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Disability Equality and Diversity Flexible Working

Autism Awareness & Inclusion in the Workplace

As part of National Autism Awareness Week 2021, Find Your Flex is here to help raise awareness. To assist to cultivate much needed change within the workplace in regards to autistic people.

COVID-19 has given pause for much thought over the last year. In many ways the pandemic has given the opportunity to make a fresh start. It is impossible to deny that some societal practices continued until they were forced to stop. Now that we are in position to move forward, certain mindsets must be left behind. Especially the inclusion of neurodiversity in the workplace.

Autism Awareness: Employer Inclusivity

When it comes to neurodiverse people, employers in the UK are not accommodating or inclusive enough. That seems like a harsh blanket statement. Sadly, there is concrete evidence to back this up. Only 22% of autistic adults are employed in the UK as of 2020. In a modern society claiming to be forward-thinking, diversified and inclusive, these statistics are unacceptable.

Employers need to be making stronger commitments to inclusive cultures. The benefits are twofold. Firstly, talented people are able to enter the workforce, utilise their skills and grow. Secondly employers and organisations reap the benefits of a more creative and innovative team. It is baffling that there are not more neurodiverse people in the workplace. They are a massive pool of exceptional talent and missed opportunities.

Be Aware of what Autistic People bring to the table

Employers need to be aware of what they are potentially missing out on. There are some exceptionally talented people looking for work. Being neurodiverse shouldn’t be a factor in them not finding employment. Autistic people may need to work in a different way than what employers are used to. All it requires is an understanding employer and an open conversation about how they work best.

The National Autistic Society, interviewed Jamie Knight; Senior Research Engineer at the BBC. Jamie has a number of important roles, including developing software, conduct tech maintenance and ensuring their apps and services are running properly. This is just one example of how much neurodiverse people can bring to the table at a senior level. This is for one of the most globally recognised organisations; the BBC. This is definitely an indicator for more organisations to follow this example and really take an internal look at their recruitment process.

Autism Awareness: Perceiving the World around us

The first aspect of autism awareness employers need to recognise is that they need to rid themselves of existing mindsets. Neurodiverse people perceive the world differently than people who are not neurodiverse. This is the mindset employers and society in general must adopt if they haven’t already. For example; a faulty lightbulb in a lit room can be slightly annoying but easy to ignore for some people. Yet for an autistic person this can be something potentially debilitating.

In NAS’s interview with Jamie Knight, he sums up perfectly how employers and society in general should view neurodiverse people:

“Look, its not that I’m defective, it’s that the environment is disabling me. So if I start modifying the environment, it will stop disabling me. I’ll still remain impaired … But I can stop it from having a negative impact on my life.”

And this is key when employing neurodiverse people. Make small changes to the workplace environment, interactions and overall processes. This will accommodate someone who can prove to be an invaluable asset. Making this less of an inconvenience and more of investment. General acceptance and adapting to people is an easy part of creating a more inclusive environment. Jaimie has Lion with him at all times as he says he helps to keep him happy. And Lion even acts as an indicator for how Jaimie is feeling. When neurodiverse people are comfortable in their environment they can thrive as well as anyone else. Any employer can see this as a positive thing which they can prosper from.

Recruitment Process: Inclusivity & Accommodation

Accommodating neurodiverse people does not start once they are in the job. It needs to start at the beginning of the recruitment process. Job descriptions can sometimes ask for too much. Listing a number unnecessary requirements as “essential” to the job, when in practice they are not. This isn’t just an issue that concerns neurodiverse people, but it does present a greater barrier for them more so than others.

Employers casually include “essential requirements” in job descriptions without thinking much of it. Such as: ‘excellent communication skills’ or ‘must work well in a team’. These skills can often be included in job descriptions where the employee would be mostly working independently or would not need to interact much with others to do the job well. If this is the case, why are these skills part of the essential criteria? An autistic person will see this and automatically move on as they may not have these skills, yet they could have been exceptional in that role. This is also true for people who are not neurodiverse. Instead of looking for the “perfect” candidate, employers should be searching for the right candidate. Consider what really is essential and what is not.

The same is true for the interview process. Candidate assessments in interviews can include asking vague, open ended questions and reading body language. An autistic person should not be assessed in this way as it is unfair; they perceive things differently and may not perform well under this kind of assessment. A better assessment of their performance would be to give them a trial in the appropriate role and asses their performance this way. Employers need to adopt these changes in practice if they are aiming to create a more diverse and inclusive environment.

Why Flexible Working for Neurodiverse People is Key

Flexible working should be available for everyone, yet it is a key element of working life for neurodiverse people. For an autistic person, aspects in and out of the workplace can derail them for the rest of the day. And as previously stated; neurodiverse people perceive things differently and therefore have to cope with this in a different way. Therefore it is completely unfair, inappropriate and ignorant to expect neurodiverse people to operate on fixed shifts all the time with no room for compromise.

This not only shows a total lack of autism awareness but is a totally regressive way of working. If companies maintain this approach they are making no effort to facilitate a diverse and inclusive working environment. Now it is true that some neurodiverse people require structure and benefit from having fixed shifts. That is fine, flexible working does not effect that. It simply means the company can work around neurodiverse employees if their environment has left them incapable of operating under their normal hours for whatever reason. This is why flexible working is an essential requirement for neurodiverse people which all organisations should adopt. They outcome can only be positive.

Autism Awareness: Improve Lives

Like anyone else, neurodiverse people may want a certain level of independence, sense of achievement and purpose. For most adults, these aspects of life are defined by their careers. We achieve independence through the money we make from our job to become self reliant. We often strive for achievements within our job and measure our success with these. Often our career is literally the thing that gets us out of bed in the morning, giving our lives structure and purpose. Neurodiverse people deserve to have the opportunity for these basic fundamental parts of life that everyone is entitled to.

Employers are the ones with the ability to make this happen. This can be done simply by creating a more inclusive and diverse environment. It can not be understated the impact this can have on the life of a neurodiverse person. All too often the base need they have is structure and nothing provides this more than a career which will also grant them a certain level of independence. This is the way forward in a post-COVID world, employers and society need to embrace this sooner rather than later.

Categories
Careers Disability Flexible Working

Epilepsy And Employment

A Personal Story

Is Epilepsy A Disability?

When is epilepsy considered a disability? Epilepsy comes in many forms. Some more severe than others. According to The Equality Act 2010: “You’re disabled under the Equality Act 2010 if you have a physical or mental impairment that has a ‘substantial’ and ‘long-term’ negative effect on your ability to do normal daily activities.” The Equality Act 2010 aims to ensure all people are treated fairly and not discriminated against. This applies to employment, school and learning, and accessing services. 

We are sharing a personal account from a member of our own team. Barbara’s working life began before The Equality Act was passed. Barbara suffers from epilepsy and wanted to share her story about how it has affected her working life.

Barbara’s Story

Diversity and Inclusion. These two words mean a lot to me and I wish that 47 years ago it had meant something to employers. Sadly in my experience it meant nothing. I suffer from Epilepsy, an invisible disability yet it certainly becomes incredibly visible when you have a seizure.

I was diagnosed with epilepsy (petit mal with grand mal fits) at the age of 17. Albeit I’d been having fits since I was 11. This coincided with the removal of my appendix. Things were very different back in the 60’s. So there I am, a 17 year old wanting to be one of the crowd. However I didn’t feel I could be. I wanted a Saturday job, to drive a car, to go out with my friends without my (fabulous) parents keeping a beady eye on me constantly. These things, which may seem normal to a lot of people, were out of reach for me.

Telling The Truth About My Epilepsy To Potential Employers

The job was the most important issue. The need to earn my own money was strong. I wanted my independence to buy those Levis or the new Cat Stevens album. I walked around my hometown going into every shop and everyone asked, was I healthy? Being honest, I felt I had no option but to tell the truth. When I told potential employers I suffered from epilepsy, the response was a resounding no. They couldn’t risk me having a fit (as they were known then) in front of people. I felt so deflated. I felt like the odd one out and I was.

Lying About My Epilepsy Got Me A Job

Not to be deterred I changed tactics. When looking for a role, I lied. I said I had no health issues. What a difference, 4 offers of jobs. I was so excited. And so I started working on a Saturday at a well known shoe shop and then the worst happened. I had a seizure whilst working. Subsequently I was hauled off to hospital (and had no memory of it) to be popped in a corner as there was nothing they could do. My parents collected me. They then had to break the news to me that I had been sacked from my role. I was sacked for not being honest and also as their customers did not want to see a member of staff having a seizure.

From a confident and outgoing teenager, I became angry and hurt. I had no understanding why my disability should prevent me from working. I wanted to be a children’s nurse. Sadly however due to my epilepsy I was not allowed. Nothing else at the time was good enough. It was really hard.

Finally An Employer Who Understood

It took me until I was 21 to find a permanent job with a company who had faith in me, despite my epilepsy. The company was ‘Clinique’ part of the Estee Lauder Group. I remember like it was yesterday them saying it was about me, not my epilepsy. Luckily I generally knew when I was going to have a seizure. I would just tell my manager, no more ambulances and hospitals.

I did not stay there forever but they gave me my confidence back. A determination to fight the discrimination against disabilities. Most of all, be proud of who I was, epilepsy and all.

Sadly as a country we had to wait until 2010 for the Equality Act. I was 54, already having battled most of my working life through discrimination. Life wasn’t all bad though, I have three fantastic children despite being told not to have any.

A Message About Inclusion To Employers

My message to employers is this. Remember, there are so many invisible disabilities and people have a right to be included in the workplace without judgement. These are strong and talented people who want a chance to have a successful career, a job they love and to be part of the team. They don’t want sympathy, they want understanding. 

Hence why flexible working is the way forward, it is the future of work. If an employee needs a different way or place to work, this should be discussed without judgement or prejudice. By embracing inclusion every employer has a lot to gain. Every disabled person has something to offer, they don’t let their disability get in their way. So don’t let employment discrimination stop them either.

Be kind, you never know what people are going through.

Barbara

Thank you Barbara for sharing your story. I’m sure many can relate when it comes to being honest about health issues with potential employers.

Diversity and Inclusion are two key components of our values here at The Find Your Flex Group. We firmly believe that flexible working and an inclusive work culture not only encourages but drives diversity. The benefits of diversity are numerous. For example higher retention rates, a bigger talent pool to recruit from, increased innovation not to mention the benefits for the individuals.

For further advice about living with epilepsy and employment:

Epilepsy.org – Employment campaign

EpilepsySociety.org.uk – Work, employment and epilepsy