One of my recent posts Diversity in the Workplace - How to Attract The Right Kind of Talent! was an interesting piece that seemed to strike a chord with many readers.
The article focussed on encouraging small business owners to keep an open mind when recruiting – to actively engage with potential employees who present special and different abilities. It mentioned in particular those on the Autism spectrum whose mindset may see them achieve brilliance in particular areas where neuro-typical employees would be stumped.
A good stereotypical fit for a role is not always the best one. Today’s solutions are increasingly about thinking of diversity and the different skillsets different individuals can bring to a business, including those who sit just outside society’s perception of ‘normal’.
With all the interest in this article, it seemed noteworthy to explore this idea a little more. And to share with small business owners everywhere, the value of looking beyond difference to see the true potential of a person’s smarts - what new ideas, fresh thinking and exceptional abilities can bring to any business table.
On Australian shores, President of Chief Executive Women Diane Smith-Gander explains ‘… the challenge is not to find who’s best for the job. Rather look for the best team for the task. If your team is not diverse then “being different” needs to be part of the selection criteria.’ She continues, [Recruiting on] ‘merit is a concept that has been hijacked to justify lack of diversity by applying a “best person for the job” principle.’
Unfortunately, when applied dogmatically as it often is, that ‘best person for the job’ principle often leads not to creativity, great dynamics and good business, but to stagnation.
When recruiting, it’s not unusual for managers and business owners to go through the same process and jump through the same hoops without thinking, replicating the same mistakes again and again. They might tweak things here and there in the interests of recruiting smarter, but un-interrogated thinking limits the talent search, and the same problems often manifest all over again.
Three years ago, Penny Andrews showed that autism didn’t hold her back. She became a library graduate trainee at Leeds Metropolitan University, having beaten 200 applicants to the job and proving that different smarts count. "Sometimes I feel people think I should be grateful that I have a job but I'm performing a useful task and doing it well, so they should be grateful to me," she said.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics reports enormous growth in the number of people with autism, with data it collected in 2009 and again in 2012 through its Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers. This represents a vast pool of untapped talent within our communities. As small business owners we are ideally placed to think laterally, rethink the way we conduct our business and our recruiting, and potentially change both lives and our future fortunes.
Autism Speaks has already cemented in some of the groundwork, making it easier for small business owners to embrace new thinking, and access new expertise. Their Employment Toolkit: Employer’s Guide to Hiring and Retaining Employees with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs) is the go-to for any employer wanting to gain further insight and experience in recruiting, hiring and supporting with diversity.
As a society, it’s time to be mindful. What makes a difference within any workplace is not just professional knowledge, but different viewpoints and life experience. The enhancement this rationale brings is not just a benefit but a core element in a business’s survival and success. That’s a rationale worth adopting. All we have to do is recruit diversely, creatively and daringly. For both parties, there is nothing to lose, and everything to gain.
Standing on our principles here is a matter not of charity or social responsibility but rather the empirical benefit of taking on unique skills and diverse minds.
To view the initial article, which sparked over 600 social media shares, click here.