Workplace diversity, design and strategy

How do you measure diversity and inclusion in the workplace if people don’t identify as being in a defined or separate category? And why should they? Diverse from what or whom? What is the baseline measure and who is doing the measuring? And is disability or ageing considered part of the diverse workforce population? A research team in Italy had a look at workplace diversity, design and strategy to assess the state of play.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted how much the physical environment can affect people’s well-being, mental health, social relationships, customs and habits.”

A brightly coloured graphic representing women from different cultures and ethnic backgrounds.

In their paper, the researchers discuss examples of workplaces that claim to promote a culture of diversity and reduced discrimination. Many have created positions for “Diversity and Inclusion Managers” to asses the mismatch between company and employee perceptions of inclusion. Details of the research methodology include diversity types, design features, workplace policies and strategies.

Disability, race, gender

Company reports embrace and list diversity features. The most cited diversity feature is disability, followed by ethnicity/race, gender, sexual orientation and age. However, ignoring this listing and focusing on inclusion and accessibility provides other measures of success.

Inclusion is when “an employee feels a sense of community and belonging in a work system, being accepted by others for their unique characteristics and treated as an insider.”

Image from “Turning back time for inclusion, today as well as tomorrow.

Inclusion is one group looking at another group and thinking about "Them".

Physical spaces

Companies focus on HR policies for inclusion but don’t address aspects such as workspace design. This separation neglects the role of architectural and interior design. However, there is research on the physical elements of workplace design. Floor plans, acoustic comfort, choice of materials and green building certifications all have a role to play.

Diversity and inclusion is more than a policy or strategy. Organisations need to join the dots between employment practices and the design of the workplace. For people with disability in particular both are essential. An inclusive corporate culture together with an appropriately designed physical environment is what’s required. That’s universal design in action.

The title of the paper is, Room for diversity: a review of research and industry approaches to inclusive workplaces. (Open access.)

While organisations of all types claim to be implementing diversity strategies in the workplace, it isn’t easy to measure their validity. The video from the UK is a parody on employers who say their organisations are diverse.

From the abstract

This paper explores how scientific literature and company reports address inclusive workplace design and strategies. It asks the following question: To what extent is inclusion present in workplace design and related strategies?

We analysed 27 scientific papers and 25 corporate social responsibility reports of the highest-ranked companies in the Great Place to Work global ranking. We disentangled the main aspects related to workplace design and strategies for promoting inclusion.

This paper reports on four macro-categories of diversity that support the development of inclusive workplace design. These are psychophysical; cultural; socio-economic conditions; and ability, experience and strengths.

Although diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) is key in many organizations, it remains unclear how DE&I principles are applied in workspace design and strategies. This scoping review integrates scientific knowledge and practice-based approaches which address this matter independently.

Universal design & neurodiversity in the workplace

Business and academic research on inclusive workplace cultures typically focus on race and/or gender. Disability and neurodiversity are often overlooked or excluded from this research and resulting policies and practices. A universal design approach is the way to take a holistic look at the issues and solutions for neurodiversity in the workplace. Indeed, these are good workplace practices for everyone. That’s what universal design is about.

Workplace employee groups can help marginalised groups feel heard, but they can also place an additional burden on individuals to seek workplace improvements.

five young people in the picture, two men, three women. Three are sitting on couches, and two stand behind. They look like they are having a discussion. Four are white, there is one black woman. neurodiversity in the workplace.

A short paper by Preziosa and Hill uses the 7 principles of universal design as a framework for implementing inclusive practices. The authors present the 7 principles in a matrix, and used four principles, briefly outlined below, as an example:

Equitable Use: Avoid the need for people with disability to have separate service or experiences. Eliminate label-based inclusion, such as targeted hiring programs for autistic people. This segregates employees into specific fields and requires them to self-identify any “special” condition they have.

Flexibility in Use: Build in preferences outside the norm such as playback speed options for training videos. Offer to be flexible and acknowledge that individual differences are expected and welcome.

Simple and Intuitive to Use: Avoid unnecessary complexity and repetition of processes, tools, and webpages.

Tolerance for Error: Allow room for mistakes and edits. Ensure digital form, tools and software allow for review and correction.

The authors claim that neurodiverse employees who receive support services show higher retention rates, and most required less than 4 support hours a month. In addition, many benefitted from support with problem solving and organising their work.

Universal design and employment scenarios

The authors matrix consists of 7 universal design principles and 6 workplace elements. They are: Designing, Hiring, Contracting, Training, Performance Review and Wellbeing. The information is also good for managing groups and teams outside the workplace environment.

The title of the short paper is, What can organizations do to create an environment which successfully supports, engages and retains their neurodiverse employees?

Neurodiversity in the workplace

Foosball or Football Table with red and white teams. Games such as these are cater for workplace neurodiversity.

People with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, autism, anxiety or depression can feel stressed and uncomfortable. Consequently they are less productive. Employers could be missing out by not considering neurodiversity in the workplace. 

As many as one in eight people are neurodiverse according to an article in The Fifth Estate. COVID led to sterile environments. Offices removed their fabric coverings and other soft elements to make cleaning easier. But it makes spaces noisy, clinical and uninviting. 

Even working from home isn’t the answer for everyone. Just because you can work from home doesn’t mean you should. Long hours in a hard chair at the kitchen table isn’t optimum.

The article discusses colour, signage, the size and shape of spaces, textiles and plants. Even games such as Foosball tables have a place.

The solutions are in design of the office, the office culture and inclusive policies. When it comes to neurodiversity we have to ask, what is neurotypical anyway? Workplace designs that consider diversity are good for everyone.

There is more in this article titled, Considering neurodiversity to create better, more productive workplaces. The Fifth Estate also has an ebook for purchase, My (new) Happy Healthy Workplace

Related articles

7 things an autistic person needs in the workplace are:

  • No two people are alike
  • Ditch the stereotypes
  • Ask how we would like to be referred to
  • Be open to having a conversation to discuss what works
  • Be flexible to customise our working environment
  • Help us maximise our strengths
  • Provide us with opportunities to progress

Research on designing technology for neurodiverse users reminds us that this ends up being good design for everyone.

The Autism Research Starter Pack has strategies for including people with autism.

Time for the majority to step up for inclusion

Promoting the concepts of diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging often falls to members of minority groups – people who are not included. But it’s actually up to members of the majority to step up for inclusion and get involved in DEIB.

A mosaic of many different faces and nationalities

Cody J Smith’s article lists 10 actions people in the majority can do to improve DEIB. He writes in the context of the sciences, but these actions apply anywhere. His ten actions are briefly listed below. It’s interesting that Smith has added “belonging” to today’s standard “DEI”. Belonging is how you feel when DEI is happening.

10 actions for inclusion

1. Listen to people’s experiences. Read the growing literature by people from underrepresented groups. If you are in the majority, what can you do to improve matters.
2. Check your implicit biases. Implicit bias is rampant in awards, publications, promotions and speaker selection.
3. Stop interrupting. Take time to watch the dynamics of meeting. If you identify someone overly interrupting, invite the person who was speaking to finish their point.
4. As you take a lead to impact DEIB, you will make mistakes. As in science, learn from them and adapt until you find a solution.
5. People from minority groups are often asked to take on additional responsibilities to represent their minority group. This extra work should be compensated rather than asking them to sign up for “the greater good”.
6. Those in the majority can wait for change, but that is not the case for those in the minority. Start working on solutions for immediate change.
7. Get in the room. Make an effort to attend DEIB events and encourage others in the majority to attend. Be careful to schedule non DEIB events so they don’t conflict with DEIB events.
8. Train others to advocate – start discussions and share literature.
9. Include DEIB in the classroom/staff meetings – is your work inclusive?
10. Find a DEIB champion. Smith explains the impact of Ben Barres who was the first openly transgender member of the National Academy of Sciences. Barres shares experiences of being both a woman and a man, and the impact of sexual harassment.

Learn from discomfort

The ten points are in the context of a science lecturer and researcher but the points are clear. Smith encourages people to “lean into any discomfort” you might experience – it will be how you learn – if you listen. For more detail see Smith’s article.

The main point though is that without the majority taking a lead, the minority cannot do it alone. After all, it is the majority who decide whether “others” will be included, feel validated and like they belong.

The title of the short article is, Members of the majority need to actively promote diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging.


Autism workplace campaigns

Autism awareness campaigns have highlighted the socio-economic inequalities experienced by autistic people. A new stereotype has emerged from autism workplace campaigns such as autistic ‘talent’ and autism ‘advantage’. The aim of these labels is meant to encourage employers to hire autistic workers. But what we really need is a universal design approach. A briefing paper from Queensland University of Technology examines this new phenomena.

A brightly coloured logo in the style of a jig saw puzzle for Autism Awareness.

Awareness campaigns are based on the desire to do the right thing to improve socio-political conditions and opportunities for employment. However, they can lead to focusing on specific traits as if they are special. It adds up to stereotyping.

Marketing autistic people with ‘autistic traits’ will not guarantee inclusion even if it results in employment. Indeed, such marketing can result in thinking that all autistic people are the same. Nevertheless, highlighting the strengths and skills of autistic people could change negative perceptions and open up employment opportunities.

But these kinds of awareness-raising initiatives rely on ableist assumptions and a hierarchy of difference. That is, society still regards non-disabled people as the norm so people with disability remain outside this categorisation. Then thoughts turn to specialised accommodations.

Universal design as an alternative

The authors invite readers to focus on re-organising work so that the most number of people benefit without having to be excluded before they are included. They propose a universal design paradigm for inclusivity.

Contrary to traditional diversity and inclusion approaches that define or limit what diversity and inclusion mean, who is diverse and how they might be identified, Universal Design creates the conditions for diversity and inclusion to occur naturally.

Calista Castles, & Deanna Grant-Smith

Many of the diversity and inclusion measures that segregate socio-political groups, could benefit us all. A universal design approach negates the need for raising awareness of differences and can transition society towards acceptance of human difference.

If social, work and learning environments were universally designed we wouldn’t need special initiatives. These initiatives only serve to reinforce the marginalisation and stereotypes by reminding people of human difference. Or that special accommodations need to be made.

The title of the short article is, Autism at work campaigns: Are they creating inclusion in the workforce? This is an interesting briefing paper that succinctly spells out the issues of positive stereotyping any marginalised group.

Barriers to employment

Logo for Aspect Capable

If there is a supportive environment, many autistic people could be employed. Indeed, they could flourish and be an asset to the workplace. Employers need to know what sort of adjustments are needed so they can reach their potential. Often they are really simple, particularly if thinking from a universal design perspective.

An interesting and informative article from London South Bank University covers the topic comprehensively. The open access article can be downloaded in Word from the university website. The title of the article is “Identifying and Addressing Barriers to Employment of Autistic Adults”. In the UK they have The Equality Act and The Autism Act which emphasise access to work. Good to see this topic being covered.

Aspect Capable website has more information on a Australian initiative and the video shows how autistic people can achieve in the workplace.

Diversity and inclusion: Can we co-design our work?

A woman is sitting at a dining table typing on her laptop. When home is the workplace it can enable diversity and inclusion in the workplace.Employers are experimenting with managing the changing face of work and employee feedback is of course essential. So, will universal design principles and the practice of co-design come to the fore in designing work? Perhaps. Regardless, it’s the way to sustain and build diversity and inclusion in the workplace. 

Most employees currently working in a hybrid model want it retained. A report by McKinsey found this was the case across the board. They also found that marginalised groups wanted it more than others:

    • Employees with disabilities were 11 percent more likely to prefer a hybrid work model than employees without disabilities.
    • More than 70 percent of men and women expressed strong preferences for hybrid work, but nonbinary employees were 14 percent more likely to prefer it.
    • LGBQ+ employees were 13 percent more likely to prefer hybrid work than their heterosexual peers.

However, the McKinsey report highlighted potential pitfalls:

    • Hybrid work has the potential to create an unequal playing field if not done correctly.
    • Companies need to prioritize the most critical inclusion practices: work-life support, team building, and mutual respect.
    • Marginalized groups are more likely to prefer a hybrid work model and would be more likely to leave if it was not available.

Hybrid good for inclusion

In their survey, 75 percent of all respondents said that they prefer a hybrid working model. Only 25 percent said they prefer to be full time on-site. An employee who might be hiding a disability, gender identity or sexual orientation can avoid declaring it. Concealing this information takes a toll on employee wellbeing and performance. Until workplaces are truly more inclusive hybrid works well for many groups. 

As employers navigate their way through new ways of working they shouldn’t mistake hybrid as flexibility. Some organisations were able to manage issues of isolation and mental health during the pandemic. Nevertheless, these issues remain across the business landscape, particularly for some traditionally underrepresented groups.

The title of the report is, How can hybrid work models prioritize diversity, equity, and inclusion?

The article was re-published by the World Economic Forum with permission. Will universal design principles and the practice of co-design come to the fore in designing work? We shall see. 

Inclusive Job Descriptions Toolkit

A deep red background to a sign saying "we are hiring".Diversity, equity and inclusion are the current buzz words in the workplace, and it all starts with recruiting. So, how inclusive are job descriptions? Using gender inclusive language, meaning cisgender inclusive, now seems normal. Now we need to think about language for all marginalised groups. Grand Valley State University Libraries has an Inclusive Job Descriptions Toolkit to help. 

The toolkit is focused on university recruitment, but the information can be used in other contexts. They use the acronym IDEA – Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Access.  

The first part of the toolkit outlines best practices and the second part provides an equity lens for reviewing the job descriptions. The appendices include additional language and job description templates.

The toolkit lists the components of a job description some of which are specific to the university context. However, all job descriptions should give an employee a clear guide to the role and what is expected of them. A job description answers the question “What does this role do?” The next section gives guidance on writing inclusive job descriptions. 

Writing an inclusive job description

Inclusive language reduces the likelihood of applicants from self-selecting out. Biased language can occur unintentionally and can have a negative impact on recruitment efforts. For example, a job being suited to a recent graduate may signal a desire to avoid older workers.

The section on tips for writing job descriptions has many of the usual points for clear communication. For example: conciseness, simple gender inclusive language, and avoiding acronyms. Other tips are on phrasing such as moving from “excellent communication skills” to “ability to communicate clearly and effectively”.

The toolkit lists gender, race, and ableist coded words that most people wouldn’t consider as non-inclusive:

    • Female-Coded Words: Agreeable, empathetic, sensitive, affectionate, feel, support, collaborate, honest, trust, commit, interpersonal, understanding, compassion, nurture, and share.
    • Male-Coded Words: Aggressive, confident, fearless, ambitious, decisive, head-strong, assertive, defend, independent, battle, dominant, outspoken, challenge, driven and superior.
    • Racially Coded Words: Excellent English-language skills, clear-spoken, native English speaker, cultural fit, nice, polite, Latino/Latina, professionalism
    • Ableist-Coded Words: Energetic, athletic, able-bodied individual, talking with students, walking through the building

The section that follows gives examples of how to make changes to phrasing. The section on ableist phrasing could do with some improvements, but it gives the idea. 

Equity lens for diversity and inclusion

Applying an equity lens is a reminder that an organisation cannot embody IDEA without reviewing and updating their job descriptions and recruitment practices. 

“It is explicit in drawing attention to the inclusion of marginalized populations, typically communities of color, and can be adapted to focus on other communities. … An equity lens will not tell you what action to take. Rather, the lens helps you discuss and reflect on the equitableness of the action and decision-making process.”

The document can also be found on the Library Reports and Communication webpage. Grand Scholar Works is a service of the Grand Valley State University Libraries. Michigan USA.

The Future of the Office in Australia

Sourceable reports on the changing face of the office – the place where hybrid work is possible. The article has a real-estate focus but includes a nod to access and inclusion:

“… employers are facing rising pressure to address environmental, social, and governance issues in their offices and policies. Buildings that are inclusive and accessible for all workers have become more prominent in the industry, with popular features of new office buildings including prayer rooms and gender-neutral facilities.”

Age and workplace competence

Aerial view of an open office with people seated at desks in cubicles. If we say older people make more loyal and reliable employees, what does that say about younger people? And anyway, are these stereotypes valid? Ironically, public policy uses age stereotypes to overcome stereotypes about older workers. However, the connection between age and workplace competence is not supported in the research. 

One of the key issues here is that there is no clear definition of what an ‘older worker’ is. This makes it difficult to build relevant public policy. The range of ages is between 40 and 64 depending on who is doing the research.

The other issue is how to manage the intersection of age with other characteristics such as gender and work type. So, there is a need for an approach that acknowledges people of a given age are not all alike. The stereotypes are a social construct and have little to do with individuals. Hence, employment programs should be based on individual need rather than age. Indeed, older age based programs only serve to entrench the stereotypes.

Age discrimination is not related to one age group. Younger people face discrimination in the workplace too. The research indicates that the attributes canvased by advocates of older workers are not necessarily those that employers seek. 

Firefighters and two firetrucks attending to a fire.
Emergency workers transfer knowledge to new contexts. Image by Jon Pauling.

Public policy that pushes for a longer working life also makes several assumptions. People who work in jobs that cannot be done in later life, are overlooked in this scenario. And ‘productive ageing’ might not mean paid work, or that retirement is unproductive.

Population ageing has brought calls to prolong working lives. This has the potential to be a good thing for individuals and the economy. However, not everyone has a job-type that will support the extension of their paid working life.

Public policy

Philip Taylor and Warwick Smith provide a thoughtful overview of the situation in their conference paper, Rethinking Advocacy on Ageing and Work. Policymaking should aim for measures that support all people in transition, for instance, in entry to work, job loss and re-entry to work, based on the assumption that the needs of young and old are not
much different. 

Advocates for older workers might be doing them a dis-service by perpetuating stereotypes. Younger and older workers are not in competition. Consequently both will benefit from efforts to promote their sustained employment.

Examples of stereotyping in reports

Front cover of What's Age Got to do with it?
Front cover of report

Four years ago Per Capita published a report with the title, What’s age got to do with it? It challenged the stereotypical statements about older workers. Although these were meant to be positive statements, they were reinforcing stereotyping. Stereotypes gain currency in society and the result is discrimination. 

The Australian Human Rights Commission has re-used the title for their report, What’s age got to do with it? A snapshot of ageism across the Australian lifespan. The research for the report sought Australian thoughts about age and ageism.

The research focused on attitudes about age rather than behaviours. It involved an online survey of 2440 Australians and 11 focus groups. Ninety per cent of respondents agreed that ageism exists. However, some respondents weren’t clear what ageism is. 

Making jokes about age was seen as more acceptable than making jokes about race or gender. Many thought the media played a significant role in producing stereotypical portrayals of all age groups. Stereotypes are strongly held by each group and accepted as fact. The report explores this. 

Ageism impacts our human rights. We all have a right to health, education, housing and employment. We have the right to basic freedoms and to make choices. Consciously or subconsciously those in power can infringe these rights based on what they believe to be true . 

The report was led by Kay Patterson, Commissioner for Ageing and consequently, the report is presented within this context. However the findings support the earlier work by Philip Taylor and Warwick Smith in the Per Capita report. Their work challenged the earlier report, Willing to Work, also published by the Human Rights Commission, 

Professor Philip Taylor is a CUDA Board Member and presented at the UD2021 Conference in Melbourne.

Debunking the myths about ageing and work

Two men are working on a construction site. One is holding a circular saw which has just cut through a large timber board. Ageing and work.Age discrimination is illegal in Australia, but when it comes to employment things get tricky. And then there is the question of the government wanting people to work to a later age. However, what are the real facts on this issue? Philip Taylor lists eight myths in a summary of an article for the Diversity Council of Australia

Debunking the myths:

Myth 1. Age discrimination towards older workers is endemic. Reality: Age discrimination is potentially faced by all workers.

Myth 2: Different generations have different orientations to work. Reality: It is employee life stage (e.g. school leaver, working parent, graduating to retirement) that makes a big difference – not generation.

Myth 3: Older people are an homogeneous group. Reality: Older and younger people have intersectional parts of their identity which impacts on how they experience inclusion at work.

Myth 4: Older workers outperform younger ones in terms of their reliability, loyalty, work ethic and life experience. Reality: Performance is not linked to age – except in very rare circumstances.

Myth 5: Older people have a lifetime of experience that managers should recognise. Reality: Relevant experience, is more valuable than experience, of itself.

Myth 6: Younger workers are more dynamic, entrepreneurial, and tech savvy than older workers. Reality: Older people have a lot to offer the modern workplace.

Myth 7: Younger workers feel entitled and won’t stick around. Reality: Younger workers are more likely to be in insecure employment and to experience unemployment. 

Myth 8: Older people who stay on at work are taking jobs from younger people. Reality: Increasing the employment of older workers does not harm and may even benefit, younger people’s employment prospects.

The title of the article on the Diversity Council website is, Myth Busting Age Discrimination at Work. You will have to sign in for the full paper. 

The summary is titled, What are the myths (and facts) on ageing and work? and you can find out a little more about the myths listed above.

You might be interested in a related article on including people with disability in the workplace – it’s a lot easier than most people think. 

 

Workplaces: Lessons from the pandemic

Graphic showing a laptop computer screen with coloured squares each with a face of a person. Workplaces: lessons from the pandemic.The pandemic has shown that workplaces can be almost anywhere. People who previously experienced physical barriers to workplaces found working online from home a blessing. But that doesn’t mean employers and managers don’t have to worry about accessibility and inclusion any more. Hybrid working where some staff are onsite and others online is where there are a few problems to solve. G3ict has some workplace lessons from the pandemic to share. 

Creating an inclusive workplace means catering for equity and accessibility in physical and virtual spaces. Platforms such as Zoom evolved quickly and now include automatic captioning for meetings and webinars. But there are additional things to consider in hybrid settings where some participants are online and others are in the conference room. 

Many conference rooms now include technology to accommodate hybrid meetings, but there is more to do. We need protocols around seating, placement of a sign language interpreter, captioning and the ability to use the “chat” function.  

Including people with disability – some tips

Including people with disability – and you might not know they have one – requires an approach that allows for equity and dignity. For example, a person should not have to ask for captioning to be enabled. If they have to ask they probably won’t because they don’t want to be singled out. If the captioning is clear, and AI captioning can be patchy, it’s good when sound is distorted or digitised. 

Not everyone will be viewing on a large screen, so presentation slides should allow for this. Large text with good colour contrast will ensure a higher level of readability for all. Not all vision conditions can be solved with glasses so it help people with low vision too.

Head and shoulders of James Thurston. He is wearing a light blue shirt and glasses and smiling to the camera.
James Thurston

The G3ict blog post discusses other details such as workplace furniture and products. Even fabric textures, patterns and colour contrasts can affect some people.  As the blog says:

“There is no handbook on how to create a fully accessible hybrid workplace, but engaging staff from a cross-disability perspective for ideas and product testing on both the physical and virtual side is critically important.”

“Set-backs in your plans should not be seen as failures but rather learning opportunities to move you towards a workplace that is accessible, inclusive and functional for everyone because truly hitting a “reset button” is not a singular action but a journey we must all be on together.”

When home is the workplace

A woman is sitting at a dining table typing on her laptop. When home is the workplace.Computers and internet provided the opportunity for some people to occasionally work from home. That was pre-Covid-19 when Home was still Home. But now Home is the workplace as well as home. It’s also been a place for education, long day care, and a place to stay safe. For some, home is all four at once: workplace, school, childcare centre and safe haven. Open spaces have taken on an increased value as a means of escape from the same four walls. But not everyone has easy access to open space, public or private.

Our homes were never designed for any of this. Not on a long-term basis anyway. Then there are the institutional homes – the aged care industry has not fared well in providing a sense of home for its residents. So we need a complete re-think about what it means to be “going to work at home”. 

A paper from Ireland looks at the impact of the pandemic on everyday lives and the need to adapt the built environment. The authors argue that: 

“There is now a key opportunity to implement universal design, to allow the best possible use of space, to enable everyone to live, work and socialise safely and equally.”

The authors discuss issues related to the public realm, housing design, and green infrastructure, and access for people with disability. They conclude that the pause mode caused by Covid-19 gives an opportunity to improve the lives of city dwellers. 

The title of the paper is, The impact of Covid-19 on our relationship with the built environment. 

From the abstract:

This article aims to explore the impact that the Covid-19 pandemic has had on the built environment in Ireland. It considers how our homes might suit the future needs of all citizens, particularly the needs of the most vulnerable members of society.

The growth in ‘working from home’ has highlighted architectural issues such as space within the home and the local community, as well as the importance of public and private open space. Covid-19 has exposed the most vulnerable, and the nursing home model is under scrutiny and will need to be addressed. 

The Covid-19 pandemic offers the potential for architects to provide a vision of a built environment that addresses biosecurity issues, accessibility and climate change. Architects need to re-purpose towns, villages, and urban areas, and develop new housing typologies which will integrate living and working within the one dwelling, and promote a sense of community in local neighbourhoods. Adaptable, flexible buildings alongside usable and accessible public spaces are necessary to meet change.

Humanity is neurodiverse

A brightly coloured and glowing depiction of the brain in action. Humanity is neurodiverse.Comparing people to potatoes is a good way to explain diversity in the workplace. Although potatoes come in thousands of different varieties, shops give us the same regular sample to choose from. The same applies to our workplaces – we choose the same sample of the population. And if an employee doesn’t think or act like the majority, they are “weeded” out. Weeding out is often unintentional. That’s because employers haven’t yet worked out that humanity is neurodiverse. 

The term neurodiverse is often applied to people who are autistic. This is where stereotypes arise. The extra bright person who thinks differently to those around them is just one. Neurodiversity includes people with ADHD, dyslexia, obsessive compulsive disorder, and other cognitive conditions.

According to Kat Crewes we have seen a good deal of progress in workplaces. She says that research from EY suggest that neurodivergent people make up 20 per cent of the population. Yet many can’t get jobs or jobs they could excel in. 

Larger corporations are realising the benefits of designing workplaces that include people who are neurodiverse. Crewes mentions Hewlett Packard, Microsoft, and Deloitte. 

After hiring 100 neurodiverse people, EY found that their problem solving and creativity helped their business. A similar story for Hewlett Packard’s software development. But it is a big risk for someone to say they are autistic or neurodiverse. 

Designing the workplace

Many workplaces are getting up to speed with physical access. But we have to consider other design aspects such as sound and light sensitivity. Neuro-inclusivity requires a more nuanced approach. That includes giving neurodiverse people the opportunity to share their experiences. 

Crewes says that defining what accessibility means for a neurodivergent person is the first step. That means creating a safe place to speak up. She also explains more about people with ADHD and other cognitive conditions. The spectrum includes all genders, cultural backgrounds, and ages. They are working in every type of profession and organisation. 

Icons representing permanent, temporary, situational and cognitive conditions in the workplace. Humanity is neurodiverse.
Image from Aurecon based on Microsoft Design Toolkit

We are a long way from accepting people who are neurodiverse into the workplace. This exclusion is often the result of failing to adjust. It does take effort to design for inclusion. And it is not all one way. Embedding neurodivergent people within the workplace is a learning experience for everyone.

The Kat Crewes’ Aurecon article is titled, Designing for a neurodiverse workplace. The second half of the article has the information on workplace design. 

Hidden Talent- Autism at Work

A man stands with his back to the camera and is looking at lots of pieces of paper pinned to a whiteboard.You’re missing out by not hiring staff with autism. This is one of the points made in a FastCo article, about the ways to support staff with autism. It’s possible you already work with them now, but neither of you know.

Common behaviours are social ineptness, lack of eye contact and blunt remarks. The article gives a brief overview of some of the diverse ways autism presents, but care should be taken not to stereotype.

Many people with autism can focus for long time on a topic – if it interests them. Attention to detail and pattern recognition skills are often well used in technical occupations. Some have unique ways of viewing situations and can bring great insights to problem solving.

The article lists some of the ways to accommodate employees with autism, such as reducing environmental stimuli. Clear communication that doesn’t rely on social cues or facial expression are also recommended (isn’t this good for everyone?) The title of the article is, You’re missing out by not hiring autistic workers. It originally appeared in The Conversation.

See the Harvard Business Review article, Neurodiversity as a Competitive Advantage

Book review: Stories about the neurodiversity movement

Front cover of the book, Autisitic Community and the Neurodiversity Movement.The Commons Social Change website features a new book which is a collection of stories about the neurodiversity movement. The collection gathers the voices of both activists and academics. The introduction explains the approach to commissioning the chapters. 

The chapters are open access and the book title is: Autistic Community and the Neurodiversity Movement: Stories from the Frontline.

Introduction

The first book to bring together a collection of neurodiverse contributors to talk about events that shaped the movement, and which they themselves were involved with. Focuses on activists’ direct experience effecting change for people who identify as autistic rather than abstract accounts that reflect on autism’s social construction or essence.

Provides a one-stop shop for readers interested in the history and ideas of the neurodiversity movement and how these ideas have shaped production of expert and especially lay knowledge about autism. Gathers a collective of autistic activist/academic voices and engages in current theoretical debates around knowledge production and epistemic authority within (critical) research on autism.

From the abstract

This edited collection offers a historical overview of the autistic community and neurodiversity movement through first-hand accounts. Awareness and impact of the movement has grown, but misunderstandings persist. 

The book covers the terms neurodiversity and neurodiversity movement, the breadth of the movement. There is an overlap with and divergence from the medical model, and its emphasis on self-advocacy. 

Contents of the book

Introduction, Steven K. Kapp

Gaining Community

Historicizing Jim Sinclair’s “Don’t Mourn for Us”: A Cultural and Intellectual History of Neurodiversity’s First Manifesto, Sarah Pripas-Kapit

From Exclusion to Acceptance: Independent Living on the Autistic Spectrum, Martijn Dekker

Autistic People Against Neuroleptic Abuse, Dinah Murray

Autistics.Org and Finding Our Voices as an Activist Movement, Laura A. Tisoncik

Losing, Mel Baggs

Getting Heard

Neurodiversity.Com: A Decade of Advocacy. Kathleen Seidel

Autscape, Karen Leneh Buckle

The Autistic Genocide Clock, Meg Evans

Shifting the System: AASPIRE and the Loom of Science and Activism, Dora M. Raymaker

Out of Searching Comes New Vibrance, Sharon daVanport

Two Winding Parent Paths to Neurodiversity Advocacy, Carol Greenburg, Shannon Des Roches Rosa

Lobbying Autism’s Diagnostic Revision in the DSM-5, Steven K. Kapp, Ari Ne’eman

Torture in the Name of Treatment: The Mission to Stop the Shocks in the Age of Deinstitutionalization, Shain M. Neumeier, Lydia X. Z. Brown

Autonomy, the Critical Journal of Interdisciplinary Autism Studies, Larry Arnold

My Time with Autism Speaks, John Elder Robison

Covering the Politics of Neurodiversity: And Myself, Eric M. Garcia

“A Dream Deferred” No Longer: Backstory of the First Autism and Race Anthology, Morénike Giwa Onaiwu

Entering the Establishment?

Changing Paradigms: The Emergence of the Autism/Neurodiversity Manifesto, Monique Craine

From Protest to Taskforce, Dinah Murray

Critiques of the Neurodiversity Movement, Ginny Russell

Conclusion, Steven K. Kapp

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Autistic Community and the Neurodiversity Movement: Stories from the Frontline

The above text is reproduced from The Commons Social Change website. The book is also available on the SpringerLink website. 

Telling stories for inclusion at work

Many coloured heart shapes with black eyes and smiles indicate diversity. Telling stories for inclusion.When it comes to diversity and inclusion, economic arguments tend to fall flat.  For many, economic arguments are academic – just information. Storytelling on the other hand is personal and connects with people. It makes the situation real. Telling stories is also the way to learn from each other. An article in the Harvard Business Review tackles the topic of telling stories for inclusion.

Measuring the number of different categories of person in a company is also an academic pursuit. Scorecards, targets and business cases can measure numbers, but what do those numbers actually mean? Inclusion by mathematics is not likely to create empathy and understanding – the real game changers. But whose stories get told?

Stories from leaders are good, but stories from peers are better. The article gives examples where the workforce might be diverse, but it’s not inclusive. This is where nuanced conversations are needed. Leaders need to hear about the impact bias and exclusion actually has on employees. 

Creating safe spaces for storytelling is one way to find out how inclusive a workplace is. The article, How Sharing Our Stories Builds Inclusion gives more detail on this. 

Summary of article

“It’s time for the conversation around inclusion and diversity to take a human-centric approach. It’s not just about the numbers — it’s about the people. Storytelling, one of the most universal human experiences, gives us a rare chance to look through new lenses. And perspective-taking is a life skill, not just a workplace one.

Companies that prioritize inclusion will emerge from crisis stronger, and stories are one major vehicle to help them get there. Inclusion consultants Selena Rezvani and Stacey A. Gordon offer steps to implement a story-based approach to DEI where employees are encouraged to tell their stories, own them, and consider how they impact their day-to-day experiences at work. 

Can the construction industry be inclusive?

Two construction men sitting at a table look at a complex engineering diagram. The construction industry can be inclusive.There’s an assumption that you can’t be a construction worker if you have a disability. So it’s no use recruiting them. Yet this industry has its fair share of permanently injured workers. Many access consultants also have a disability, so the assumption doesn’t hold. Can the construction industry be inclusive? Yes

At last someone has joined the dots in The Fifth Estate article, Yes, wheelchair users can work in construction. Working in construction is not all about climbing ladders and working in confined spaces, says Jonathan Fritsch. The article is about seeing the opportunities for people with disability. The construction industry employs over one million people. There are many jobs that don’t require ladders and heavy lifting. And not every role is onsite. But like most recruiting companies, they place people with disability at the bottom of the employability scale. 

The full title of the article by Jonathan Fritsch is, Yes, wheelchair users can work in construction. Let’s see this as an opportunity.  

 

Ageism, Attitudes and Stereotypes

Two men are working on a construction site. One is holding a circular saw which has just cut through a large timber board. Are they a stereotype? Probably not. Ageism attitudes and stereotypes.
Working at any age – no need for stereotypes

Do we deploy so-called positive stereotypes of older people as a means to combat ageism and ageist attitudes? If we say older people make more loyal and reliable employees, what does that say about younger people? But are these stereotypes valid? Philip Taylor discussed these important issues about ageism, attitudes, stereotypes and work.

Professor Taylor’s keynote presentation at UD2021 was thought provoking. It challenged almost everyone in the room to re-think their concepts about ageism and work. It seems there are more complaints related to age by younger people. He asked, is there such a thing as ageism or are there other factors that discriminate?  And how does this work with concepts of equity and diversity?

Then there are the contradictions related to age: The Federal Government wanting everyone to work until age 70, yet National Seniors are proposing older people should make way for younger people and retire early. 

Blue background with white text. Title slide from Taylor's presentation about ageing, attitudes and stereotypes.Here’s a quote from one of the slides, “The very arguments for employing older workers put forward in business cases concerning commitment, loyalty and experience risk confirming broader societal perceptions that they are of the past and thus, less able to meet the demands of modern workplaces” (Roberts, 2006).

There is a greater variation in job performance between people of the same age than between people of different ages. Professor Taylor’s presentation slides have a good amount of text to get the key points of his presentation. Maybe it is time for a product recall on advocacy for older people. 

Are you ageist? Probably

Front cover of the Ageist Britain report from SunLife.This is about language. An article in The Guardian reports on a survey that found one third of British people admit they have discriminated against others because of their age. The SunLife report, Ageist Britain, highlights casual ageism and the impact it has on everyone. But it is ingrained in everyday language. It seems younger people think that life after 50 must be ‘downhill all the way’. But such attitudes infiltrate all parts of everyday life. That’s how older people are excluded from employment, harassed on public transport, and even when shopping. 

Language can demean and depress. “Old fart”, “little old lady”, “bitter old man” and “old hag” were, researchers found, the most used ageist phrases on social media.  Four thousand people in the UK were surveyed. Thousands of tweets and blogposts were also analysed for discriminatory and ageist language. And that’s without journalists using the term “the elderly” for anyone aged over 65.

Editor’s note: Terminology related to people with disability has changed over the years and is generally more inclusive. However, we are a long way behind with our language for older people. They are still viewed as a burden and a problem. Worse still is the terminology of ‘tsunami’ as if longevity is a national disaster. 

 

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