Diversity Voices Interview: Caroline Turner, CEO of Creased Puddle [specialising in Neurodiversity in the workplace]
1. Caroline you are a passionate advocate for neuro diversity and have been described as “a social and cultural translator for people with autism”. Please tell us why you feel that it’s such a vital part of the ongoing D&I conversation.
As a society we are gravitating towards a more social model of disability. People who are neurodivergent i.e. those who are diagnosed or suspect they have a condition like autism, often don’t identify themselves as disabled. This means that they can be left without support and because you can’t ‘see’ their differences, then they are expected to present as a typical person would. Someone with autism for example might not be able to imagine what information someone would need from them in the workplace (Theory of Mind). This can lead to a lot of misunderstanding on both sides. If you have someone who can ‘speak’ both languages it aids understanding and helps to find solutions.
2. With the work that you do supporting organisations to create inclusive polices and procedures for recruitment, retention and progression of those with autism etc….what are the key challenges that repeatedly come to the fore?
“Man’s mind, once stretched by a new idea, never regains its original dimensions” D&I conversations have developed in industry and society demonstrably. Large organisations have now got to the stage where they have decided what their D&I structure should be, and then I come along…
In North Yorkshire Police the timing was right 2 years ago to suggest that neurodiversity should sit along side Gender, Race, Religion etc. a decision that was warmly received. A business has to be ready to twist again, to open up employee engagement, to be brave and ask questions. Some aren’t quite ready for that, even though the benefits are huge.
3. In your opinion what steps should organisations be taking to improve equality of access to progression for those who ‘think differently’?
At Creased Puddle we decided that we wouldn’t just provide one piece of the puzzle. We have structured our product to be about lasting change. A client just recently said that we are “More about what state you leave a business, rather than how you find it” Our portfolios encapsulate all that a business wants to achieve, and everyone is different. Having said that, the starting point for all, has to be getting the internal structure right. Training for HR on hidden disabilities, interviewers, getting occupational health neurosavvy are all way to make sure that when you start an inclusive hiring programme you don’t let people down. In the meantime that 1/3 of your staff who are Autistic, Dyslexic, have ADHD, benefit too. This helps you retain your staff and reduce their sickness.
4. Recently there has been a lot of interest in wellbeing and mental health: do you think that organisations should be placing more emphasis on creating wellbeing programs and policies? If so why?
Wellbeing and Mental Health has become an important corporate issue over the past few issues. As a result, organisations should be including Wellbeing and Mental Health initiatives into their business planning and strategy. However, I feel that it is important for them to be the right initiatives for the business. There is a not a "one size fit all" approach here and Wellbeing Plans should meet organisational needs and be inclusive of all issues and all employees. The neurologically different are more at risk of substance misuse, poor mental health, and self-harm, why would you just tick the box for the typical, when you can reach a marginalised group who are even more vulnerable?
5. Caroline we are hearing more and more about ‘diversity fatigue’: how do you think organisations can counteract this worrying phenomenon?
Firstly I’m sorry that someone has given it a name. If we were to research the exact roots of this phrase we might find it was to undermine, misinform or gain momentum for a countercause.
Having said that that, lets own it. Companies don’t want a negative connection with employee engagement, they want to be known as good employers to attract and retain the best talent. If evidence is suggesting that people are becoming ambivalent, then let’s use that to re-ignite challenging discussion. Neurodiversity is a great way of doing just that. We all have a brain, and quite frankly it doesn’t care who is your God, what colour your skin is or who you sleep with. Neurodiversity underpins and unites all of us, whether we are touched personally or we’d just like a match…..