Pam Bingham, Senior Program Manager for the Diversity, Equity & Inclusion in Tech team at Intuit, shares her personal story of navigating long COVID symptoms at work. She also gives thoughtful tips on how HR leaders can support employees with disabilities from underrepresented groups and shares advice for anyone experiencing long COVID in the workplace.
Pam Bingham: [00:00:00.15] My calendar was everything to me. I calendared everything. Stand up, drink water. I had post-its all over the place because I wanted to make sure that I didn’t forget to a) take care of myself and b) to not forget. So really being able to restructure your position if you don’t work at home to maybe work from home, those are helpful tools, but certainly take it one day at a time and try not to be so hard on yourself because that’s really what we do. We are always so hard on ourselves when it’s not our fault.
Intro: [00:00:36.84] Welcome to the Workology Podcast, a podcast for the disruptive workplace leader. Join host Jessica Miller-Merrell, founder of Workology.com, as she sits down and gets to the bottom of trends, tools and case studies for the business leader, HR And recruiting professional who is tired of the status quo. Now here’s Jessica with this episode of Workology.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:01:02.13] This episode of the Workology podcast is part of our Future of Work series at Peat, the Partnership on Employment and Accessible Technology. PEAT works to start conversations around how emerging workplace technology trends are impacting people with disabilities. The Workology podcast is sponsored by Upskill HR and ACE the HR exam. Today I’m joined by Pam Bingham. She’s the Senior Program Manager for the Diversity Equity and Inclusion in Tech team at Intuit. Pam is responsible for developing, designing and executing programs to increase representation in tech for underrepresented groups across the company’s global development sites. Pam, welcome to the Workology Podcast.
Pam Bingham: [00:01:43.47] Thank you so much, Jessica. Thank you for having me.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:01:45.84] Absolutely. Let’s talk a little bit about your background. I want to hear more about it. And how did you get involved in workplace diversity, equity and inclusion, which is also known as D, E and I?
Pam Bingham: [00:01:56.37] A couple of years ago I joined a company ERG, one of our employee resource groups, Intuit African Ancestry Network. And through that partnership, I was exposed to a lot of the DE&I principles and programs and initiatives that the company has and has continued to build on. I was, I was aware of DEI, but I didn’t know as much as I have come to know, considering that especially my first role here at Intuit was I managed a team of bookkeepers on our QuickBooks live site, prior to this current role that I’m in.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:02:36.87] I know many companies have started to add an A for accessibility when they’re talking about the DE&I. So, it’s DEIA initiatives. Has this changed or shaped your role in any way?
Pam Bingham: [00:02:48.99] Well, interesting. It’s, I hadn’t even thought about the A. And I admit that. Prior to attending CSUN’s assistive technology conference, I was in one of the sessions and it was a focus on DEI and education. And someone said, DEI, don’t forget about the A and then explained that. And it was eye opening to me. Why are we not specifically addressing the abilities space as it relates to diversity, equity and inclusion? So, for me, and one of the things that I was, really shared with the team when, when I first took on this role that I’m in, is that we can’t forget about the A. We really do need to consider the A in our discussions and, not just discussions, but really need to be intentional in ensuring that we’re including everyone in this space. I’m kind of excited about that, that discovery, because since that time in March, I’ve been thinking, this is how I refer to DE&I plus A. Don’t forget the A. So, I love it.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:04:07.23] And that’s a lot of what we do here with our work here with the PEAT team is making sure that we’re letting people know about the A and people with disabilities and accessibility and how that’s an important part of your DEIA programs.
Pam Bingham: [00:04:22.65] Correct.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:04:23.37] I want to talk a little bit about long COVID, because that’s what the topic of today’s podcast is about. So, can you talk a little bit about what long COVID is and what the realization was? What was that realization that you had when you had long COVID? What was that like for you personally?
Pam Bingham: [00:04:41.61] Sure. Okay. Starting with what the World Health Organization, how they describe it, they describe long COVID as post-COVID-19 condition, which occurs in individuals with a history of probable, and I’m air quoting this, probable or confirmed SARS-CoV-2 infection and, and part of their description is it usually happens three months from the onset of COVID and lasts for no more than two months or so, but cannot be explained or any particular alternative diagnosis. I had COVID in ‘21 in January. ‘21 is when I, it was really clear that I had it. And I had the respiratory issues. It was difficult to, to walk. The breathing was so difficult. When I walked, it was just like I was carrying a giant brick on my chest. But one of the, one of the areas that I found confusing was the confusion. I just couldn’t form sentences. I couldn’t, I couldn’t get my thoughts together. Initially, I work at home, so initially it was like, I’m just going to work at home. I was managing a team at the time of, I don’t know, 25, 30 people. And I’ll just work, I’ll just work through it. Well, when I finally made the decision not to work through it is when I couldn’t form a sentence and I could not be an effective manager and manage the team because I couldn’t think. Well, that’s great, yay, we’re recovering from COVID.
Pam Bingham: [00:06:14.25] But I still couldn’t think and I was still confused. And so, really part of the, I would imagine anyone who’s had COVID or knew someone who’s had COVID has done some type of research to figure out well, what does it mean? Do I have it or how do you know if you’ve got it? And that’s one of the things I did and I learned of the long COVID or the long haulers, as they called it. This was one of the symptoms, and it lasted for me about four months or so. And if I’m being honest, every once in a while, I still find myself trying to make sure that I don’t get lost in my thoughts or the confusion. So, I really try to intentionally make sure that the brain fog is not a permanent issue here. Although my kids will tell you it’s not brain fog. You’ve always been that way. But yeah.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:07:07.84] That’s not nice.
Pam Bingham: [00:07:09.94] No. Well, no, it isn’t. But those are my kids, and they kind of keep me grounded.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:07:15.25] That is true. Well, thank you for sharing your experience, because maybe some of what employees have been experiencing, or even if those listening have had COVID and they’ve suddenly had some of these symptoms, it could be long COVID. So, I think it’s important to share so that we can, we can understand for ourselves and, and for our team. I wanted to ask you to talk to us a little bit about how long COVID could be considered a disability and the kinds of support employees may need.
Pam Bingham: [00:07:50.83] I think more than considered, I think it actually is a disability. Now, keep in mind, what I’ve determined, or not what I’ve determined, what I’ve shared is that my biggest concern was the brain fog. But I also, following COVID, have been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, which I’ve never had a conversation about that ever from a doctor, any pre-diabetes or anything like that. So that happened post COVID. So, there are other issues that can occur or other health issues that can occur following COVID. And I just mentioned one, two actually. So those are disabilities. I mean, diabetes is a clear disability. Brain fog, the neurological issues, sometimes they’re considered short term because it usually is something that can reverse, usually, although even disability, I mean, diabetes could, it could get better. And you can be in a position where you’re not in an active state. But yes, those are disabilities and they disable. They make a difference in your life. And these are autoimmune conditions. So, it’s important to understand that, under the ADA, there’s section 504 and Section 1557 that can help employees that are experiencing any of these types of issues to be able to self-identify or identify that they are disabled, whether it’s temporary or not, and let their employers know.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:09:30.46] Thank you for sharing. And, in the resources section of this particular episode of the Workology podcast, I am going to share a interview with Susan Mazrui from AT&T. We talked first about long COVID last year and then some resources from PEAT about long COVID and workplace accessibility. So, if maybe this is new news to you, there are resources there, as you are thinking about conversations with employees.
Break: Let’s take a reset. This is Jessica Miller-Merrell, and you are listening to the Workology podcast sponsored by ACE the HR exam and Upskill HR. Today we are talking with Pam Bingham. She’s the senior program manager for the Diversity Equity and Inclusion in Tech team at Intuit. This podcast is sponsored by Workology and it is part of our Future of Work series, which is powered by PEAT, the Partnership on Employment and Accessible Technology.
Break: [00:10:29.23] The Workology Podcast Future of Work series is supported by PEAT, the Partnership on Employment and Accessible Technology. PEAT’s initiative is to foster collaboration and action around accessible technology in the workplace. PEAT is funded by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy, ODEP. Learn more about PEAT at Peatworks.org. That’s Peatworks.org.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:10:58.82] One thing I wanted to ask you is maybe talking about how COVID has impacted your company, where you work at, Intuit, and share how Intuit made progress in supporting employees.
Pam Bingham: [00:11:12.29] I can tell you, as I mentioned, that I previously managed a team, a large team here on the QuickBooks side, and my team members would come to me and tell me that they were ill, that they’d been diagnosed with COVID, that they were out. Now, I’m happy and very proud that my team felt comfortable coming to me and sharing this with me. Because what I, as a manager, would do was always suggest: a) take off, work will be here, take care of yourself. But we also have resources within our company. We have the accommodations team that can provide accommodations based on your, whatever the situation is, so if you need a quiet place to work or have some uninterrupted work time or there’s even things like we can provide, memory aids, such as flowcharts and checklists, there’s apps for concentration, memory and organization, lots of rest breaks. I know for myself my calendar was everything. To me, I calendared everything. Stand up, drink water. I had post-its all over the place because I wanted to make sure that I didn’t forget to a) take care of myself and b) to not forget. So really being able to restructure your position if you don’t work at home to maybe work from home, those are helpful tools, but certainly take it one day at a time and try not to be so hard on yourself because that’s really what we do. We are always so hard on ourselves when it’s not our fault. So, I think it’s important to speak up and let your managers know.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:12:57.98] Agreed. For, for COVID, really, or any other disability, how do you recommend employees approach disclosure at work? You kind of mentioned employees going to you or the manager. What’s a best practice in your opinion?
Pam Bingham: [00:13:14.24] Well, if you’ve got a comfort level to be able to go to your manager, to go to your supervisor, that, that’s probably helpful because, nine times out of ten, I know most of the folks here at Intuit will provide you resources, but we also have an ability for you to self-identify if you’ve got a disability. So, because, maybe you’re not comfortable speaking to your manager, so you don’t have to talk to your manager. There is an opportunity or an option for you to self-identify a disability or an illness. And this way it’s noted, it’s recorded, and then you also have the ability to request accommodations and that you can do, we have, through our HR department, which is HR Connect, you can do that and you can reach out and one of the experts will help the employees through that process. And it’s all confidential. So, if you don’t have a comfort level of reaching out to the manager, you can do that. And honestly, I never said anything about myself. Even though I’m giving this advice, for myself, I didn’t share it, because I didn’t feel comfortable.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:14:24.56] That’s really brave of you to say, and I feel like it’s important for HR leaders to take note that employees can feel uncomfortable about disclosure, and reminding them of resources like you shared, the places to go, the people to talk to, that it is confidential, when they are having those conversations and they are requesting an accommodation and/or disclosing that they have a disability.
Pam Bingham: [00:14:54.64] Yes, I wish I would have. I did everything opposite of what I share with my team, which we, you know, we do that. But Intuit is really good in providing great resources for the employees to be able to bring their best selves to work. And then if they can’t, then we also have resources that will help you if you need to take off, if you need again to, to restructure your work, your work time, your space, etc.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:15:29.65] I’m just picturing you in your office with all your post-it notes, different colors, I’m sure, for different things.
Pam Bingham: [00:15:37.60] Well, yeah, it’s probably more a different colors of, of different shades of pink.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:15:44.32] Would you share with us your perspective on how having a disability and disclosing at work can be different, particularly for underrepresented groups?
Pam Bingham: [00:15:53.08] Well, you know, as I shared, I didn’t disclose. A lot of times, especially in the URG community and space, there’s a lack of health care resources, there’s a lack of knowledge of what’s available. And sometimes you don’t want, you believe that you’re putting yourself in a vulnerable position from a work perspective. And so, I think it’s important for leaders and HR leaders to really, Intuit actually does really good with this, is to share the resources that are available to all employees and make sure that the managers know that there are resources available to the employees so that managers can also share on occasion. Even though this may not even be their role. Make sure that you are reading and becoming familiar with all the resources that we have available for you as an employee. It’s difficult sometimes for individuals to know, and if we don’t share, then they won’t know. So, I think that the support that employees need from their management team, from leaders and from the HR professionals is key to everything.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:17:12.73] Agreed. I often say that HR professionals are really PR and communications professionals internally at organizations because,
Pam Bingham: [00:17:21.28] Yes.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:17:22.27] there’s so much more that we can be doing and should be doing in terms of sharing things like accommodation processes, policies, procedures, different places to go to get access to resources so that managers, leaders, employees, peers, members of ERGs, whoever, can share those things with their friends and peers too, when the moment strikes or the opportunity arises.
Pam Bingham: [00:17:47.95] Absolutely. Absolutely.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:17:49.69] Is there anything that you wish employers or HR professionals knew about how they can create a more supportive and inclusive environment at work?
Pam Bingham: [00:18:00.85] I think I’m going to just keep going with the same thing. Ensuring that the employees are made aware of the resources that are available, maybe even having quarterly sessions or open office hours or something, or, or maybe even consider a newsletter that goes out to everyone on a monthly basis that highlights a particular benefit that is available to employees. And really just continue to share this information with employees because if we don’t know, we’re not going to take advantage. And then sometimes you’re in a position where the employer doesn’t know that there’s a reason why maybe I’m not performing at my top level. So, yes, I think that we could probably do, you know, be more intentional in making sure that employees know. In particular because we just went through, and we’re not exactly finished with everything here with the COVID deal. But we just went through a huge change in our lives for the last two and a half years. So, we know that there are folks that aren’t aware of everything that, that could help them. And being in a position where they could a) disclose what, being comfortable disclosing, b) take advantage of accommodations if necessary. But that could also be a whole new subject matter for a new podcast. Just that.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:19:31.63] Well, maybe we’ll bring you back. I’m really excited to see how, in your role at Intuit, how you grow and how you are really making an impact to Intuit and the diversity, equity and inclusion and accessibility department. It’s really exciting.
Pam Bingham: [00:19:50.98] Thank you so much. I’m really excited about it as well.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:19:54.61] We’re going to link your LinkedIn profile on this transcript of the podcast so people can go and connect there.
Pam Bingham: Okay.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: So, I, but I really appreciate you taking the time to share your story with long COVID and more about your new role. So, I’m really excited to see what you’re going to do next.
Pam Bingham: [00:20:13.45] Oh, thank you so much. Thank you for having me.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:20:16.49] One of the reasons I wanted to have this podcast is because there hasn’t been enough conversations about long COVID. So, I have some resources for you listed in the transcript of this podcast. So just go to Workology.com and take a look at Pam Bingham and you can get access to another podcast interview along with some resources about accommodations and accessibility for long COVID. I appreciate Pam taking the time to chat with us. Learning directly from experts and individuals who have a deep understanding and experience with different areas of accessibility and disability, I believe can fundamentally change how we hire and engage and retain our employees. This is the first time we’ve had the opportunity to address the long-term impact of COVID, and I really appreciate Pam’s insights and her expertise on this special podcast episode for PEAT. The Workology podcast is sponsored by ACE the HR exam and Upskill HR. This particular episode is powered by our friends at PEAT, the Partnership for Employment and Accessible Technology. It’s part of our Future of Work series.
Closing: Personal and professional development is essential for successful HR leaders. Join Upskill HR to access live training, community and over a hundred on-demand courses for the dynamic leader. HR recert credits available. Visit UpskillHR.com for more. This podcast is for the disruptive workplace leader who’s tired of the status quo. My name is Jessica Miller-Merrell and, until next time, you can visit Workology to listen to all our Workology podcast episodes.