I’ve been involved in leadership development, diversity and equality since early in my career.

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.

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Written by Dr Rosalind Bergemann, chairman, Asperger Leaders

Asperger Leaders is an organisation set up by people who have Asperger’s Syndrome holding senior leadership positions in the corporate world, with the intention of providing support, guidance and mentorship for people with autism and Asperger’s Syndrome in the workplace. We are an active member of the Mindful Employer Charter, and as such provide guidance and training for organisations as well.

As Chairman, my passion in life is to help other achieve their goals – be they organisations, teams, employees or individuals. I have worked as a global leader in the corporate work and as a management consultant, and do public speaking in the key topics of corporate and cultural change, global reward and diversity & equality.

And yes – I do have Asperger’s Syndrome!

Do you have any topics or questions around Asperger’s Syndrome or diversity in the workplace that we can cover or share? Let me know at rosalind@aspergerleaders.org

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7 Responses to “Asperger leaders – removing the stigma”

  1. Great article, thanks for sharing your thoughts. I think in general there is a lack of awareness and unfortunately, still stigma attached to certain conditions, whether these be physical or mental. It’s about education and understanding.

    Asperger Leaders sounds like a brilliant organisation – I wish there were more groups out there that provided support and guidance for those wishing to nurture their talents and encourage organisations to think beyond a label.

  2. Thanks Mary. I think the Mindful Employer is also an invaluable resource.

  3. Ann Miller says:

    It is great to see an article like this. This is often a topic that is swept under the carpet because it is difficult to deal with. And it is more than having diversity and equality policies. Most of us have those. It is about changing attitude and false perceptions.


  4. Tom Raftery says:

    While I agree that more needs to be done for those with disabilities, the reality is far from this. My step son who is Aspergers was turned down for M&S through a secret shopper report because he did not smile at the customer, not a common trait among Aspergers!!!

    We need to educate our HR people and managers first.


  5. Matthew says:

    Very well written and how true the scenarios listed are! Some thoughts come to mind…

    In my country, the first two scenarios are protected by law (not sure if they are in the UK); the fourth one is not. Could it be possible most actually would discriminate against any disability which interferes with the course of business?

    For those with AS, most assume we simply are ignorant on how to conduct ourselves in a professional environment. While proper behaviour can be learned such does not come natural. To us, human beings “should” be rational, but alas, are not.

    I, personally, accept my AS and consider it a gift, and, therefore wish to use it to my advantage. The big question is, how to raise the awareness to business at large?

  6. Hi Tom
    I couldn’t agree more in respect of HR managers. However, I think an important part of this is helping people with Aspergers have the confidence to learn some of the most critical work appropriate behaviour. I hold the position I do in commerce due to my own efforts to learn what is and what is not appropriate. That does not mean I am a carbon copy of the everyday employee – I certainly have my own unique personality – but I am confident enough to know my strengths and weaknesses (like any other employee) and to stand up for myself.

  7. Hi Matthew
    Thanks for this. In the UK we also have legislation to protect people with disabilities from discrimination. However, the onus will always be to prove that there has actually been discrimination. What needs to be addressed is the stigma. For example, in an interviewing situation, it would only be protected under the discrimination legislation if the recruited in some way indicated that their rejection of an applicant was specifically due to the disability. A recruiter could quite legitimately make a comment like, “Whilst your technical background is excellent, we feel that candidate B would be a better cultural fit within the company.” or something to that effect.
    I couldn’t agree more about accepting your AS as a gift – it is the right outlook.
    Regarding raising awareness to business, we are undertaking workshops to businesses to raise awareness, as individuals who have already made their mark in their careers despite their ‘disability’. This is one of the best ways to raise awareness. Our next puiblic session is in September.