On January 21, 2020, SMBC, a Japanese bank based in New York City, hosted its Second Annual Mock Interview Event for the stuttering community.  The firm welcomed 24 professionals and students who stutter to participate in the mock interviews with 25 senior leaders at SMBC. The students who participated attend colleges, including Baruch, NYU, Columbia, Temple, and Pace University.

Events such as these are helpful to people who stutter by allowing them to practice interviewing skills in preparation for future career opportunities, but more importantly, these events provide education and awareness to those making hiring decisions. Stuttering is a speech disorder that has no effect on an individual’s ability to perform well in their jobs. Stutterers are just as intelligent, capable, and effective in the workplace as those who do not stutter.

Kent Siggers, a Director in the IT organization (Japan Research Institute America) at SMBC, kicked off the evening as the emcee and spoke about how he stuttered as a child. Tammy Flores, Executive Director of the National Stuttering Association (NSA), spoke about the NSA’s mission to encourage people who stutter to stutter freely and be their authentic self. People should not be judged because of their stutter.

Kunal Mahajan, Vice President in the Leveraged Finance Group at SMBC, is a life-long stutter and a dedicated NSA member. He provided a Stuttering 101 training for his colleagues at SMBC to prepare them for the mock interviews. He spoke of the emotional and mental challenges he experienced with his stutter growing up and in the workforce before obtaining acceptance of his speech and coming out to his team about it.  Kunal’s experience and his desire to create a safe space for people with disabilities and support a more emotionally intelligent workplace fueled his desire to partner with his colleagues to establish UNIQUE, an enterprise resource group at SMBC.

Key lessons that Kunal gave his colleagues were: “Never finish sentences for a person who stutters, maintain eye contact when they are in their stuttering moment, and do not give them advice on how to overcome their stutter. Advice on how to improve general communication skills such as eye contact, body language, tone, and the content of their answers is always acceptable.”

Hiromi Sato, Deputy President of SMBC Nikko America, shared that senior managers are responsible for understanding the challenges their colleagues face. The firm’s leaders must learn how to best support all employees and allow them to bring their best selves to work, whether they are an employee who stutters, has a disability, or experiences any other differences, they deserve empathy and respect for the value they bring to the firm.

The evening progressed into the Mock Interview Session, where each person who stuttered was given three interview sessions with three different SMBC senior leaders, followed by feedback from each interviewer.

Following the mock interviews, the group enjoyed a panel discussion with the senior leaders at the firm entitled, The Benefits of Coming Out With Your Stutter in the Workplace, moderated by Kunal.

The evening concluded with award-winning film producer, John Gomez, screening the world-renowned film, When I Stutter.  SMBC employees and guests who stutter had the opportunity to watch this powerful documentary educating viewers about what stuttering is and documenting real-life examples of the challenges people who stutter face in their personal and professional lives.

Both the NSA and SMBC are committed to raising awareness of stuttering in the workplace and providing support to the stuttering community and encourage other companies to do the same.