Your business may not be as diverse as you think
In her work with neurodiverse people, Julia Harper got fed up when they could not achieve all that was possible.
Although educated, capable and otherwise employable, as many as 86 per cent were unemployed or underemployed only because their brain worked differently from the average, or neurotypical, person.
Dr Harper, a paediatric occupational therapist, psychologist and entrepreneur, began talking to business leaders to help them understand what they were missing out on: increased productivity, commitment, focus, a unique perspective and a loyal customer base.
It’s what brings her to Bermuda this week. At a free workshop tomorrow sponsored by the Association of Bermuda International Companies, she will explain why multinationals such as Google, EY, Deloitte and Amazon are hiring outside the norm.
“They bring in the ability to see and enhance your products in a certain way,” she said of people with ADHD, autism, dyslexia and other neurodevelopmental disorders.
“When somebody who is neurodiverse is employed, they’re going to stimulate the economy because now they have money to put into the economy. And evidence shows that their friends and family tend to [also] spend money in those businesses that support them. So they bring a lot to the table.”
It is a message she has become passionate about spreading as it dovetails with the work she has been doing for close to 30 years as chief executive officer and founder of Therapeeds Family Centre, a Florida facility that “has used the science of neuroplasticity to provide brain-based therapy interventions and rewire the brains and minds of children, adolescents and adults”.
“One of the things that I saw happening consistently was where the child had grown up and had done their due diligence; the parents have done all that they can do; the school system has done all it can to serve the students and that person who put that much effort and resources into having a productive life is standing there going: ‘Now what?’ So for me, neurodiversity inclusion is my answer to ‘Now what?’ Now what is, if you've done all of this, you should be able to find a space that will include you so that you can become a productive member of society.”
She will lay out the “why” and “how” for businesses tomorrow. The workshop is a continuation of her long relationship with Bermuda.
“I've been there several times. I’ve worked consistently in the past with the organisations there around autism awareness and supporting kids with special needs and in that regard, I thought of this as another opportunity to support Bermudian families in society.”
Evidence shows that “regardless of the size of the country, there is at least 10 to 15 per cent of a population that is neurodiverse”.
“And that is a conservative estimate. Let me be clear about that,” Dr Harper said. “Regardless of the size of the population, proportionally, that is a big number. And what we see is that across the world, this is a population that is under-tapped.
“So it's a workforce that is a very powerful, positive workforce – that can bring high levels of productivity, high levels of profitability to organisations – that is just going untapped.
“Evidence also shows that the benefits to including a neurodiverse population, it doesn't only benefit the individual or the company, it benefits society at large in terms of stimulating economic growth, increasing a sense of positive community and connection; changing industries.”
In her talks with schools, employers, organisations and individuals she is yet to find anyone who thinks that it is a bad idea.
The big challenge for most people is how they can successfully implement it into practice.
“People jump ahead of themselves and say, yes, I want to do it, but then they do it poorly, they encounter certain challenges that then create barriers and then create a not successful inclusion experience.”
As such her plan is to have “a realistic conversation” with entrepreneurs and businesses about why it is necessary to be more inclusive, how it benefits everyone, how it can be successful and what makes it unsuccessful.
“It's really about introducing this topic and saying to these corporations if you really want to do this, please understand what you're getting yourself into.”
Training, “for the decision makers, the person being included and for the team that’s already there” is key.
“There are hard skills and soft skills. The hard skills are what does the person need to know to do the job? What does the HR team need to know to hire this person? What do the managers need to know to have this person do the job on site? It's just a what to do and how to do it kind of thing.”
A lack of soft-skill training is where failures typically occur, Dr Harper added.
“And that's by ignoring the elephant in the room – fear. Often there is fear in doing this simply because it's a new venture.
“I am somebody who specialises in working in the brain via neuroplasticity, and the mind of human beings as a psychologist, and what I can tell you is our brains are designed to generate fear in the presence of novelty. That's just a fact. That's who we are as human beings. When we don't know we get frightened.
“And so somebody neurodiverse being included in a workplace means that person is going into a new environment and they're going to come in fear; the environment isn't accustomed to having this new experience, there’s going to be fear.
“And the business owner having to bring these two people together and protect and support the business doesn't necessarily know how to do that well – that's another component of fear.”
It is when that fear is not acknowledged and addressed with “information, clarity and actionable items” that the inclusion process doesn’t work.
“Sometimes people [hear about] neurodiversity inclusion [and think] another bleeding heart …. sometimes people hear the word inclusion and they feel that they are being kind of forced into a corner. That's not what this is about at all. I'm not asking for charity here at all. This is not a hand out,” Dr Harper said.
“This is from the perspective of the business owner seeing the cutting edge of business. The biggest and most successful businesses in the world are doing this: Google, EY, Chase, Bank of America, Deloitte, Amazon. And if you are a smart business owner, you'll get this done. It's the smart choice. Not just a nice choice or the good choice, it's the smart choice.”
Julia Harper’s free three-hour presentation on neurodiversity in the workplace starts at 9am tomorrow in the HSBC Harbourview Centre. To register: firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information on Therapeeds visit therapeeds.com/en