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Coping and Capitalizing

  • Posted on February 14, 2011 at 11:41 AM

Last month, I wrote a post about the first proposed chapter for my book, tentatively entitled “Neurodiversity at Work: A Manager’s Guide.”  This post continues the process of summarizing the book I am writing.  The purpose of this chapter is to provide an overview of the changes necessary to effectively and equitably include neurological diversity into an organization’s management strategies.

In the business world (and most of society), the focus concerning any form of disability is on the need to cope.  Individuals with disabilities need to cope with their differences, businesses need to cope with their need to accommodate, and co-workers and managers need to cope with the changes.  Little attention is given to the possibility to capitalize on a diverse workforce.  Often that attention, as little as it is, is misguided—the focus being on the public relations value of diversity instead of the value of the work that diverse workers contribute to their organizations.

The Hiring Problem

The hiring problem starts with the gatekeepers, i.e. the human resource professionals who are often trained to weed people out.  This is an exclusive process that can weed diversity out of the workforce of a particular firm.  Legislation has been passed here in the United States to hold businesses and organizations accountable for excluding people with disabilities from their workforce, and yet it continues to happen.  While getting a job is difficult for anyone in the current economic climate, the employment of individuals with disabilities has been far lower than their employability suggests.  Most people with disabilities can work, when given a chance.  Many have to fight to be given that chance—and by ‘chance’ I don’t mean charity, I mean a fair shot at getting past the gatekeepers and into a job they are qualified to do.

The Managing Problem

Once hired, the difficulties for neurodiverse individuals are far from over.  The managing process is often designed with set expectations that, by their nature, work best for a non-existent “average worker.”  Managers can be particularly rigid regarding their management styles; instead of a skill or a process, management style is perceived as a facet of the manager’s personality.  Developing the awareness to manage and capitalize on the unique strengths and weaknesses of the employees you manage requires more effort from you, the manager, than standard management practices do.  However, you also create better results—for yourself, your employees, and your organization.

The Solution: Inclusion

The solution to both the hiring problem and the managing problem is inclusion.  Inclusion is not a passive word.  Inclusion demands action.  It demands you correct exclusive practices and create inclusive ones.  It demands you use language that opens your doors to diversity, instead of closing your minds to other ideas and other methods.  It requires you get beyond the legal mentality, and think inclusively.  While the government tries to carrot-and-stick businesses into hiring diverse workers, the true benefits can only be attained if you use the diversity of your workforce to your benefit—and not just for the PR value.  An open interview process is required and an open organization is required.  You need to have room for people to be “weird” on the job; company-saving out-of-the-box thinking often comes from that “weirdness.”  Neurodiverse individuals don’t have to think out of the box—they are out of the box and often spend their careers trying to think themselves into the box simply to pass, in order to stay employed.