It’s very encouraging that organisations are recognising the need for diversity within their workforce as a whole, as well as within their leadership. But when we talk about diversity at senior levels within our organisations, what are we generally talking about?
What is diversity?
For most people the response to this is pretty straightforward. The focus on diversity within leadership levels in the organisation is on women in the boardroom, cultural and ethnic diversity and those with physical disabilities.
Imagine this scenario: you are responsible for talent management within your organisation and need to recruit externally for an executive-level role. You have already made arrangements for candidates to undertake appropriate testing and profiling. You find yourself in an interview with a shortlisted candidate whose technical competency is beyond question, who is well known in your company’s sector as a key achiever, and who has impeccable references. You feel confident that this is the person you are going to recommend for the role. However, in the interview with you, the individual discloses one of the following pieces of information:
- He/she has a hearing dysfunction. Although this is largely rectified with use of a hearing aid, it may be an issue in meetings or during phone conversations.
- He/she has dyslexia and usually requires a secretary or assistant to check work before it is distributed.
- He/she has Asperger’s Syndrome. Although this has never caused problems in the past it can cause them to appear very direct and to the point in certain circumstances.
- He/she has been treated in the past for a mental health issue, but that this has been resolved and there should be no problems.
Which of the above scenarios presents you with the greatest challenge?
Don’t believe the stereotype
If being honest, most people would agree that the first two scenarios do not present a problem, while the latter two do. Why is this? The answer is that the ‘problematic’ scenarios are related to mental health or developmental issues, which the majority of people believe to negatively affect an individual’s potential.
This assumption never fails to intrigue me. I know a number of people, recognised as industry leaders, who have Asperger’s Syndrome. However, due to the stigma attached to this diagnosis, they are unwilling to disclose this to their employers for fear it could derail their careers. Furthermore, how many people have overcome mental health issues and continued to be leaders and mentors in their organisations, only because they chose not to share this information with their employers?
The time has come for us to stop discriminating against people who have developmental or mental health issues and start to embrace their strengths within the organisation. After all, in order to reach the leadership positions they hold, they have overcome significantly more than people who have not faced these challenges. Surely – if nothing else – this should emphasise the determination, strength of character and resilience of people who would otherwise be classified as ‘just disabled’?
Rosalind Bergemann represents the organisation Asperger Leaders – established as a centre of excellence for people with Asperger’s Syndrome in leadership roles in business.