So I’ve started a new job, and have faced the usual challenge of meeting new people, getting to understand a new culture, and the business norms that exist in my new employer – many of which are vastly different from the one I’ve just left.
And I am very lucky – the new team has been incredibly friendly, welcoming and supportive; and of course I’ve worked in business for thirty years, and changes jobs four times, so have some experience in these things. And having been in HR for the last fifteen years, I am also used to being on the other side of that equation, and coordinating the induction of new people into organisations I already well understood – so I know what to look out for, and what to ask about, and what assumptions to not make!
But if all of this was my first time, and if I had specific difficulties with reading people and situations, and getting to know cultures and expected working patterns this would be an incredibly challenging time for me. From speaking in the past to colleagues who are on the spectrum they have told me how difficult this process can be for them. All of this makes me even more determined to understand how we in HR and business leaders generally can make this easier for people in the future.
What I have also heard is that even once someone is employed, feeling comfortable asking for the reasonable adjustments that they need to make the work environment comfortable is also not easy. A friend of mine needs to wear headphones to limit external noise, and quite often dark glasses inside the modern work space to avoid the traditional levels of lighting in open plan spaces. Even where such things are not frowned upon, they can still make my friend feel very uncomfortable, as they are so obviously “different” from those around them.
This week I have attended three separate Autism related events – all of which I have learnt from. On Tuesday I attended the CIPD/ National Autistic Society joint event, entitled Autistic Talent, which was focussed on sharing different perspectives of the employment experience for Autistic people. One of the good things about this event was that it was attended, and actively supported, by Sarah Newton, MP – the Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work. Although I know many on the spectrum do not see themselves as “disabled”, Sarah is an active champion of Autism in the workplace, so it is good to see her involved in this event.
Then on Thursday I was pleased to attend an event sponsored and hosted by Deutsche Bank – looking at Autism Employment, and allowed a number of interested employers to network and share good ideas. On the same day I also went to a meeting entitled “How to Understand Autism” at which an eclectic range of speakers talked about their varying experiences and perspectives on this topic.
Next week is National Autism Awareness week….