people when I need something. I set up a sign language course here at Nomura to teach my colleagues the basics, which turned out to be very popular. I wasn't expecting such a huge response from them - and they learned so quickly. Now I arrive at work and they sign to me: "Good morning" and "How was your weekend?" They make such a difference to my working day. It's absolutely brilliant.