Is het werven van autistische mannelijke coders inclusie of uitbuiting van neurodiversiteit?maart 7, 2020
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As someone who has worked in disability inclusion for over twenty years, I have been inspired by deliberate recruitment programs and delighted that for once, we are considering disability as synonymous with talent, rather than a patronizing public service project. I was hoping that they would lead to “systemic inclusion,” where a growing range of talents and diversity was enabled by these trail-blazing companies and recruiters. But, as these programs mature, I am not yet seeing the widening of the net. And so, in honour of International Women’s Day 2020 and inspired by Professor Amanda Kirby’s conference on the missing female representation in Neurodiversity inclusion, I too am now prompted to ask: Where Have All The Girls Gone?
Deliberate inclusion programs are excluding women, also people of color, thus missing the opportunities that casting a wider net might catch. We have autism recruitment specialists now, which is great. But where are the ADHD recruitment specialists? Dyspraxia? Dyslexia? These conditions outnumber autism by 5 to 1, yet they are still not the focus – there is a hierarchy of neurominorities that we select, just like the hierarchy of ethnic diversity reported by Pearn Kandola’s research. Further, even within the autism recruiters there is a tendency towards focusing on a narrow band of inclusion that top slices the applicants (male, white) who are most stereotypically acceptable to big business.
Let me give you an example. A fellow campaigner whose daughter is autistic, related to me how said daughter had applied to an autism recruiter. She had been asked to take several tests, that assessed her ability on one skill area only – coding, maths and computer data entry. These skills are not limited to men, but they are highly genderized. Research has shown that even being asked to list your gender at the top of a maths test produces weaker results for girls in tests. Not all neurodivergent people are good at taking tests. In fact, some will fail to perform in this environment due to anxiety, exacerbated by gender priming, even when their skills are actually very high. The intersectional nuances of females and math, social economic status and computer skills are not yet widely represented in this emerging industry. Diversity specialist businesses are inadvertently selecting candidates using only measures that are known to be questionable through a different diversity lens. Such limited selection seems exploitative to me, not inclusive. We’re mining a vulnerable community for the bits we like, not embracing the neurodiversity whole. My colleague’s daughter is articulate, friendly, and a crack copy editor who can spot a typo at twenty paces. She would make an excellent employee and businesses have need for a wide range of specialists including talents such as hers. It’s time to level up on inclusive recruitment and stop ticking boxes.
Richard Branson was in the press a lot last year for saying that he no longer wants Virgin to recruit based on prior qualifications, as academic pursuits limit access to dyslexics. He’d rather interview and get to know the person, which is enabling to some but disabling to others. I also think his finance and legal teams might object! The point is, we seem to be swinging from one extreme to the other, we can’t categorize people so finitely and then recruit from one pool at a time. It is definitely positive to focus on talent, but it’s still discrimination when we use stereotypes to limit the talent we are targeting. We need to come back to the job roles, the job competencies and the balance of teams. I’ve written a lot recently about my own ADHD profile and how I need to buffer myself – and how my energy buffers others. Systemic inclusion is about balancing teams on ability as well as personality, and for that we need to recruit for the full spectrum.
Full Spectrum Analysis Of Talent
I’d like to see deliberate recruitment programs where we reach out to groups of excluded people – those who are long term unemployed or recently incarcerated and trying to get a second chance. My company, Genius Within, works with around 1,000 people per year who are trying to get a job. Their diagnosis isn’t clean – it’s autism with social anxiety, it’s a physical disability with a history of substance misuse that turned out to be undiagnosed ADHD. We can’t neatly put our clients into boxes and they won’t all ace a coding test – not least because they are unused to being put on the spot. However, we have had great success with placing people and have routinely doubled the success rate of our contract areas, because we match talent to job role well. In these cohorts, we are more likely to be seeing people who have not had the opportunity to learn computing skills due to lack of resources, women who may be very talented in math but have never had the confidence to try or people of color who are recovering from having their neurological differences diagnosed as moral character deficits. Seeking out the underlying talent takes a more nuanced, holistic assessment, where the staff work hard to relax and build rapport first, so that we can bring out the genius within! It’s relational, not just transactional. We’ve recruited ourselves from this untapped talent pool, and have some tremendous colleagues, with fantastic experience who temporarily paused their careers due to illness, poverty or accident.
Inclusion at the systemic level is seeing beyond categories, not just expanding the categories on which to focus. We’re not “doing neurodiversity this year” when we recruit white male coders, having focused on women or LGBTQ last year. Systemic inclusion is where we start to match ALL job competencies to people’s strengths and we reduce barriers in recruitment that don’t relate to the job. By all means, keep using computerized testing to identify competent coders, and interview people who don’t have qualifications for jobs that require people skills, but don’t expect applicants to fit neatly into diagnostic categories and come ready packaged with pre-determined skills. By all means run these programs as pilots for proof of concept, but understand when you do, you are limiting your talent pool and that your concept will need to be wider to succeed at a systemic level. Also, ask yourself, why male dominated talent for proof of concept? Why not female? Why autistic and not Tourettes or dyspraxia? The selection of which thread we have chosen as our exemplar reflects the very biases we seek to eliminate in wider D&I initiatives.
Girls have been lost in neurodiversity research for many years. We thought that male autistics outnumbered girls 4 to 1 because our research and tools were based on male norms. We thought that ADHD was naughty boys. But there are no genetic markers differentiating male and female presentation of neurominority, only social. The girls, who have been written out of diagnosis are now being written out of inclusion because we are sticking to a narrow range of stereotypes about what different categories of people do well. On IWD, think about your own recruitment approach and whether its time to blur the boundaries between deliberate inclusion initiatives. The talent pool is a diverse as your customer base.