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Prioritizing Diversity and Inclusion as part of the new normal

Can a company yield all of the performance benefits of a neurodiversity program without the anticipated concerns of correctly managing the program?

There is an unfortunate fact in the modern workplace. Sometimes, what a company messages its vision and culture to be is not aligned with its reality. Signs of this departure from a company’s aspirational statements are all around us:

  • The company that says they are responsive but is slow and doesn’t listen
  • the company that purports to be employee-centric but then has a stifling hierarchical culture
  • the company that proudly displays the diversity and inclusion poster on the breakroom wall, but does not live by the virtues they extol

It’s not terrible to have aspirations. Not every company needs to meet those aspirations spot on – then they wouldn’t be aspirations! However, if the messaging and the ambitions are so starkly opposed, it can negatively affect a company’s culture and, therefore, the ability to execute on that very aspiration.

At auticon, we are incredibly lucky. Our mission is inextricably linked to the reality of working with us. It is impossible to disconnect us from our mission because we are our mission. 100% of our technologists, whether they be software developers, data analysts, or QA testers, are on the autism spectrum. Virgin’s Holly Branson of The Virgin Group recently highlighted in her blog why this mission is so important. The autistic community suffers from a 90% under/unemployment rate. We cannot let this continue to be the case, given that our autistic teammates are amazingly skilled in their trade. This is especially true when you consider that by working with one of our technologists, you also benefit from organic neurodiversity in the workplace program (facilitated to the organization via our Job Coaches). This kind of approach to Diversity and Inclusion is becoming much more useful than a programmatic approach to compliance. Take this article from Deloitte and its compelling conclusions that “diversity” is not a program or a marketing campaign to recruit staff. Thinking of diversity in this way relegates it to its compliance-driven origins. A diverse workforce is a company’s lifeblood, and diverse perspectives and approaches are the only means of solving complex and challenging business issues.

Can a company yield all of the performance benefits of a neurodiversity program without the anticipated concerns of correctly managing the program?

Since the COVID-19 pandemic started, we have been communicating with clients as they have been making short term, reactionary decisions. Some of these decisions were made with our client’s business’s immediate health in mind, while others were quick pivots to maximize an opportunity in real-time. What all of these decisions had in common was that their speed of decision and speed of execution was paramount.  

As we transition from Q3 to Q4 2020 of the fiscal year, that decision’s speed has to change. For the first time since the pandemic, a company has to declare a “new normal” and plan around that new normal. As we enter the fiscal year 2021 planning cycle, a company is forced to make revenue forecast and investment and resourcing strategy decisions around that revenue forecast. 

What if a company could use this forced declaration of a “new normal” in the shape of FY2021 planning to incorporate a neurodiversity in the workplace program?

Given our consultants’ performance advantage and the cultural advantages that benefit an organization when they embrace neurodiversity in the workplace, we are seeing a lot of clients include these programs in their FY2021 planning. But how do you do this effectively to the point where it doesn’t slow down the entire process? Here are some observations from clients that do this well:

1. Align the stakeholders

If you are a D&I officer, CEO, or COO that understands the value of neurodiversity in the workplace, set a meeting with the CIO, CTO, or head of technology to understand what resource gaps exist in your organization today. Where is your technology team finding it hard to hire?

If you are in technology and you know you need an injection of cognitive strength to address a previously unsolvable problem, show your Diversity and Inclusion executive team some of our informational material. The D&I Officer will instantly understand the cultural value that the program represents.

2. Clearly state the goals

The goal of any program should be twofold. Firstly, the solution needs to be performance-oriented: Will this technologist solve my problem? What does the project milestone consist of? How do we measure success? The second goal is equally important, but measured over time differently: How will the solution evolve the team’s culture? Will the team be more accepting of differences? Will the team appreciate the value of an enhanced work culture?

3. Don’t overthink cost

Our programs are often compared to contingent labor. Indeed, we have been judged by contingent labor rates. We think this is fine because even with the additional cost of our program’s job coaching element, we are always going to be in the midpoint of contingent labor rates. Our shareholders are not looking for quarterly dividend checks!

As you can see, there is a way you can take your aspirations for neurodiversity, specifically autism, and make them a reality using the craziness of 2020 as a springboard through a considered approach to 2021 planning. Please reach out if you have any questions about this or if we can refer you to a client that has been through this process.