Recently, I attended a conference with human resources professionals. It was a great opportunity where I got to speak with experienced HR practitioners and hear some amazing keynote speakers.
From my chats with HR professionals, I realised that they are very interested in neurodiversity and want to know more and they can see the need themselves. In fact, many of the points I brought up were started by them asking me how to tackle a particular type of situation. From my conversations, I could see they are aware of the many challenges that I raise awareness about, but they seem to lack the know-how – the strategy to create and implement change.
This can be due to many diverse reasons, including and not limited to organizational culture, not enough resources, lack of understanding, experience and leadership. I found, to no fault of their own, that they seem to be more problem-focused than solution-focused. From my experience and even from my personal traits, I realised that our perception focuses on the problem first whenever we deal with anything unfamiliar.
For instance, and this happens to also be the primary subject of this article, one major concern is:
“We are a micro or SME and cannot afford to implement change for neurodiversity like bigger companies.”
Well, is that really true? I hear this a lot from Directors of Human Resources in business and I admit it’s a challenge if you look at it from only one perspective.
Let’s start with the size of a business or who is the bigger employer. Statistically, when we look at organizations, SMEs are in greater number and as a result, employ more people vis-a-vis larger businesses.
Of course, this will differ from region to region. For instance, in the UK, 99.9% of SMEs with employees from 0 to 49 employees, make up 99.9% of all businesses; in total, this equals 56 million SMEs.
If we look locally here in Malta, we see SMEs are the majority of firms that make up 99.9% of all businesses. This means that they employ anywhere from 0 to 49 people. Larger firms account for a lesser percentage of employees between 50 to 249 employees.
Let’s go even deeper. If we look at Malta as an example, according to Statista, the following numbers represent Malta in 2021:
Micro Businesses, which employ from 0 to 9 people = 35,709 businesses in total
Medium-Sized Business, employ from 10 to 49 people = 2,350 businesses in total
Large Sized Businesses employ from 50 to 249 people = 398 businesses in total
When we look at these numbers, we see the broader picture; SMEs are greater employers and have far more opportunities to be employing those who are Neurodiverse. Let’s not kid ourselves, they already are.
Plug the leaks
It is not the size of the business that is the dilemma; rather it is recognizing the gaps that exist in the organization. Let’s remember, if we only look at neurodiversity as a childhood issue, society and businesses won’t think of structuring their organizations, moulding the culture, altering recruiting policies, on-boarding and integration, for diverse employees. As a result, there are cracks in a company structure that need filling.
When a business thinks about their employment policies and finds that they already have neurodiverse individuals in employment, they identify areas their business is missing which they need to fill to make this new incentive happen.
What are the Gaps?
As organizations don’t consider other diversities, then they lack policies of inclusion. With no policy, there is no system, process and values in place to give guidance on how to recruit, on-board or integrate new team members successfully.
When there is no policy and the procedure manual there is no literature to circulate among management and staff. There are no standards of communication streamlined into offices or workrooms like you would have safety procedures or policies on sexual harassment.
Lack of experience:
Human resources might be unfamiliar with the concept of neurodiversity; as a result, they don’t know how to provide training to management and team members and they lack the understanding to be able to provide reasonable accommodations and to ensure they meet business legal requirements.
Business owners and managers tend to be very binary within a business; they have a zero-tolerance approach towards any behaviour outside their understanding. When neurodiverse individual thinks and works differently, they see this as unproductive and unacceptable behaviour instead of being open to diversity and being flexible and welcoming to a different way of thinking.
Businesses thrive on hiring a ‘Jack of all trades, despite what the job description says. Too often, a hired candidate for one profession is expected to go above and beyond their skill set. As a result, you usually end up with a master of none. This is challenging for a neurodivergent who specializes in the area that is centred on their strengths and on how they think and perform, as well as how they can manage tasks. This may result in employers or managers reprimanding them for not performing beyond their skill set or from being overloaded.
There is a myth that it may be too expensive to provide the tools a neurodivergent may need to perform well at their job. It may actually cost nothing or be as low as €1000. Many neurodivergent individuals have the tools they need and just require permission to use those tools on the job. Other times it is not about investing in tools but investing in creating the conditions they need, such as a quiet room to de-stress or being flexible with breaks or being able to delegate some tasks so they can specialize.
Awareness & Skills development:
With no direct company policy, documentation and lack of experience from human resources, then it is understandable that, by default, businesses are very binary.
The policy creates the awareness; the policy procedure manual spreads the message, set the standards of how to implement and the skills development provides the training to all levels of the business, educating all parties on Neurodiversity, how to manage Neurodiverse employees and how fellow team members can work with them.
When you understand how the Neurodiverse think and perform, you can create the right environment and practices that the Neurodiverse need to thrive.
Let’s pause here and look at it from another perspective:
Its internal Business Development!
Like I said in the introduction when every we deal with change the first thing we immediately see is nothing but problems and reasons on why we should not change. So sometimes it’s best to look at it with a distinct set of glasses.
When a business decides they want to grow their business either through a new product, service, target market, franchise or buying other business, they first look at the benefit and create a justifiable reason to move forward.
From there, they create a team that can negotiate, create policy, build or repurpose the marketing, train staff and hire a sales team. All this is done to grow the business and increase profits. So why not take the same approach within the business with the same aim, to scale your business.
One of the best ways to grow a business is by putting your team first. Your employees are more effective in their job when they feel heard and valued. So when you cater to your team, clients feel and see this and in return want to continue to do business with the team that is invested in them because they invested the business in their employees.
Plugging the leaks is an Investment
What do you get when you fill the gaps? Well, as I stated above, you are growing your business because you are investing in the people you hire. When you follow the road map described above, you are allowing your employees to focus on their strengths, you are hiring new talent that may potentially think outside the box, that has faced barriers to employment; your new diverse policy makes them feel safe as you expressed values that are aligned with their neurodiversity.
As a result, productivity and innovation increases, which of course means that your potential of profits increasing is greater.
When you look at the return on your investment when plugging the leaks, you can see the justification in implementing an incentive in your business to welcome the neurodivergent and that the size of your business does not matter.