Nothing about us without us
The topic of verifying which organisations genuinely do a good job of empowering autistic and otherwise neurodivergent employees came up in an online discussion with fellow autists in April 2020 and then led to further discussions within the autistic community.
The Autistic Collaboration Trust is currently engaging with the autistic community and the wider neurodiversity movement in a project to solicit input, to jointly develop a trustworthy and globally accessible employer rating service that is administered by autistic and otherwise neurodivergent volunteers.
The demand for an employer rating service and the urgency of the need for action can also be illustrated via the initial data emerging from an ongoing anonymous online survey to build a global database on psychological safety at work, not limited to neurodivergent staff:
You are invited to contribute to the design of the employer rating service. The intention is to have the service operational by 1 July 2020.
The envisaged service will enable employees to rate their employers in terms of psychological safety and inclusiveness for:
- all staff
- neurodivergent staff
- LGBTQIA+ staff in specific
- autistic staff in specific
Collaborative service design
An employer rating service is an interesting idea, but it must be designed by the autistic community and other neurominorities in order to have legitimacy. The following considerations for service design have been identified so far:
- There may be companies that do a fantastic job of supporting neurodivergent staff and that may even be owned and operated by autistic and otherwise neurodivergent people, but that don’t advertise the fact, because doing so openly would not be understood as a positive factor by their customers.
- Healthcare service providers or management consulting companies operated by autistic and otherwise neurodivergent people certainly exist, but the level of discrimination is such that some companies do not feel safe to openly talk about their neurodiverse and autistic collaborative advantage.
- The only people who are qualified to rate companies on support for autistic and otherwise neurodivergent staff are the neurodivergent people who work there, and the assessment must be based on neurodivergent experiences from many companies that are described in terms of concrete examples.
- Without external reference points a neurodivergent person who has horrible prior work experiences might perceive an exploitative employer who provides minimal or token accommodation as “a real improvement”, whereas they might just have reached a slightly less desolate place in hell.
- It is important that ratings are solicited from the broadest possible base, including the large numbers of “undercover” neurodivergent people, and not limited to the token openly neurodivergent staff that large corporations like to draw on in their PR stunts at conferences and in the media.
- All companies that are not owned and operated by autistic and otherwise neurodivergent staff need to be carefully scrutinised. Co-opting of neurodiversity and exploitation of autistic staff in particular is in full swing.
- To obtain a good overall rating, in additional to consistent positive feedback from neurodivergent staff, such companies need to demonstrate that autistic and otherwise neurodivergent people are actively involved in key decision making roles within the organisation and that the board of the organisation does not exclude neurodivergent people from participating at board level.
- The rating service would be a natural extension of the Bullying Alert System for neurodivergent staff that is already available via the Autistic Collaboration Trust.
- All forms of formal numerical rating schemes are at risk of being subverted and corrupted. A dedicated certification body easily deteriorates into a certification racket that primarily benefits the operators of the racket.
- A form of direct democracy at work via an ongoing poll might be a better approach. But it may be impossible to ensure only neurodivergent people have access to the poll without discriminating against those without formal diagnosis.
- A poll that is open to all staff and that focuses on psychological safety and the sensory environment at work might be a better approach.
- Staff should at any point be allowed to update their ratings, resulting in a more or less “real time” database that covers participating employers.
- The neurodiverse team at S23M is already involved in compiling a database on psychological safety at work via the ongoing anonymous online survey mentioned above. A team of neurodivergent volunteers coordinated via the Autistic Collaboration Trust could run a similar survey on behalf of specific companies that would like to be rated on psychological safety and their level of support for neurodivergent people.
- If staff are asked to participate in an anonymous survey and are asked to independently submit their contact details to the Autistic Collaboration Trust, the external team of volunteers is in a good position to verify with minimal effort that only genuine staff respond by (a) confirming that the number of survey responses corresponds to the number of received contact details and (b) by manually verifying the identity of a random subset of participants, to ensure that the employer does not distort the survey by submitting responses on behalf of staff.
- Employers that decide to commit their workplace culture to independent oversight via the independently administered employer rating service can be given the option to either publicise their ratings to everyone, including the outside world of potential employees, suppliers, and customers, or to keep their ratings private.
- This may motivate a larger number of employers to participate and learn from staff feedback, and it gives employers the chance to address major challenges and to improve their practices before sharing their ratings.
- The rating service could be designed such that it is free of charge for all organisations with 150 staff or less, and such that it incurs charges for larger organisations depending on their size.
- There must not be a barrier for small employers to participate. Inclusiveness has the potential to become a genuine advantage for small and medium size employers in terms of their ability to attract and retain employees.
- The fees for large organisations must reflect a genuine commitment to inclusiveness and psychological safety, and a genuine appreciation of independent oversight of workplace culture.
- The contributions of some of the most vulnerable people in society must be recognised. The revenue from larger organisations could be used to support those volunteers who administer the service who are unemployed or underemployed.
Further considerations & feedback
You can contribute to the service design by submitting your ideas and feedback via the form below. You can also use the form to indicate interest in being actively involved as a volunteer in administrating the employer rating service.
Inquiries from employers
If as an employer you are interested in subscribing to the service or have questions, please use the the form below. The Aut Collab team will engage with you to understand your context and can advise on a suitable approach to service adoption.