WORK! Exploring the future of work, labor and employment.

Neurodiversity Inclusiveness at Work

November 18, 2019 Cornell ILR School Season 1 Episode 2
WORK! Exploring the future of work, labor and employment.
Neurodiversity Inclusiveness at Work
Chapters
WORK! Exploring the future of work, labor and employment.
Neurodiversity Inclusiveness at Work
Nov 18, 2019 Season 1 Episode 2
Cornell ILR School

Dean Alex Colvin and Susanne Bruyère, Director of the Yang Tan Institute on Employment and Disability, discuss neurodiversity inclusiveness in the workplace. For additional reading, pick up Employment and Disability: Issues, Innovations and Opportunities.

Show Notes Transcript

Dean Alex Colvin and Susanne Bruyère, Director of the Yang Tan Institute on Employment and Disability, discuss neurodiversity inclusiveness in the workplace. For additional reading, pick up Employment and Disability: Issues, Innovations and Opportunities.

Diane Burton:

Work is all around us. It defines us and the future of work impacts nearly every person on our planet. The ILR school at Cornell university is at the center of work, labor and employment, influencing policy and practice on the most pressing issues facing employees and employers. In this episode, Dean Alex Colvin talks with Susanne Bruyère, Director of Yang Tan Institute on Employment and Disability, about recruiting, hiring and retaining neurodiverse people.

Dean Colvin:

Thank you for joining us today. Welcome Susanne.

Susanne Bruyère:

Thanks very much for having me.

Dean Colvin:

So many companies have started initiatives to affirmatively hire neurodiverse people, particularly those with autistic characteristics. What's driving this recent interest by businesses in this population?

Susanne Bruyère:

Well, quite definitely it's a need for talent. The unemployment rate is very low. Businesses have many jobs that are open and they are willing to explore populations that they had previously overlooked. Many of them have become aware that people with autistic characteristics may have skills and abilities that lend themselves to many kinds of jobs. The tech sector is where they were originally looking and they're willing to explore what is a largely untapped labor pool.

Dean Colvin:

So it sounds like it's a combination of both the economic situation but also a growing awareness by companies.

Susanne Bruyère:

An awareness, yes, that they have overlooked talent before because of bias, because of a lack of awareness. And now a recognition that people with all kinds of characteristics, but in this case, specifically autistic characteristics, like attention to and ability to focus, ability to see trends and patterns of data and other unique characteristics that people with autism that have enabled them to open their minds and begin to explore how could they use these characteristics in this talent pool, which they previously had not been willing to look at.

Dean Colvin:

What can workplaces do to make themselves organizationally ready to recruit and to hire neurodiverse people?

Susanne Bruyère:

Well, you know , if you w ould h ave asked me four or five years ago, I w ould've said right away y ou look for that talent pool. But we're realizing that to really make a successful match over time, it's important to get the organization ready for receptivity. So, and part of that is getting top management to articulate that this is a part of a business strategy. To send the message to the workforce that this is something they want, that they see it as a longer term viable solution to a need for talent and engage the workforce in support actively. And then, to create internal receptivity through education of supervisors and the workforce more broadly doing some training and readying naturally occurring resources like employee assistance programs, labor and employment relations professionals, benefits, HR so that everyone understands this is a part of what the organization wants to do. It's a value, it's a part of the mission and readies them to support this initiative. And then establishing relationships with the community organizations that can be that conduit for qualified talent.

Dean Colvin:

So I want to follow up a little bit and you mentioned training as being an important part of this. What should an organization be doing to provide good training? What's the content of that trading and how do you do it well?

Susanne Bruyère:

Well, you know, for supervisors we see it important to again, you know, send them the message that this is not just an add on to their responsibilities. This is a part of a broader imperative for talent to be a competitive organization. And how their role in that will be critical in terms of orienting the new employees, getting them duly integrated into the team because sometimes we see the characteristics can commonly be for this population to be a somewhat socially awkward or socially removed. So thinking, helping them to get educated about ways to integrate people without being overly forceful in that integration. And to be comfortable and giving performance management and to think about career advancement because this population, like all of us wants an opportunity to grow, develop and move on to the next generation of jobs they're capable of.

Dean Colvin:

I was interested to read that the most recent 2018 CDC report estimates that one in 59 out of all eight-year-olds are diagnosed with autism. Those numbers are significantly higher than they were less than 20 years ago when in 2000 the estimates were that one in 150 children in this age group was diagnosed with autism. What are the implications of these changes for workforce development and for employment and also for disability public policy going forward?

Susanne Bruyère:

Well, I think one is a very obvious is that we're going to need to ready the workplace and the workforce for many more people who are neurodiverse, autism being one of those characteristics, but other kinds of neurodiversity as well. This will mean that we need to prepare workforce development training systems, workforce development boards that are doing job matching for the inevitability of dealing with people with the kinds of differences that we're seeing in the neurodiverse population. It, you know, might be if those, these qualities that we see as sort of superpowers some companies are looking for, but there can be other things that can be also challenging and , you know, the ability to interview effectively is one. And so it means getting these workforce development boards and the training initiatives equipped to be able to proactively and effectively train this population so they can be ready for the workforce and getting workplaces to think about how they can truly make , the interview process more inclusive as well as the whole employment process from hiring, orienting, retaining performance management and advancement, much more inclusive of neurodiverse people than we have been historically.

Dean Colvin:

When you see changes like this and numbers, there's always that interesting question of what's going on. Is this the case that we're actually seeing a change in the proportion of the population with neurodiversity ? Or is it that we're actually more accurately diagnosing a neurodiversity that the population was there all along but we just didn't realize it was there and we under recognize this population and perhaps under served them?

Susanne Bruyère:

You know, many people are asking that question and I think the best minds in the country and internationally are looking at what is this etiology . And I think it as near as we know now, it is a combination of something seems to be occurring where there seems to be a higher incidence, prevalence rates. We're doing a better job of capturing those numbers. You know, the way we count is more precise in lots of ways when the CDC collects statistics and certainly we're much more aware of this diagnosis. If we would have looked at this 40 years ago, we weren't labeling things, we weren't labeling autism. Many more parents are hyper aware of this because it's in the media and I think looking for diagnosis earlier. But we also do know that autistic people have been with us forever. So , I don't think there's any definitive answer as to why. I think that's why we just need to proactively deal with this inevitable growth in this population and be much more conscious of how to be inclusive.

Dean Colvin:

Right. And I mean, if it's close to 2% of the population, that's an enormous number of people and sort of human talent that's being not given a chance to flourish if we don't provide workplaces that are accessible and allow these individuals to contribute?

Susanne Bruyère:

Absolutely. I think it's really critical and what we're finding is when more places open their minds to this talent pool and make a proactive effort to be inclusive, it seems to be changing the culture of the workplace as a whole. So not only do they get talent with unique characteristics in many cases that contribute to the success on specific tasks and jobs that are looking for being filled, but also people seem to feel good about having an organization that is proactively trying to be more inclusive. And many of them have family members with either autistic characteristics or other kinds of disabilities. And so they see this and they are really happy to be engaged in what they see as a very positive mission in their organization. So it engenders loyalty and commitment to the workforce as a whole, which is very positive.

Dean Colvin:

Yeah, which is a powerful point. So if I'm an organizational leader thinking about this, I'm not just thinking about something effecting, you know, 2% of my employees, potentially it's going to have a much broader impact.

Susanne Bruyère:

Absolutely. We know that one in four households in the U.S. Has a person with a disability in it. So when people see organizations really thinking about inclusion , they rally around that because they know someone who in their family, they hope will have a job in the future or they've seen have difficulties in getting in the workplace. And when they see an employer that's willing to open up to those opportunities they want to be in that workplace.

Dean Colvin:

You've edited a new book that's coming out by the Labor and Employment Relations Association this fall , "Employment and Disability Issues, Innovations and Opportunities." You talk about the way forward. Tell me how should all of us be thinking about the issue of neurodiverse people and their future in the workplace?

Susanne Bruyère:

There's, you know, in having this great collection of 12 chapters by probably something like two dozen authors, I learned a lot and I'm looking at the common themes across them and some of the things we found is the importance of regulatory frameworks. There are a lot of different employment and disability laws that impact how employers behave and how HR professionals conduct business. And many of them both undergird disability rights, which helps this population. But many of them were written at a time when neurodiversity and autism were not in the dialogue. So I think we both, the conversation reaffirmed the importance of the protections that these laws provide, but also that we need to relook at it in light of contemporary populations that now we're dealing with and previously before we had not thought about. And the same is true for workplace policies and procedures. You know, we thought we had inclusion figured out for people with disabilities in 1990 when we passed the Americans with Disabilities Act, but neurodiversity was not at all on the table. So we need to rethink even something that's a more contemporary law like that. It's not the 1935 Social Securities Act. It's much more recent and yet we know we're missing some important new pieces to think about like accommodating people with neurodiverse characteristics and what those kinds of accommodations could and should look like.

Dean Colvin:

Is this an issue that's emerging worldwide? Do we see other countries struggling with the same questions and experimenting with different policies elsewhere too?

Susanne Bruyère:

That's a terrific question. And in the book we include two chapters on international considerations about disability more broadly. Where the neurodiverse population is concerned this is coming to us in several ways. Many disability advocacy organizations we know, you know, 15%, and we think that's an underestimate of the world's population, that's over 1 billion people are people with disabilities globally. Among those disability advocacy movements we see neurodiversity coming to the fore as well. But also the companies who are championing these kinds of initiatives in the U.S., many of them are multinationals, Microsoft, SAP, JP Morgan, Chase , DXC Technologies, which is a subsidiary or another organization that was previously with Hewlett Packard. All of them are moving these operations into other countries. And so they're looking for this talent in, some of them are in 19 different countries now, Europe, Africa, India, China. And so we are having an opportunity to explore, what does this talent pool look like there? Are company or companies able to find the talent? Are the cultures and the educational institutions giving the opportunities to this population there that will enable them to be job ready when the companies reach out looking for them? So it is a global phenomenon. It's a global population. And it's a global opportunity.

Dean Colvin:

And presumably if I'm an organization that operates globally it wouldn't seem very consistent with my values to say I care about neurodiverse employees in the United States, but not in Australia the same.

Susanne Bruyère:

Yeah, that's exactly right. And when families in these companies hear about this in other countries, they're saying, "why not here?" So the companies are going to be pressed, if not by the local communities and the populations and the disability movement, certainly by their own employees who want to have these opportunities be global for them.

Dean Colvin:

Excellent. Well thank you Susanne. It's been a real pleasure talking to you and I think you've given our listeners a lot to think about and a real insights into this topic.

Susanne Bruyère:

Thanks for your interest and your time today.

Diane Burton:

Thank you for joining us for Work! Exploring the future of work, labor and employment. In upcoming episodes, Dean, Alex Colvin and guests will discuss state, national and international perspectives on issues shaping work, labor and employment. Again, thank you for listening and learn more about ILR by visiting us on the web at: ilr.cornell.edu.