By Daniel Fuller
Did you know that everybody’s brain works a little bit differently? This fact impacts every single workplace, because people with differing neurological function, such as autism spectrum and ADHD, have different obstacles compared to neurotypical people with “normal” patterns of thought and behaviour.
Note the quotation marks around “normal” here, because in my experience there is no such thing as a normal human being.
Recently, I interviewed Candra Burns, host of the Talking Forest podcast. She said it’s important to discuss workplace inclusivity because people don’t know what it looks like.
It’s everybody’s job to ensure the workplace is an inclusive one, not just for the boss. And just because we’ve always done something one way, doesn’t make it right.
You might be wondering how you know whether or not you’re being accommodating to the needs of others in your workplace. If someone has come to you with a specific need or concern, and you’ve ignored them or told them it isn’t important, that’s a red flag.
If one staff member is getting a privilege or an opportunity that others don’t, without explanation, that’s a red flag as well, and if you don’t understand why somebody struggles with certain tasks but you keep expecting them to “just get it”, that’s another red flag.
If your workplace tolerates bullying, harassment, racism, sexism, or ableism (prejudice against neurodivergent people), that’s more than a red flag. It can be a full-on catastrophe.
Workplace inclusivity is a tricky subject, because we need to balance the needs of everybody, while allowing the best person for the job to step up to the plate. Our personal prejudices should never exclude candidates from taking on new challenges, just because their brain works a little bit differently to ours.
One way to create an inclusive workplace is to provide workers with somebody to turn to when they are struggling.
Candra once found herself in an unsafe work situation and was lucky there was a female board member with whom she felt safe to confide in. Fortunately, the board member was able to help her out but spare a thought for all of the people in our industry right now, who are being bullied and harassed for their differences, without a safe place to turn.
Larger organisations often have a Human Resources (HR) department that serves this purpose, but in most of the smaller organisations I’ve worked in, the only person to turn to is the boss. If the boss is part of the problem, staff members have the choice to leave, or continue to feel unsafe.
From an employee’s perspective, if you are in an uncomfortable situation, Candra advises to document what is going on. Include names, places, dates, times, and outline the events that occurred. You can write it down on paper, in a document, or you can record yourself speaking into your phone.
Find somebody in the organisation to support you, even if they aren’t in a leadership position, because bringing issues up to people in power can be difficult to do by yourself.
Neurodivergent people can have thoughts that are all over the place, making it hard to communicate effectively, and a problem which is compounded if negative emotions are running high. If this is a situation you find yourself in, it is helpful to take a step back, remove emotion as much as possible from the situation, and use your logical brain to come up with a strategy.
That may include improved conditions at your current workplace, or it could mean moving in a new direction. Either way, keep your head held high, and have a list of references for your next potential employer to call. Nobody wants to burn bridges, even if deep down you may feel like the boss is the one who deserves harsh words.
It’s worth remembering that just because somebody rubs you up the wrong way, it doesn’t mean they’re a bad person. We can ask our workmates and bosses to change their behaviour when they do something that negatively affects us, and nine times out of ten they’ll help us out. As long as we ask nicely, of course.
Workplaces that treat their staff with kindness and patience find it easier to retain staff. Impatient, intolerant, toxic work cultures are unattractive to staff members who know they can leave at any moment to find a better opportunity, especially in this job market.
If you would like to hear my interview, go to episode 101 on my podcast.
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