Founder of Goldgrab Leadership, Sheila is a Master Certified executive coach and leads Women Leaders Habit Lab groups in organizations.
When my own relatives, friends and clients began self-declaring their neurodiversity, it took me by surprise. There was so much I didn’t know and didn’t always recognize.
Greater disclosure of the observable ways that people learn and perform tasks is getting easier for people to talk about in some circles, including workplaces. Whether it be autism, ADHD, Tourette’s, dyslexia or other neurological differences, how we process information varies and it’s easy to accept that people excel in some cognitive behaviors and struggle with others, depending on their brain functioning.
The reasons for the unmasking at work appear to be many. Welcoming neurodiversity at work fits in perfectly with employers’ larger diversity and inclusion programming and matches up well with the promotion of psychological safety where people are rewarded for their vulnerability. It’s also true that with the changes brought on by the pandemic, we learned to recognize that we may share many of the behaviors seen in those who are neurodiverse. Significantly, the strength-based model of neurodiversity is moving more and more away from the deficit frame of stigma to one of acceptance, making it more comfortable for people to disclose. At the same time, there is recognition in business and government that there are multiple intelligences.
Businesses, large and small, have led the way to focus on the basics of hiring, the selection process and the education of managers and others. They’ve done so to address unemployment numbers in some groups that are deplorably high, even though we now know that each neurominority demonstrates strengths in their thinking styles that everyone can benefit from. More often now, members of groups are actively pursued by employers for certain goals because they think differently, not despite it. Among those strengths are creativity, problem-solving skills, pattern recognition, practical skills, numerical skills and dexterity. Naturally, not all who are in the neurominority have the same strengths.
Leaders in many more companies can learn from the vanguard in this growing area of inclusivity at work. Here are a few examples of where to put your efforts:
1. Partner up with existing programs.
The Neurodiversity @ Work Employer Round Table, a group of 50 companies with neurodiversity hiring programs, and Disability:IN, a global not-for-profit, joined together to put job seekers in touch with employment opportunities in the United States. Job seekers are in banking, automotive, pharma and many other industries. To post a job opening, there are criteria companies need to meet.
2. Update job listings.
So often employers have reported that candidates screen themselves out. An example of a typical ad may include a requirement for candidates with “strong communication skills.” Greater specificity such as “able to respond to daily emails” helps get the point across and does away with unduly high expectations and poor matches.
3. Rethink your interview process.
Rethink the way it’s done to inject far more predictability to bring out the best in candidates who might otherwise not shine in the competition. Some companies invite candidates to develop and present a portfolio about themselves and past projects. Then managers ask questions and reciprocate by presenting a deck about themselves.
Others might include a skills-based project. Some employers ask candidates to do several hours of work and present it so that the managers can look at their approach and gain an understanding of their skill level. The work isn’t to benefit the business and doesn’t. It’s strictly to assess competencies.
Also, consider the value of having neurodivergent individuals serve on hiring committees to share their personal experiences working at the company in ways that offer assurances to the job candidates while promoting the company’s safe and inclusive culture.
4. Adapt job specs.
One marketing professional I know has moved her desk to face the wall to lessen distractions. Other examples for those who want to avoid the unpredictable include offering flextime, providing noise-canceling headphones, inviting individuals to communicate to colleagues when there’s a need for quiet time to think and having multiple screens to lessen the back and forth. There are many simple ways to adapt to individual needs.
5. Train your managers, mentors and more.
Include an introduction to neurodiversity, different communication and processing styles and their impact on time management, organizational skills, memory and concentration. Setting clear expectations and communicating using multiple formats (written, verbal, etc.) is vital. Do what you can to build awareness and comfort for all. Include practical strategies and tips. What’s vital is to provide examples of how greater inclusivity benefits everyone. Capture examples of when individuals think about a problem in a fresh new way or when work is done with greater speed than what was envisioned.
The feedback from managers has often been that they’re surprised to learn that those who are neurodivergent have similar talents and limitations as other members of the team. And it’s not uncommon for multiple people to discover that the same behaviors that are being explained are ones they themselves share.
Lastly, keep in mind that more than just managers can benefit from training. Consider including other members of the team, as well as mentors. Find ways to distribute trainings more widely so everyone who wants to partake can. In one technology company I know, a large business unit requested a recording of the training because they wanted to be educated.
The rallying mantra is #nothingaboutuswithoutus because this population, like any, wants to be included in hiring, programming and training. As with everyone, individuals who are neurodiverse want to feel they belong. It’s about changing work for the better and respectfully supporting their needs.
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