Black woman in a wheelchair looking up a set of stairs in a house.

Creating an environment that is inclusive of all employees, for whatever differences they have, prepares employees to be respectful, open, and even excited about inclusion.  Truly, being unapologetically accepting of difference is one of the most profitable, transformative, and exciting changes any employer will ever make.

Making diversity and inclusion a priority in the workplace sets the tone for all employees that embracing differences is a point of pride and a foundational value that will improve employee satisfaction, increase productivity, foster a tolerant workplace culture, and proactively prevent most of the potential pitfalls of hiring autistic employees– or any employees who belong to protected classes.

Building a Diverse and Inclusive Workplace Culture:

  1. Prioritize diversity and inclusion in your publications, employee manuals, protocols, job postings, and in your advertisements
  2. Include questions about diversity and inclusion in structured interviews when recruiting and hiring new candidates
  3. Ensure your new hire trainings include celebratory diversity and inclusion education
  4. Keep diversity and inclusion as a focus in weekly emails, office newsletters, company publications, and staff meetings
  5. Distribute informative literature about cultural, gender, disability, identity, ethnic, and other minority populations represented in your workplace, community, or clients to your workforce regularly.  Find articles and other empowering educational and advocacy materials written by people who belong to the protected class they reference.  Use articles about Muslims written by Muslims, articles about deaf people written by deaf people.  For articles about autistic people and other neurodivergent and disabled people, pull from The Aspergian.
  6. Make a commitment to diversity and inclusion a part of the performance evaluations and measure employee dedication to being accommodating, inclusive, accepting, and an ally to those with differences.
  7. Invite employees into the process by asking them to share resources and find articles to be included in weekly emails and publications.

By enlisting employees to take an active part in diversity and inclusion measures, employers and leadership personnel effectively create a culture which values as a part of the job description being a contributing force to the betterment of the company atmosphere.

The key to a successful culture change at work is to create an environment that is self-rewarding and empowers employees to practice kindness, humility, and integrity.  Being in a work environment that provides employees to have ways to contribute positively to the lives of others and to practice civic responsibility makes a demonstrable positive impact on employee satisfaction.

When the benefits of a professional position provide only monetary rewards, employees are more likely to do only what is required to secure their financial position.  In this environment, it means that other employees are viewed more as competition than teammates.

If it’s clear that collaboration and facilitating the success of co-workers is more of a priority than outperforming co-workers, and that promotions and success are based on how much someone prioritizes ensuring all employees are supported, learn new skills, are given tasks suited to their neurology— which bolsters productivity, then the priorities of the workforce shift to being one of cooperation.

Inclusion, Human Resources, and Privacy

Hiring employees with disability, especially those who have invisible disabilities– like autistic people, people with autoimmune conditions, or those with learning disability– can present challenges for employers.  If other employees do not understand the behaviors of those with invisible disability, and they don’t know about the disability, their first instinct is to feel the other person is being manipulative, asking for special privileges, or feeling entitled.

Normally, the employer and human resources (HR) are at an impasse because they can’t disclose private medical information to explain that an employee with invisible disability has been misunderstood; however, if the employer makes it clear that the company recruits, hires, and promotes neurodivergent and other employees with disabilities, then employees are much more receptive to behavior that deviates from the norm.

White guys in suits talking way too much with their hands at a desk.

A Case Study Example

Mark, a man with autism, was working in a garage associated with a locally-owned car dealership.  Mark was always on time, was great at fixing everything and problem-solving, never missed work, and never had any problems.  His employer, the owner of the dealership, took note and promoted Mark to the sales floor.

At first, Mark was working in small sales– tires, service plans, accessories, etc.  One day, the floor was busy and one of the top car salespeople, Scott, came to assist Mark.  Scott finished a slip Mark had started.  Concerned with following the rules, Mark approached the senior salesperson and asked him, “Aren’t we supposed to finish all tickets we start?”

Scott believed Mark was passive-aggressively accusing him of trying to steal Mark’s commission– just a few dollars– on a tire sale.  Mark was simply trying to watch out for Scott and himself by following the rules and ensuring neither of them got in trouble for breaking protocol.

Scott went to management and complained about Mark, ranting that he “Just wasn’t a fit for the culture.”  Mark was let go after the third simple misunderstanding.

The above case study is an example of how as someone moves up in a career, the social nuances of the workplace culture are less concrete and more intuitive.  Mark flourished in the garage because all expectations were concrete, and he only needed to solve mechanical problems.

When the social demands took precedence over the task demands, Mark’s good intentions and profound effort were thought to be purposefully misleading.  Mark never disclosed his autism because he believed it would hurt him in the workplace.

If Mark’s employer had been proactive, had made an open and purposeful attempt to not only hire autistic and other neurodivergent employees but to support them, he would have disclosed that he was autistic.

Mark would’ve been an ideal employee: reliable, safety-oriented, accurate, detailed, honest, rule-following, loyal, and driven.  In fact, he had already memorized more information about the products and vehicles sold than all of the other employees combined.

Road sign that said Diversity [arrow] Equality [arrow] Inclusion

The Bottom Line

Unless a culture is fostered wherein the leadership demonstrates an authentic, purposeful commitment to hiring and supporting disabled, diverse employees, then the “differences” will be viewed as a threat, or something to be skirted around, by the abled workforce who are unprepared to accept differences.

English as a second language, social communication difficulties, auditory processing differences, and other diverse factors which typically hinder well-qualified, capable employees will always be an obstacle until employers learn how to best support and manage diversity in the workplace.

The cost of hiring a new employee averages over $5,000, and high turnover rates/cost of hiring is the most expensive problem facing most employers.  Diversity and inclusion interventions which are not philosophically and proactively attended to are expensive and fail more often than they succeed because employers are ill-prepared.

However, the most prosperous businesses in any competitive market are those which not only recruit diverse employees but which make diversity and inclusion a priority in all aspects of the workplace culture from recruitment to promoting leadership.

Only when equality and inclusion becomes a cornerstone of the expressed and implied culture of a workplace can employers and their disabled and diverse employees thrive collaboratively.

Look for a good consultant, one who is specialized in diversity and inclusion, who can train your leadership and oversee your change initiatives.  Stay up-to-date on best practices in diversity and inclusion, and build a better workplace for all employees.

4 Comments

  1. Excellent list of ideas …  and so many of these initiatives are missing the mark!

  2. This is a common scenario for autistics.  We are forced to leave because someone doesn’t think we “fit”, not because we are not qualified.  I have lost jobs where my supervisor admitted I was the one she would go to if she needed help, yet was let go because the new (more popular) therapist was better liked.  I have also been told that I needed to avoid using skills others in the department didn’t possess, since when I wasn’t there (weekends or vacations) it “made the others look bad”.

    There are only a finite number of times one can be let go for “personality conflicts” before there are no other places where one will be considered for employment.

    No matter how finely tuned our skills, if our coworkers find us strange, we will become unemployed.  This is a huge reason so many adult autistics live in poverty.

  3. Another excellent piece!  I especially liked this part, “When the benefits of a professional position provide only monetary rewards, employees are more likely to do only what is required to secure their financial position.  In this environment, it means that other employees are viewed more as competition than teammates.”  This, and everything about this!  Corporate politics creates a hostile environment by virtue of what it teaches its employees to do…compete against each other.  You hit the nail on the head!  (And that ‘Mark’ scenario is painfully familiar.)


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