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Workplace Profiles

Executive Assistant, IBM Corporation

Francine B. - Executive Assistant to the Vice President, IBM Global Services/Senior Location Executive

Francine B. - Executive Assistant to the Vice President, IBM Global Services/Senior Location Executive

Employer: IBM Corporation, Chicago, IL

Job Duties:

In addition to providing executive support to the Vice President IBM Global Services, Francine also provides support to an IBM Senior Project Executive for a large health care account. Francine is responsible for setting up their meetings, scheduling conference calls, arranging travel and preparing expense accounts. Much of what she does is, not surprisingly, online—“if the computer system goes down, we have a problem.”

As Senior Location Executive, the Vice President is also responsible for employee events, such as the holiday parties, employee outings, sales rallies, and for the annual charitable giving campaign. As his Executive Assistant, Francine helps to put these big events on—from sending out communications, enlisting volunteers, finding the venue, arranging for the entertainment, ordering the food, and making sure the expenses are paid.

Background, Perspectives & Experience

What is your disability?

Francine contracted polio during an epidemic when she was two years old. She wears braces and until recently she walked with crutches. She developed tendonitis from so many years of using crutches, so she has used a wheelchair since 2002.

How long have you been employed with this employer?

Francine has been employed with IBM for over 30 years, starting with the company in December 1979. Although she didn’t realize it at the time, IBM was an excellent employer for people with disabilities in the 70’s. In fact, IBM is about to celebrate its Centennial and has been hiring people with disabilities since 1914.

How did you find your job?

When I went away to college in the ‘70’s, I started out majoring in journalism, but soon switched my major to computer science. Computers were fast becoming the wave of the future, and I thought by switching my major, it would help me get in on the ground floor of this technology, and, of course, land a good job. I didn’t complete college, however; instead I came home to be married and start a family. In 1975, I started work at the Illinois Institute of Technology in the placement office. Having some college and a computer background helped me get my foot in the door, but it was a dead-end job, and I thought I would be stuck in it forever.

One day some IBM representatives came on campus to interview graduating seniors. I noticed that one of the reps was in a wheelchair, which immediately got my attention. When he had a break in his interview schedule, I popped in and asked him some questions about IBM. He was very friendly and very accommodating, even though he had a busy schedule that day. He answered my questions, directed me where to send my resume, and even let me use his name as a reference. The rest is history. Three weeks later I had an interview in the Chicago office and after a second interview, I was offered a job. That was 30 years ago. Since then I've moved up through the administrative ranks and now support a Vice President as an executive assistant. IBM is an excellent company for people with disabilities!

Have you ever asked for a reasonable accommodation?

When I started out at IBM, my job was in word processing where we used dictation equipment. The executives would call into the dictation system with their letters and reports. We would retrieve the tapes and type the documents. The dictation machine had a pedal that required using your foot to operate. I couldn’t do that, so I put the pedal on top of my desk and used my hand operate it. This worked okay for me. Then one day my boss saw what I was doing. A little while later, she gave me a specially made push-button contraption that I could use instead of the foot pedal. She didn’t say anything, and we didn’t talk about it. It just appeared on my desk. This has been the only modification I’ve really needed. Although, when we moved to a new building that had less space, I was given a cubicle at the end of the row near a window so that I would have more room for my wheelchair.

Is there anything else that you would like to share?

Yes. It has only been in the past 15 years or so that I have found my niche in the disability community and have been championing my own cause, becoming an advocate. Since 2004 I have served on the City of Chicago Mayor’s Committee for People with Disabilities to plan and coordinate Disability Mentoring Day for Chicago Public School students with disabilities. I have signed up for several disability-related online sites, including the one from the Great Lakes ADA Center. I’ve taken the ADA Basic Building Blocks Webcourse from the ADA National Network, and plan to re-take it again as a refresher.

The other thing is the excellent experience I’ve had working for IBM all these years. In 2004, I was asked to serve on a committee to help facilitate our 2005 move to a new downtown office building. My part on the committee was to help make sure that the building was ADA compliant. At IBM I serve as team leader of the People with Disabilities Diversity Network Group and on the IBM Diversity Council for the Central Region where I act as liaison with the Senior Location Executive for IBM Chicago downtown. Because of my involvement with the IBM Diversity Network Group and Council, I have been able to recruit other IBMers to also serve with me in mentoring the students. IBM supports my involvement and every year has donated funds to assist with the mentoring event.

At my church, I serve as a Regional Disability Consultant where I disseminate resource information, and organize and plan programs for members with disabilities and their families. I have coordinated, planned, raised funds and hosted Disability Awareness programs, and presented Disability Awareness to IBM employees, IBM Diversity Network Groups, church and professional organizations. I enjoy volunteering and supporting issues that are aimed at improving the quality of life for people with disabilities.

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