Hidden diversity in Business: A better way forward?

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Image by John Hain from Pixabay

 

Hidden diversity in Business: A better way forward?

Jen Blacow

15th October 2021

 

Our last blog on superpowers ended on a negative note. The conclusion was:

  • Nobody knows how to help autistic people who are not super skilled into work
  • We had to acknowledge that employers will almost always employ a non-autistic person with the same skills

In short, although we often disagree with the  neurodiversity activists, they do have a point: the current job market is locking autistic people out of employment because of an unwillingness or inability to accommodate.

So let’s dream…. 

There are shortages of manpower in some areas, specifically construction, IT, and logistics.

 

So, what can be done to encourage these employers to take on and accommodate autistic employees?

There has been a big push for ‘diversity’ in the workplace, and training around this. However, this has concentrated on mainly outward things, such as skin colour and sexuality. 

What we also need is quality training about hidden forms of diversity, such as neurodiversity. A good step towards opening up the labour market to autistic people, is more acceptance of different ways of thinking, and different ways at looking at things (even if it is not politically correct) and the benefits this may bring.

Note: neurodiversity is different to personality. Personalities are (often) fluid depending on interactions and context. For example, how charismatic someone is, or how professional someone acts. 

Neurodiversity generally remains constant during all interactions. For example, if a person has slow processing of information, this will remain regardless of who they are interacting with. 

Neurodiversity activists are very tolerant about many differences in neurodiverse people – but these tend to be acceptance of outward manifestations of autism/neurodiversity such as ‘stimming’, sensory issues, and the inability to attend to more than one thing at once. Disappointingly, it does not stretch to different ways of looking at autism.

We need to motivate employers to want to be more tolerant of the coping mechanisms and different viewpoints which are found in neurodiversity. Such as cognitive differences, visual perceptual issues, processing issues, and idiosyncratic ways of thinking. 

Nearly every job description asks for ‘good communication skills’, by which is usually meant an ability to connect, and blend in with the rest of the team. ‘Communication skills’ in this context usually means the ability to be tactful and build relationships through emotional reciprocation and social interaction. 

But is this really necessary for every job role? 

We would argue that there are lots of jobs which don’t rely on good social skills and the ability to be tactful…

Autistic people tend to get jobs in areas where they excel. There are pockets such as computer programming and engineering where the ‘culture’ is more autism friendly. Maybe we should identify more of these pockets in various sectors and try and integrate autistic people into these roles? 

In general, what is clearly missing from the employer diversity agenda and all conversations around diversity (both diversity in general and neurodiversity) is acceptance of different ways of thinking and different viewpoints!

 

Neurodiversity is more than behaving differently

We currently live in a cancel culture where views that do not align with the political ‘zeitgeist’ are demeaned, called names, told they are not being inclusive, and are generally suppressed (ironically all in the name of enabling diversity). 

Aspiedent CIC is a victim of this. Because we dispute the core tenets of the neurodiversity creed, we are cancelled and blocked by the ‘autism community’. 

Our autistic director Elizabeth has effectively been banned from speaking at our local Leeds annual autism events because it is known that she does not agree (yes, really!)

It does not matter that she actually has a lot to offer and that she is finding innovative ways of helping autistic people. Nor that she is always happy to discuss her views and will change them if they turn out to be wrong. But nobody seems to want to have a discussion.

That is the reality at the moment, and all we can do is move on from the situation of today and dream about tomorrow. 

 

How can we make the workplace more autism friendly? 

How can we make workplaces more autism friendly without interfering with the needs of most of the population for relationship building via the emotional reciprocation of social interaction?

We know that understanding goes a long way. 

  • If you understand why someone behaves the way they do,
  • If you are open minded enough to recognise that what you perceive as a deliberate insult is actually probably a misunderstanding and,
  • If you are interested enough to find out how ‘different’ people tick

…then you become receptive to employing a wider range of people!

 

But this does means changing recruitment methods. Here are some examples:

 

-       Recruit on demonstration of skills rather than interviews

-       Don’t be lazy and just target people with degrees from the ‘top’ universities, or certain degrees

-       Don’t rely on psychometric testing (WARNING: there has been a successful discrimination case against an employer who discriminated via this kind of testing (The Government Legal Service v Brookes, 2017)

-       Be less rigid in job descriptions. Identify the core skills and then seek to fit a potential employee around those rather than having a rigid box that a prospective employee has to fit into. 

 

When thinking about the Individual:

Think about what you really need from an employee. What is the core skill you are looking for? 

Then be flexible with their job role. Mix and match with other people to give them more of what they enjoy doing and less of what they don’t enjoy doing. 

This is not about letting people pick and choose what they want to do, and avoiding jobs they don’t like. It’s about working out who is best at what and then dividing up work fairly based on this. 

As above, this requires more active deployment of people: something more complex than stacking ‘boxes’ of job roles. Allow your new employee/s to grow into their role. You may find they stick with you much longer. 

 

When considering the Team

Also think about the team as a whole. Prepare your team to accept someone who is a bit quirky. Someone who may not want to chat, and who might even reject such attempts.

Cultivate a nurturing environment that seeks to bring everyone up, rather than an overly competitive environment which is about moving forward at other’s people’s expense. 

Develop a system to weed out narcissistic people, bullies or ‘toxic’ personalities in the workplace. We all know they exist and can wreak havoc in the workplace. Have a zero-tolerance policy on lack of integrity  – that will root up a few of the bullies and prevent them from progressing at other people’s expense.

This will also improve business long-term. 

Having an effective system for this would almost certainly require a new model of recruitment and promotion  for most workplaces to adopt. 

Just implementing the above may produce a ten fold return on investment as you widen your net to more talent.

Is a competitive working environment really the only way to make profit? Why couldn’t a supportive working environment based on integrity create profit?

Are we potentially talking about a modernised and ethical servant-leadership employment relationship here?  A relationship where managers are there to assist employees rather than simply tell them what a do? A more collaborative relationship with employees?

A supportive working environment could subsist of elders (peers and mentors) looking after junior members of staff. There would be a healthy acceptance of discipline where needed but with a system in place to really investigate what is going on when somebody was not performing, or was acting in a way against the company’s high standards of integrity. 

This goes right back to having a good understanding of hidden diversity, as discussed above.

 

If you are a good employer and you would like to shape your workforce so it reflects the vision presented in this post, get in touch for a chat. 

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