Through Xceptional’s work creating meaningful careers for neurodiverse people, we have the pleasure of working with employers around the world. Across the public sector, corporates and startups, three common inclusion mistakes can be made. The mistakes I am about to share with you were not made by our employer partners, but by me and our very own Xceptional team, many of whom are neurodivergent themselves.
I share these now in the hope you are encouraged by the fact that a company as inclusive as Xceptional is far from perfect and we all need to learn from our mistakes.
3 Common Inclusion Mistakes From Xceptional
1) Waiting For Perfect
In 2018 Xceptional enjoyed what can only be described as an extraordinary run. We won the $1m Google.Org Impact Challenge along with awards from Westpac, Optus and AMP. From the outside looking in, life at Xceptional would have seemed attractive. In spite of this recognition and funding we were scrambling. Entrepreneurship has been described as assembling the parachute while jumping from a plane. It certainly felt like that, systems were being built, programs designed and launched and new staff onboarded at an unsustainable pace.
Against this backdrop we said ‘no’ to opportunities which would have created jobs for neurodiverse people, our core mission. In hindsight we were waiting for ‘perfect’ conditions. Our assumption was the rapid pace of change would not suit people who may prefer stability, routine and appreciate written instructions. The reality is there is no one size fits all when it comes to neurodiverse people and we should have deployed the simple yet effective technology of ATP (ask the person). Some of Australia’s fastest growing technology companies are among our customers; companies like logistics software provider WiseTech Global and people management software Deputy have growing global scale, complexity and fast paced change. They have also proven adaptable employers of neurodiverse people.
2) Poorly Communicating Change
I have a confession to make. I don’t always like or have the patience to provide detailed descriptions for tasks, changes to tasks or detailed-anything really. As one of the majority of Xceptional employees who identify as neurodiverse (I was diagnosed with ADHD in primary school) I am an action-first, explain-later type of person. This can cause stress for my colleagues from time to time.
One common example of this is my failure to provide the complete picture when briefing colleagues. Until recently I was blessed to be working with an autistic colleague who I am sure taught me more than I taught them. I noticed after my seemingly comprehensive briefing call each Monday a flood of Slack messages would follow to clarify tasks. At first I assumed my colleague was distracted as I often am or overwhelmed. The reality was my lack of clear written instructions was causing unnecessary stress. I experimented with providing more written instructions upfront. The result was an immediate reduction in clarifying questions. As clear as this change seems now, it took me almost a year to implement by which time my colleague had evolved to interpret my shabby briefings.
3) Seeking Executive Sponsors
As a startup striving to build an impactful business it is hard to resist the attention of senior executives, politicians and community leaders. In our early years the strategy was simple: win the respect of leaders within large employers and leverage these relationships to create employment opportunities for neurodiverse people. It worked – in part. We continued to be welcomed by corporate and public sector leaders wherever we went. However as we found out, (the worst way… slowly) these senior endorsements often served to slow our progress.
Let me explain. The reality was none of the senior leaders we had built relationships with were going to hire neurodivergent people through Xceptional. That is not to say neurodivergent people don’t make great leaders as we recently shared in our autistic leadership blog. In our experience the responsibility of diverse hiring was to fall on individual managers, supported by talent acquisition and diversity managers. The more senior the endorsement we had, the slower the progress. There was simply too much pressure to get it right given the enthusiasm from senior management.
I vividly remember one conversation where hiring and talent managers were stressed about language – “what do we even call him?” was the question. At Xceptional we use identity-first language (“autistic person”), which is favoured by many autistic people, reflecting the belief that being autistic is a core part of a person’s identity. At the time I responded to the conversation with, “I just call him George”.
With chronic skills shortages there has never been a better time to expand your talent pipeline. Learn from our mistakes, don’t wait for perfect conditions, as if that will ever happen! Communicate clearly, in writing wherever possible. When engaging executive sponsors, work with them to learn as an organisation how to integrate enthusiasm with operational reality at the hiring-manager level.
To find out how to engage with thousands of skilled neurodiverse job seekers, or if you have a story to tell, then please contact me today. firstname.lastname@example.org