Understanding Neurodiversity: 4 Challenges Faced by Those on the Autism Spectrum

StrategyDriven Diversity and Inclusion Article |Autism|Understanding Neurodiversity: 4 Challenges Faced by Those on the Autism SpectrumAutism is not a condition that can be explained in one sentence. There are a lot of misunderstandings about the condition, with deep stereotypes being the root of the problem. If each person takes the time to understand autism, it can help lead to a healthier social environment. One way to do this is by championing neurodiverse workplaces in your area.

4. The Internet Is Overwhelming

There is a lot of misinformation on the internet about autism. The autism spectrum, in particular, has caught the attention of many pranksters, and it is used as a tongue in cheek joke when describing someone. A lot of the language used for autism is offensive when said in public. Due to the massive amount of information overload online, that boundary may not always be clear to people. When someone autistic is asked questions about their condition, it puts them on the spot. Sometimes these conversations can’t be controlled properly in a professional setting.

3. Social Awkwardness Gets Dialed Up

Everyone has a specific type of social interaction that they’re attuned to. There are even some people that can step outside of their comfort zone and blend in with any social situation. For someone on the autism spectrum, social interactions are never a guarantee. That means one meetup might be fine while another one is a complete disaster. Everyone has a social comfort zone, but for someone with autism, that zone is constantly moving.

2. Getting A Job Becomes A Job

Employers want to know that the job can be done with reasonable accommodation. The job market is full of employees that don’t suffer from autism. So why would an employer hire someone that needs special treatment? This is the mentality that someone with autism deals with whenever they go in for a job interview. No matter how capable they are for the position, it is always an uphill battle. Employers will expect more personal information from an autistic employee during the interview process.

1. Never Feeling Comfortable In Your Own Skin

Individuals on the autism spectrum have different physical and mental emotions every day. One always drives the other, so it is never the same feeling. What some may see as mood swings is a natural progression from one day to the next. People need a safe spot to unwind, or someone that understands who they are as a person. With the constant identity shuffling of someone with autism, this can be a challenge. Support groups are helpful, but it will fall on the personal curiosity of the public to create a healthy environment for autism. Understanding the condition is only the first part of respecting the person that has it.

Wrap Up

A healthy dose of respect should be included with all workplace atmospheres. Getting comfortable around people that are different is never easy, even when you prepare. Instead of expecting the worse, go in with a positive attitude. Even if it’s just one person that makes a difference, that is still a step in the right direction.

Diversity and Inclusion – Return on Investment, part 3: Employee Productivity Enhancement

Unseen millions are lost by companies every year; the result of employees withholding the full commitment of their physical, intellectual, and emotional contributions. Surveys conducted by the Gallup Organization identified an 18 percent difference in productivity between the best and worst performing companies.1 Yet, as we shall explain, even the best performing companies have room for improvement.


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Diversity and Inclusion – Return on Investment, part 1: Employee Turnover Reduction

The cost of employee turnover is staggering and yet goes largely unrecognized. There is no financial statement line item, no general ledger entry, and no budget explicitly set aside for this expense that can cost an evenly modestly sized company well over a million dollars each year. And a significant portion of voluntary attrition is directly related to the abusive work environment many employees indicate exists within the marketplace today. Thus, improvements in workplace civility can directly improve the organization’s bottom line.


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Exemplary Diversity and Inclusion Practices from a Culture-Driven Company

StrategyDriven Diversity and Inclusion Article | Bretton Putter | Culture Decks DecodedThe conversation about diversity and inclusion (D&I) has gathered a lot of momentum in the last few years, in the corporate world as well as in society more generally. Thinking about D&I is by and large no longer a tokenistic gesture. We have grown in understanding that we all have unconscious biases and that our companies and society as a whole benefit when we strive to support and empower under-represented groups. We have come to realize, too, that there’s a clear benefit when we utilize people’s skills, creativity and life experiences – particularly of those whose voices, skill sets or perspectives have historically been unheard or marginalized.

In many culture-driven companies, thinking and talking about diversity and inclusion is non-negotiable. Culture-driven leaders recognize the immense value that a diverse team brings. They think about diversity and inclusivity on a number of different levels, including ethnicity, age, nationality, gender, expertise and experience, personality type and neuro-diversity, to name a few.

By paying extremely close attention to making their culture a conscious, tangible asset, these companies are helping to set the precedent for what an exemplary D&I conversation and set of practices looks like. Leaders who want to create companies that thrive commercially while simultaneously supporting their people to thrive, too, can learn a lot from studying these companies.

In my new book, Culture Decks Decoded, I do just that. I review the slides of culture decks from a wide range of culture-driven companies in order to provide inspiring examples of best practice in terms of all aspects of company culture, including D&I. One of the most outstanding companies in this respect is Patreon, which addresses diversity and inclusion with a depth of thought that shows how genuinely important they consider it to be.

Patreon is a membership platform that provides tools for creators and creatives to run a subscription content service and build relationships with subscribers, and it places a very high value on D&I. The company’s overall mission is to fund what it calls “the creative class” — makers and creators from all walks of life. Their opening slide on D&I states that they work hard to fight the “unfair practices and trends” that they see in other tech companies. The following two slides go into comprehensive detail about all the things they are doing to build a diverse, inclusive environment.

Some of the exemplary practices in place at Patreon include:

  • Being direct about the language and messaging: The slide emphasises that there is no such thing as a “diverse person” or “diverse candidate” and clearly requests that Patreon employees do not use that language.
  • Informing employees that if someone slips up and uses improper language, as that person’s colleague, they are encouraged and even expected to provide direct yet kind feedback, given with compassion.
  • Making it clear that employees can and should learn about each other’s pronoun preferences via their Slack bios.Making all restrooms gender neutral at the Patreon offices.
  • Using a D&I census to collect data that report son fairness across areas such as compensation, promotions and other resources.
  • Offering trainings on unconscious bias, ally-ship and active listening skills.
  • Directing teams to set inclusivity-based objectives and key results (OKRs): the company is explicit about aiming to be “champions in this space.”

While not all of these practices are relevant or suitable to every company, the depth of thinking that went into creating them arguably is. The practices at Patreon have been developed with the aim of creating a truly inclusive workplace, and the final point is one that I would encourage leaders of organizations large and small to pay attention to: do not shy away from conversations about diversity and inclusion. As Patreon states, “Frequent discourse and debate are key to making progress.”


About the Author

StrategyDriven Expert Contributor | Bretton Putter | Culture Decks DecodedBretton Putter is a leading expert on startup and high-growth company culture, consulting companies worldwide on how to leverage culture to prepare for and execute at a rapid scale. He is the author of Culture Decks Decoded and the forthcoming The Culture Gene: Leadership and Culture Development Lessons from High-Growth Companies. Connect with Brett on LinkedIn and learn more at culturegene.ai

Tear Down This Wall: 4 Ways to Fix Business and Tech’s ‘Women Problem’

StrategyDriven Diversity and Inclusion ArticleInformation technology (tech) is at the epicenter of the world’s economy. Apple, Microsoft, and Google are the foremost companies in the world. But women in tech, as in other industries, face obstacles from entry-level positions to the C-suite.

If industry truly wishes to fix this, it must stop retreating into seemingly noble expressions of sentiment, and instead evaluate and adopt specific procedures and programs. That is particularly true of tech, exhibit “A” in the corporate failure to hire and promote women. Re-allocating burdens, from women who aspire to the companies and industries that would employ them, and adoption by those companies of specific programs, is what my book is all about.

Women can lean in, education can push STEM, states may enact wage gap and family leave legislation. But those developments mask the more fundamental issue. From startups to the largest firms, firms themselves actually hire and promote females. In contrast, many of these companies have gender aversion baked into their DNA. Tech, for example, has been unable to support women at any level. A mere 5 percent of Tech’s senior executives are women. Branches of the industry, such as video gaming, are overtly misogynist in governance, in culture, and in product content.

Can tech and other industries redeem themselves? Here are four steps companies could take:

Change the mindset, reallocate the burdens. Bookshelves are overloaded with advice books for women who aspire in business. Get a mentor, network, don’t be a “bully broad,” be strategic, lean in, lower your voice, don’t be a “queen bee,” dress conservatively, and so on. Now is high time to look at the other side of the equation, what responsibilities companies and industries bear and what sorts of measures they should be considering. The onus shouldn’t be solely upon women anymore.

Adopt specific programs and procedures. Professional advice books emphasize that women should obtain mentors. Women have, and it has not moved the needle at all. Women in business complain, “I have been mentored to death and I am still in same position I was 7 years ago.” Recently, emphasis in Australia has shifted to corporations themselves and to mentoring plus sponsorship. It has moved the needle – significantly. Ideas include comply or explain requirements (“if not, why not?”), certificate programs, pledge regimes, quota laws (Norway, Spain, Italy, France, Germany but probably not for the United States), mandatory disclosure, voluntary disclosure, structured search (Rooney Rule) adoptions, and more.

Cast a wide net. Compared to other countries around the globe, the U.S.’s progress on gender diversity issues has slipped below the global median. Governments, stock exchanges, and industry groups in Australia, Malaysia, Hong Kong, and New Zealand, for example, are very active on gender diversity issues. Surprisingly, promotion of women in business and in governance is hot-button issue of in the Peoples’ Republic of China (not in Japan, however: fewer than one percent of corporate directors are female). On the Atlantic side, proposals and programs proliferate in the countries of the European Union and with the EU itself.

Look to the future: pay attention to the pool problem. We now appreciate that executives must balance maximization of shareholder value with sustainability. Long-term sustainability requires gender diversity. The pool problem speaks to that issue. The pool consists of the women from among whom boards and executives will choose senior managers — not now, not next year, but 10 years, 12 years, or 15 years in the future. Compared with today’s meager pool, the future pool will be markedly inferior, unless companies put in place steps to deal with the deficiency. One vital strategy is to ease the off ramps and ease the on ramps for women as they find it necessary to step aside from their careers, temporarily, often because of childbirth and child rearing issues. Dial up, dial down, alumnae, and welcome back programs, among other things, can ease those on and off ramps. Companies must think about these type of measures.

When it comes to promoting women to leadership roles or positioning them for executive roles in the future, tech is the most backward of major industries. Even lower down the ranks, the number of women tech companies employ has declined – from 37 percent in 1995 to 24 percent in 2016 — and is predicted to decrease further in coming years.

Neither does the future appear as hopeful as we have wished. Yet there are steps and programs that might brighten that future significantly.


About the Author

StrategyDriven Expert ContributorDouglas M. Branson is the W. Edward Sell Chair at the University of Pittsburgh. He has been a visiting professor at Cornell University, the Universities of Washington and Hong Kong, and Melbourne University, among others. He was a State Department–sponsored corporate governance consultant to New Zealand, Indonesia, Ukraine, Slovakia, Serbia, and Bulgaria. He is the author of 23 books on gender and corporate governance. His new book is The Future of Tech Is Female: How to Achieve Gender Diversity (NYU Press, July 2018).