In the Spring of this year, one of my children was diagnosed with High Functioning Autism. It has been a challenging time for our family and I’m sure the challenges will continue for some time yet. However, we’re definitely on the rising side of the change curve now – beginning to see the gifts and learnings in our situation. Why I’m writing about it today is because it has really shifted my thinking about the work that The Hobbs Consultancy does.
Firstly, I have been so relieved to have been my own boss during this period so that I can take time out and rest when I have needed to. I simply would not have been able to process the very strong and challenging emotions that came up for me whilst working flat out. I applaud the introduction of ‘mental health days’ and bosses that welcome them. I can truly see, from my own experience, why, on some days, my focus was best spent at home processing my thoughts and feelings, rather than trying to muddle through at work.
In addition to this, it occurs to me that there is a need for boundaries too when we’re talking about showing up authentically. Authenticity isn’t about blurting the first thing on your mind. It would simply not have been appropriate for me to have been downloading my feelings about this to you all five months ago as I was working through some dark times. We want to show up as ourselves in the workplace and an important function of that is to know your own boundaries – put simply, what’s ok and what’s not ok for you. For me, one of those lines is not to share personal matters to a broad audience until we’ve processed them.
The other big insight for me is that I have spent the past five years championing diversity and inclusion in the workplace, and haven’t mentioned neuro-diversity until this became a relevant topic for my family. I have since introduced the topic at the BIMA council and at various tech agencies! As I explored the topic of autism in the workplace, I came across a company called Ultra Testing who test new websites for bugs. What makes Ultra Testing different is that most of its testers are on the autism spectrum. And the thinking behind this is not an altruistic one, but a business one – simply put, they believe the tendency of some people with autism to obsessively focus on detail gives them a distinct competitive advantage. Here are just some of the tweaks they made to their company culture so as to accommodate autism:
- They rethought the hiring process. Interviews can be a barrier for individuals on the spectrum and there is much evidence to show they are riddled with bias anyway. Rather than interviews, they used questionnaires, essays and tests.
- They codified the rules and expectations of people to an unusual degree
- Employees typically work remotely and communicate over email or slack (this gives them time to process the information with a lag).
- They are tolerant of spelling mistakes (autism and dyslexia often go hand in hand)
- Emails have to be less than 700 characters long and if the back and forth exchange goes on more than twice, employees are instructed to tell a supervisor (the thought being there’s probably an underlying issue that the employee isn’t picking up on).
As well as giving me hope in the future employability of my son, this case study really has shown me the small tweaks we can make in a corporate culture that enable people to show up as themselves. In this case, those on the spectrum are needing a different way to get through the door. This has been followed by some explicit changes to ‘how we do things around here’ (a great definition of culture) so that they can not only show up as themselves but also thrive. I’m sure the advertising, tech and creative industries can learn a lot from this one small success story.
Neurodiversity is "is the diversity of human brains and minds – the infinite variation in neurocognitive functioning within our species." We are all neurodiverse, it is the nature of human individuality.
The neurodiversity paradigm is a specific perspective on neurodiversity respecting the natural diversity of minds and the variability of functioning and how this can, when embraced, act as a source of creative potential.
The neurodiversity movement celebrates the differences and unique abilities exhibited by people with autism, pursuing equality, respect, and full societal inclusion for the neurodivergent (having a brain that functions in ways that diverge significantly from societal 'normal' standards).
In essence, difference in brain functionality is innate, not to be pathologised and forms an important part of the diversity agenda. Our differences can be our superpowers and yet society can use it to steretype and create "otherness". At the Hobbs Consultancy we are committed to talking about this alongside other axes of difference.