My 13-year-old son recently failed a minor water safety award. He had been attending an evening class once per week for ten weeks and didn’t pass on the final night for reasons that included his voice not being definite enough and failure to maintain eye contact with the subject. My son is on the autism spectrum, he spent the first half of his life in speech and language therapy (he is now verbal and I’ll never cease being grateful) and after 13 years of coaxing and cajoling eye contact from him, it rarely comes unprompted. What galls me is despite having disclosed his ASD, that information doesn’t seem to have been absorbed or filtered through to either the tutors or the examiner on the night.
It’s not enough to ‘allow’ inclusion
Parents of children with special needs don’t disclose disabilities because we’ve nothing to talk about or we’re looking for attention, we disclose highly personal information so that our children can get a slightly different experience to other participants so they have an opportunity to succeed. We don’t expect them to pass without meeting the required standards but we hope for shortcomings to be flagged so we can go away and work one-to-one on said issues and come back next week better equipped to participate and succeed. I expressed my disappointment with the lack of feedback throughout the course only to be told that my son had received regular feedback. Again, the ASD disclosure was in vain because that feedback needs to filter back to the parents/guardians. Well it’s done now, he failed because he didn’t meet the standard and despite two lengthy phone conversations, he just wasn’t up to scratch and they did nothing wrong, his ASD is irrelevant, they can’t be making allowances but he’s more than welcome to come back next year and try again. That definition of insanity springs to mind – but what will be different?
Including Opportunities for Success in Workplace Inclusion
In another but parallel life, I work in HR tech / the recruitment industry and have for over ten years. I’ve both read and written a lot on Diversity & Inclusion, Unconscious Bias, Accessibility including advice on interviewing candidates with ASD. More recently, I’ve been researching artificial intelligence and machine learning in recruitment and I’m concerned what data based hiring decisions will do to workplace diversity.
Diversity & Inclusion is not PR spin
It’s not enough to ‘allow’ or ‘welcome’ diversity and inclusion – companies need to create opportunities for access and success from candidate attraction right through to on-boarding. Here are a few tips just from the top of my head, I may have forgotten important ones so feel free to add in on the comments.
- D&I Candidate Attraction
One of the outputs from Unconscious Bias training is to avoid hiring people just because they’re like us or went to the same college and so on. If you’re serious about D&I then you’ll have to attract and source candidates differently – the job boards, recruiters, and professional social networks will deliver more of same. To broaden your reach, you’ll have to reach out to the communities of interest who have experienced far too much trial and failure through mainstream recruitment.
- Encourage disclosure
Make candidates comfortable to disclose disabilities so that you can make appropriate adjustments to the selection process. Many candidates don’t request adjustments that they may need because they are worried about discrimination or of being perceived differently, often it’s easier to withdraw oneself from consideration. Think carefully about the wording and provide a named contact that candidates can email or telephone to discuss their adjustments, rather than a generic email address.
- Accommodate Candidates
You may have to adjust the steps in your typical recruitment process to accommodate candidates. For example, a phone interview is not an option for candidates with hearing impairments. Prepare scenarios in advance so you can come back immediately with a definite course of action ‘this is what we do in situation a, b or c’ rather than rushing to find workarounds when the scenario arises.
- Interviewing Candidates
When interviewing candidates with ASD, you have lots of things to bear in mind such as types of questions, wording and so on. There are ways and means of avoiding those twenty monosyllabic responses to your interview questions and they’re outlined in my ‘Questioning Autism‘ blog post I co-wrote a few years ago. Much of it is transferable to different contexts.
- On-boarding Candidates
Like we learned the hard way last week, it’s not enough to just ‘allow’ or ‘hire’ someone, you have to provide an environment and support system that both sets people up for success and encourages them to flourish. I’m not an expert in on-boarding but basic cop-on and personal experience would tell me to prepare and educate colleagues in advance of the relevant issues, to ensure the physical space was accessible – not just in terms of mobility but noise and lighting factors could also be relevant. Most of all, don’t assume anything and if in doubt engage a company or person to help.
- Give regular feedback
Don’t wait until it’s not working out to metaphorically ‘fail’ your D&I recruits. Work together on clear concise task overviews and specifications and communicate when something is not working out, not afterward when it’s too late.
Like I said, it’s not an exhaustive list but a short introduction. There is so much best practice and knowledge out there so get stuck in. Perhaps this blog post on ‘Leaders in Diversity and Inclusion: 5 Lessons From Top Global Companies‘ would be a good starting point or you can check out my white papers on Accessibility and Unconscious Bias and more over on the Sonru Knowledge Hub.
One final note, diversity and inclusion is not just spin or companies being socially responsible to look good, there are compelling benefits and well-documented evidence. Knowledge is power, inform yourself.