FUTURE TALENT May - July 2021 - Page 30

n 2018 , my sonToby was diagnosed with autism
I spectrum disorder ( ASD ), one of many neurodiverse conditions that come under the umbrella term ‘ neurodiversity ’ ( ND ). Up until this moment three years ago , I was pretty ignorant as to its true meaning . But that all changed in one diagnosis .
“ My son , my world ” has been my motto for the past 13 years , since I gave birth to my gorgeous child . Being his mum is the most important job I have , and it is a privilege to watch him grow and develop into a truly amazing young man , of whom I am extremely proud .
Telling my brilliant boy that he is autistic was one of the most difficult things I will ever have to do . I will remember it always . We looked at some information together and learned about it together , too . Now , we understand better and we talk about it . Importantly for Toby , he is more comfortable with having Asperger ’ s than being autistic , so we use that term , despite it having been ‘ wrapped up ’ into ASD a few years ago . It highlights the stigma attached to autism , even at Toby ’ s age , but I hope to change that , even if it is just for a few people .
I was really worried that others wouldn ’ t see the brilliance I can see in Toby . I know that recruitment practices are skewed towards the outgoing communicators : the ones who stand out ; not the ones who sit quietly internalising their thoughts .
People I spoke to had some interesting insights . I was told to get him into Microsoft because “ they ’ ve got loads of them ”. I was honestly shocked that educated , professional people would speak about neurodiverse talent this way . We would never say the same for any other minority group . It was this that really spurred me on to learn more and to raise awareness of neurodiversity as much as I could .
I ’ ve realised that we are not talking about neurodiversity in HR and I don ’ t really understand why . The D & I plans I had worked on didn ’ t mention ND ; our ‘ reasonable adjustments ’ were never related to it . All of the employee relations cases I had supported in the past suddenly had a different potential lens to them , one I hadn ’ t seen .
Selfishly , I wanted to help the world to be a more ND-friendly place by the time Toby enters the workforce . So , I spoke to my coach about what I wanted to do and shared the reservations I had because I wasn ’ t an expert so didn ’ t feel I had a voice in the space . He helped me realise that I didn ’ t need to be an expert and that sharing my own experiences was the most powerful thing I could do . I am so thankful for that discussion ; it spurred me on to share what I was learning about autism and neurodiversity more broadly .
I started to share information on LinkedIn and made some great connections . The most important for me has been Professor Amanda Kirby — an expert in ND . I have learned so much from her and been lucky to co-host several sessions around raising awareness . I am also lucky to have recently been taught by her and Janette Beecham on their Neurodiversity Aware programme . It was truly the best course I have attended and I am hoping to complete the qualification shortly — my brain was brimming and I gained so much from it .
Neurodiversity is the umbrella term for neurodiverse conditions that include autistic spectrum disorder , dyslexia , attention deficit hyperactivity disorder ( ADHD ), dyscalculia , dyspraxia , developmental language disorder and tic disorders ( including Tourette ’ s syndrome ). It literally means differences ( diversity ) in our brain ( neuro ).
It ’ s estimated that one in six of us is neurodiverse and , the more I learn , the more I think that that is a conservative estimate . If you take the analogy that our brains are like a fingerprint — every one is unique — then we ’ re all neurodiverse .
I definitely think knowledge , insight and basic awareness around ND are lacking in the people and talent space , and I think this is because we ’ re not talking about it enough . Universally , not just in HR . But people and talent is all about attracting , recruiting , retaining , developing and supporting talent , so how can we do that if we don ’ t understand and appreciate neurodiverse conditions ? I don ’ t mean this as a criticism in any way ; I don ’ t think we are talking about and understanding ND on a wider society level .
We are starting to understand it a lot more and I am so pleased when I hear it mentioned in relation to staff and processes . However , this is still a rare occurrence and we are not doing our job unless we are truly inclusive ; we are currently not talking about the one in six .
Leaders don ’ t need to become experts in ND , that ’ s the first thing . But they should have an awareness and understanding of neurodiversity and the talent in this space . Some companies are doing a great job . Microsoft does stand out for its neuro-inclusive attraction and recruitment practices , and the tech companies are leading the way , but more and more organisations are increasing their awareness . I was recently on a training course which was well attended by staff from the British Transport Police and Admiral Insurance ; they ’ re both doing a great job .
As people and talent professionals , we have a huge opportunity to make a positive difference in all our practices . The benefits for organisations and individuals are immense . We are really happy to talk about our DiSC profiles , our Insights colours or our MBTI profiles . But we are not comfortable talking about neurodiverse conditions — yet .
I truly believe that what needs to change is our knowledge and awareness . Knowing a bit about neurodiverse conditions will make you more confident to talk about them and to identify where the strengths might be best placed in your business .
It is also important to know that there is not one description of each of the ND conditions . When my son was diagnosed , I jumped straight to the stereotype of autism – socially awkward , quiet , doesn ’ t communicate well ; my son is none of these . The psychologist gave me a brilliant cartoon (‘ Understanding the spectrum ’ by Rebecca Burgess ) which was invaluable . It shows a young boy describing autism and my biggest takeaway was that the autistic spectrum is not linear , going from ‘ not very autistic ’ to ‘ very autistic ’. It is , in fact , a kaleidoscope of colours and elements , which is why it is true that we are ‘ all on the spectrum ’.
The same can be applied to all neurodiverse conditions . As with our brain analogy , we are all individual and we have our own individual strengths and struggles . We just don ’ t seem to talk about the strengths enough .
My hopes are that we take the time to understand and appreciate ND talent , and then share that knowledge and positivity with our businesses and clients . As people and talent professionals , we really do have an amazing opportunity to change the lens on ND , to pull it into focus and let it shine .
I would encourage you all to become curious about ND and to learn more about it . You will be amazed ; you will definitely know people who are neurodivergent , and you probably are yourself .
When I joined Jisc , I spoke to my manager and he was happy for me to set up a neurodiversity group where those with an interest in neurodiversity can come together . The group includes neurodivergent colleagues , some of us with ND children , managers with ND team members and those who just want to know more . We invite members to share experiences and we invite guest speakers from external organisations to increase our knowledge and awareness further .
I have gained so much from this . Our D & I lead sponsor described it as the best meeting he had ever attended . But what made me realise we are doing good was the email I received after the last session where a colleague wrote to the whole team to share his ADHD diagnosis , saying that attending the group had made him feel so confident that he works in a team that truly supports and appreciates ND . This was everything to me and made me so happy that we are making a difference .
Mel Francis is senior HR business partner at Jisc and a neurodiversity champion and guest speaker .

TRANSFORMATIONAL TALES

T t r a n s f o r m at i o n a l ta l e s

GETTING TO KNOW NEURODIVERSITY

We need to talk more about neurodiverse conditions in the people and talent space to understand and appreciate the many opportunities , writes Mel Francis , senior HR business partner at Jisc .

n 2018 , my sonToby was diagnosed with autism

I spectrum disorder ( ASD ), one of many neurodiverse conditions that come under the umbrella term ‘ neurodiversity ’ ( ND ). Up until this moment three years ago , I was pretty ignorant as to its true meaning . But that all changed in one diagnosis .

“ My son , my world ” has been my motto for the past 13 years , since I gave birth to my gorgeous child . Being his mum is the most important job I have , and it is a privilege to watch him grow and develop into a truly amazing young man , of whom I am extremely proud .

Telling my brilliant boy that he is autistic was one of the most difficult things I will ever have to do . I will remember it always . We looked at some information together and learned about it together , too . Now , we understand better and we talk about it . Importantly for Toby , he is more comfortable with having Asperger ’ s than being autistic , so we use that term , despite it having been ‘ wrapped up ’ into ASD a few years ago . It highlights the stigma attached to autism , even at Toby ’ s age , but I hope to change that , even if it is just for a few people .

Thinking ahead to employment

I was really worried that others wouldn ’ t see the brilliance I can see in Toby . I know that recruitment practices are skewed towards the outgoing communicators : the ones who stand out ; not the ones who sit quietly internalising their thoughts .

People I spoke to had some interesting insights . I was told to get him into Microsoft because “ they ’ ve got loads of them ”. I was honestly shocked that educated , professional people would speak about neurodiverse talent this way . We would never say the same for any other minority group . It was this that really spurred me on to learn more and to raise awareness of neurodiversity as much as I could .

We are not talking about neurodiversity in HR and I don ’ t really understand why

Awareness around neurodiversity

I ’ ve realised that we are not talking about neurodiversity in HR and I don ’ t really understand why . The D & I plans I had worked on didn ’ t mention ND ; our ‘ reasonable adjustments ’ were never related to it . All of the employee relations cases I had supported in the past suddenly had a different potential lens to them , one I hadn ’ t seen .

Selfishly , I wanted to help the world to be a more ND-friendly place by the time Toby enters the workforce . So , I spoke to my coach about what I wanted to do and shared the reservations I had because I wasn ’ t an expert so didn ’ t feel I had a voice in the space . He helped me realise that I didn ’ t need to be an expert and that sharing my own experiences was the most powerful thing I could do . I am so thankful for that discussion ; it spurred me on to share what I was learning about autism and neurodiversity more broadly .

I started to share information on LinkedIn and made some great connections . The most important for me has been Professor Amanda Kirby — an expert in ND . I have learned so much from her and been lucky to co-host several sessions around raising awareness . I am also lucky to have recently been taught by her and Janette Beecham on their Neurodiversity Aware programme . It was truly the best course I have attended and I am hoping to complete the qualification shortly — my brain was brimming and I gained so much from it .

Change is needed in the people and talent space

Neurodiversity is the umbrella term for neurodiverse conditions that include autistic spectrum disorder , dyslexia , attention deficit hyperactivity disorder ( ADHD ), dyscalculia , dyspraxia , developmental language disorder and tic disorders ( including Tourette ’ s syndrome ). It literally means differences ( diversity ) in our brain ( neuro ).

It ’ s estimated that one in six of us is neurodiverse and , the more I learn , the more I think that that is a conservative estimate . If you take the analogy that our brains are like a fingerprint — every one is unique — then we ’ re all neurodiverse .

I definitely think knowledge , insight and basic awareness around ND are lacking in the people and talent space , and I think this is because we ’ re not talking about it enough . Universally , not just in HR . But people and talent is all about attracting , recruiting , retaining , developing and supporting talent , so how can we do that if we don ’ t understand and appreciate neurodiverse conditions ? I don ’ t mean this as a criticism in any way ; I don ’ t think we are talking about and understanding ND on a wider society level .

Knowing a bit about neurodiverse conditions will make you more confident to talk about them and to identify where the strengths might be best placed in your business

We are starting to understand it a lot more and I am so pleased when I hear it mentioned in relation to staff and processes . However , this is still a rare occurrence and we are not doing our job unless we are truly inclusive ; we are currently not talking about the one in six .

Build confidence through knowledge and expertise

Leaders don ’ t need to become experts in ND , that ’ s the first thing . But they should have an awareness and understanding of neurodiversity and the talent in this space . Some companies are doing a great job . Microsoft does stand out for its neuro-inclusive attraction and recruitment practices , and the tech companies are leading the way , but more and more organisations are increasing their awareness . I was recently on a training course which was well attended by staff from the British Transport Police and Admiral Insurance ; they ’ re both doing a great job .

As people and talent professionals , we have a huge opportunity to make a positive difference in all our practices . The benefits for organisations and individuals are immense . We are really happy to talk about our DiSC profiles , our Insights colours or our MBTI profiles . But we are not comfortable talking about neurodiverse conditions — yet .

I truly believe that what needs to change is our knowledge and awareness . Knowing a bit about neurodiverse conditions will make you more confident to talk about them and to identify where the strengths might be best placed in your business .

It is also important to know that there is not one description of each of the ND conditions . When my son was diagnosed , I jumped straight to the stereotype of autism – socially awkward , quiet , doesn ’ t communicate well ; my son is none of these . The psychologist gave me a brilliant cartoon (‘ Understanding the spectrum ’ by Rebecca Burgess ) which was invaluable . It shows a young boy describing autism and my biggest takeaway was that the autistic spectrum is not linear , going from ‘ not very autistic ’ to ‘ very autistic ’. It is , in fact , a kaleidoscope of colours and elements , which is why it is true that we are ‘ all on the spectrum ’.

The same can be applied to all neurodiverse conditions . As with our brain analogy , we are all individual and we have our own individual strengths and struggles . We just don ’ t seem to talk about the strengths enough .

My hopes are that we take the time to understand and appreciate neurodiverse talent , and then share that knowledge and positivity with our businesses and clients

Opening up opportunities for neurodiverse talent

My hopes are that we take the time to understand and appreciate ND talent , and then share that knowledge and positivity with our businesses and clients . As people and talent professionals , we really do have an amazing opportunity to change the lens on ND , to pull it into focus and let it shine .

I would encourage you all to become curious about ND and to learn more about it . You will be amazed ; you will definitely know people who are neurodivergent , and you probably are yourself .

When I joined Jisc , I spoke to my manager and he was happy for me to set up a neurodiversity group where those with an interest in neurodiversity can come together . The group includes neurodivergent colleagues , some of us with ND children , managers with ND team members and those who just want to know more . We invite members to share experiences and we invite guest speakers from external organisations to increase our knowledge and awareness further .

I have gained so much from this . Our D & I lead sponsor described it as the best meeting he had ever attended . But what made me realise we are doing good was the email I received after the last session where a colleague wrote to the whole team to share his ADHD diagnosis , saying that attending the group had made him feel so confident that he works in a team that truly supports and appreciates ND . This was everything to me and made me so happy that we are making a difference .

Mel Francis is senior HR business partner at Jisc and a neurodiversity champion and guest speaker .