August 30, 2023
As business and people leaders, we see our team members in a different light than pretty much everyone else in their lives.
We can identify work patterns, preferences, and styles that not even their closest families and friends (or they themselves) can see.
This doesn’t mean it’s our job to play doctor and diagnose learning or processing differences in our team members. But it DOES mean we have an opportunity (and obligation, if you ask me) to lead them through the process of discovering how they do their best work, and accommodate them accordingly.
It’s our job to create an environment where everyone thrives, regardless of their unique processing and work styles – diagnosed or not. And inclusive leadership means taking proactive steps to support our team members, rather than relying on them to advocate for themselves.
What The Law Says
The American Disabilities Act upholds that employers are prohibited from asking employees if they have any learning disabilities or differences that negatively impact the way they process information and carry out their work. Under the law, an employee bears the responsibility of notifying their employee of any disabilities and asking for accommodations.
The HR Conundrum
From an HR perspective, this sets us up for failure when it comes to creating inclusive and supportive work cultures. It means we have to wait for people to come to us to seek out accommodations – rather than addressing an issue we can see in plain sight. And if we haven’t created a space that makes our employees feel comfortable coming to us – they won’t.
(Not to mention if someone hasn’t even realized that they may process information and work differently than what is “typical.”)
We’ve been taught that talking about learning disabilities is taboo, or will get us in trouble – so we shy away from it all together. This has created a cycle where HR has become reactive to people asking for accommodations, instead of proactive in creating spaces for people to thrive.
As a result, our employees are silently struggling.
But as leaders, we can break this cycle.
What Inclusive Leadership Should Look Like
There is a way to address these things with your team members and be an inclusive leader, without stepping on the ADA’s toes. But you have to be willing to be vulnerable and open with your team, so your employees are comfortable to do the same in their exploration of how they work.
Maybe you’ve discovered that having meetings recorded and transcribed helps you process key information after the fact, without having to feverishly take notes while someone is talking. Let your team know that, and see if it resonates with someone.
Make it a part of your onboarding process to share options for tools and apps that cater to different work styles. Share what works for you and why – and invite your team members to explore different ways of working until they find what works best for them.
What works for one person might not work for another person – so encourage people to experiment and share when they’ve found a great solution that might help someone else.
Company culture should be about reaching out to your team members with a hand up, instead of handing it off to the employee to figure it out for themselves.
Entrepreneurial Wisdom Through The Lens Of Experience
On this week’s episode of On The Up & Up, we hear from Allison Conway, an inspiring entrepreneur who carved her own path in the online business world after a lifetime of not fitting into the norms of “conventional” workplaces.
Her dyslexia and ADHD were overlooked as “quirks” her whole life, leaving her to wrestle with self-doubt instead of receiving accommodations that could have empowered her work in transformative ways.
Allison shares her personal experience as an entrepreneur with a late-in-life learning disability diagnosis, and the unique perspective that lends her about supporting team members who learn, process, and work differently.
And just for our listeners, Allison is offering $250 any template in her website’s template shop with the promo code “PARADIGM”!