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Neurodiversity at work with Ludmila Praslova | Hodges Consulting Executives Uncut

Sarah is joined by the Director of Research in Industrial Organizational Psychology at Vanguard University of Southern California, Ludmila Praslova. The topic is neurodiversity in the workplace. This is one of the most interesting and important episodes we have had so far because Ludmila talks about the assumptions the people have towards autistic people and common misconceptions about those neuro-minorities. Sarah’s mind was blown a couple times during the episode which only made the episode better. Ludmila covers how the interview process is flawed to not accommodate neuro-minorities, as well as how neuro-minorities can help organizations thrive. Ludmila brings passion and a kind heart to the table while fully intending to school every person who listens to this episode. Listen to the audio version here: Subscribe and rate us on Apple Podcasts here:


Unknown Speaker 0:06

Hey there. I'm Sarah Hodges, and this is executives uncut. The Live podcast where we provide solutions for the corporate cycle of hell. We are back after a several month hiatus with a new background you may notice, and we're so excited to be talking all about neuro diversity in the workplace today. I'm here with loot Mila plus Nova. Hope I got that right. I really practiced it, a Vanguard University of Southern California. Welcome, dude. Mila. Thank you, sir. It's wonderful to be here. It's I'm so excited to talk about neuro diversity today. I don't think people talk about it enough. And the subject is becoming more increasingly prevalent over time, wouldn't you say?

Unknown Speaker 0:51

Absolutely. People have been thinking a lot more attention. And there are very interesting developments in the workplace was increasingly prominent place of neuro diversity place. So I will be happy to talk more about this. Well,

Unknown Speaker 1:07

so let's get started with how do you personally define neuro diversity? And how did you become so passionate about it?

Unknown Speaker 1:14

Well, there is a classic definition of neurodiversity that Judy singer and cut Harvey Boone came up with in late 90s. So its basic idea is it's like bio diversity within humanity. There's a diversity of neurological functioning, that is highly beneficial on the group level, because we all have different abilities. Some people are more attuned to danger, other people are less attuned to danger, and they can do brave things. Other people have minds that can remember everything and classify everything. So within humanity, those are all helpful characteristics. But on the individual level, when you have an extreme characteristic, it can easily become stigmatized. So then society starts putting the labels on those differences, as if there were deficiencies and individual problems, even though those differences are helpful when you look at the overall functioning, because we do need different kinds of strengths.

Unknown Speaker 2:21

sure that that makes complete sense. So then, what are some of the challenges that I think the term is neuro minorities right face in the workplace?

Unknown Speaker 2:31

Well, again, excellent questions. If you talk about specific neuro minorities, and we started talking about or with people who are autistic, or on the spectrum, again, the terminology is there are different preferences most autistic people just prefer autistic people, but than other people who are typically included in your minority who would be people with Tourette's or different learning disabilities, dyslexia, dysgraphia, ADHD, and then there are broader definitions that include a variety of other conditions like acquired conditions or other differences and mental health differences. But the classic definition is would be autism, ADHD, dyslexia, and the similar types of differences in functioning when people have a lot of abilities. But those abilities are unlimited. People can be really good at some things, but not really good at other things. So difficulties in the workplace, or relate to being really good at some things, and not good at other things. So if I narrow down to typically autistic people, and again, you've met one autistic person who met one autistic person, but one thing that many people experience is that they can actually be really excellent and do a doing the job. But it's entry into the workplace. That is a problem. Because unstructured interviews where people just throw random things that you are an issue, even though it has nothing to do whatsoever with what people are supposed to be doing in the workplace. So the entry issue is something that's likely leads to 85% unemployment rate among OTC people with college degrees. So they actually have a lot of abilities to do the job. But they can get into those jobs because their selection methods are actually not valid, because they're not measuring what the person is supposed to be doing. And then there are other things like workplace bullying. It is very typical for people on the spectrum to become targets of bullying. So that's another issue that sometimes leads to or unnecessary, otherwise departure from work and then other people might have issues with specific aspects of work. So they might need accommodations, they might need some kind of assistive technology, even though it doesn't even have to be anything expensive, those things can be pretty cheap. So sometimes it's issues that require accommodations with actual work there. But very often, it's just the actual ability to get the job despite the fact that people are fully qualified.

Unknown Speaker 5:30

Wow. So the interview process itself prohibits people who are on the spectrum to be able to succeed and get the job in the first place. Because they don't have that. That the questions ahead of time, so they can't plan and prepare. That is, that is fascinating. I feel like I'm learning so much over here. Wow. So another question that I have, you know, and I guess this relates primarily to people who are on the spectrum. And it This may be a lack of knowledge on my behalf. But it's my understanding that people who are on the spectrum struggle, tend to struggle with empathy and or theory of mind understanding the perceptions of others. And yet, in we're in an era that encourages empathy in the workplace, and seeing things from the perspective of others. So how is that true? And how can organizations and leaders better support their neuro minority staff members who struggle?

Unknown Speaker 6:28

And that is a very good question, because there will make many assumptions about what different minimum neuro minorities struggle with, or not. And there is a certain segment of autistic population, not everyone who might have issues with empathy, but it's not in the way that people usually think about it. So when you think about cognitive empathy, or theory of mind, the same things from another person's perspective, there is a segment especially children, adults, kind of sometimes learned to do a little bit better to do this a little bit better. But there might be some difficulties. However, people misinterpret the difficulties with cognitive empathy to mean that there's a lack of effective empathy, empathy, which is actually feeling something. Right. So the issue is that people are not unfeeling. And in fact, many autistic people report being overwhelmed with empathy, but not being able to express it. Because another condition that may or may not coexist with other neuro minority conditions is alexithymia, which is when people can't label their feelings. So that's another thing. So they might have a lot of effective empathy and feel very strong emotion, but they don't know how to express it and how to label it for others. And, and then, it gets even more interesting when you talk about empathy. A lot of people on the spectrum can identify feelings and discuss feelings with other people on the spectrum without any issues, but what we really are talking about what's fascinating is a double empathy issue is that people who are neurotypical do not read emotion in autistic people do not understand or identify emotion in autistic people and vice versa. So it's not just that people have deficiency in empathy. Actually, their empathy works differently from neurotypical people. And neurotypical people also have less empathy for autistic people. And so that is something that people don't know very much about. And that is something that I think is very important. So when you're saying how we can help someone with empathy? Well, first of all, you need to check your own empathy and whether or not you are empathizing with those groups as much because it goes both ways. And don't just assume that it's an that it's a deficiency on the side of autistic person, because it is much more likely that the understanding of emotion difficulty actually goes both ways. So, yeah, but then also each person is very different. Again, some people are super emotionally empathetic, and they can be overwhelmed with feelings. But what happens is, you You're so overwhelmed with them, you can't express them and people keep poking you and saying you're why you're so cold. Why is a cold wises a cold white while inside you're about to explode, so You just get a different thing of what you need from your environment.

Unknown Speaker 10:07

That is fascinating. I had no idea that people on the spectrum could could read each other better. And that kind of neuro typical people struggle, reading those who are neurodiverse. I am. This episode is so awesome. You're so awesome.

Unknown Speaker 10:25

So, organizational psychologist, so I'm barely scratching the surface here when I'm talking about clinical topics. But there's definitely a lot more to look at.

Unknown Speaker 10:38

Yeah, and I and I want to have the whole side conversation with you now about, you know, the temporal period of junction and the brain and how that comes into play. But we can't just go psychological safety in the workplace. topic, I want to talk about that, too. But okay, so how do we know knowing all of this? Thank you for schooling me? Because I had no idea. But knowing all of this, what can we do to help people on the spectrum? feel more psychologically safe? What can leaders do? What can their peers do?

Unknown Speaker 11:13

Well, again, there are many different things. But the first one, probably just to always check our assumptions, because it's so easy to start going with deficiency model. It's been so drilled into us with, you know, media culture, but step back and say it's a deficient is a deficiency, or is that difference? Is it something that can be very easily addressed. And then also don't think that you have to do special things for autistic people just like hiring just make it valid, to make it preferential just make it valid. This, which was actually one of the three DS that you're asking for psychological safety, just provide psychological safety for everybody. Because you're so juicy, people might be more sensitive to mistreatment, and more prone to be targets of mistreatment. But when you allow it towards anyone in your workplace, when you tolerate, you know, snide comments, and subitizing, to get a had, it really hurts everyone, it hurts your organization. So in general, try to create a healthy organizational environment. And again, you can be on any kind of leadership level to do it, you can be an ally from any position, and then your minorities can also be in any positions. And in very high level, leadership's in the leadership positions as well. So try to amplify those voices, try to maybe help people who are from different neuro minority groups to advance the leadership so that their voices a little bit more problem prominent and amplified within your organization, so that you could create the flow for all the different parts of their organizational cycle that's actually welcoming to humans of different kinds. So it's, again, not just about specific sub kind of fun, neuro diverse spectrum. And it's not even about doing something different. Occasionally, you need that if someone needs particular, specific accommodations, but for the most part, good organizational practices, or good organizational practice, practices, and that's what that was my big realization after, you know, almost 30 years in the field, when I started thinking is what would it take to accommodate an autistic person, it would actually take doing all those things that science tells us are good for organizations in a way, and we have just been ignoring them. So just using best practices, such as valid selection is going to address a significant percentage of those issues that are experienced by all kinds of people, people who come from working class, they might also actually have some issues with random, rich people questions in the interviews, they're done work for their life experience. So focus on outcomes, focus on what matters focus on what's job relevant and valid. And that is going to help people off different kinds of backgrounds to thrive in the workplace. And that obviously will also enrich organization because you will have more talent and you will recruit your talent from a much larger population than if you just say, Okay, I just want those people who fit whatever model we had for the last 70 years.

Unknown Speaker 14:58

Yeah, that that makes sense. Little things, and you're already starting to answer my next question, which is, you know, how can? How can we not just help those who are neuro minorities, but how can they? How can they help their organization? In other words, how can neuro diversity, help an organization thrive, and maybe even if you have specific examples, I'd love to hear them?

Unknown Speaker 15:19

Well, again, examples are very interesting when people started out as workplace programs, and it became popular maybe about 10 years ago, or even less, the idea was that there was an economic benefit. And there were many organizations who were very successful in realizing that economic benefit when you take an autistic person who has very significant ability in some particular area, and again, it's been traditionally tech, I'll get to the point where it's not just Dak later on, but traditionally, it was recruiting into tech related jobs, software testing. And those organizations were very successful. So when you ask the question, how benefits organization are kind of immediately drawn to the economic rationale for diversity, and economic crashing? Now, if you just talk about this approach, is that you get people who are 1819 up to some book, according to some report up to 140% more productive. So it's a tremendous economic argument. But it's not enough. It's doesn't describe everything that organization can gain from it, because then you start saying, Oh, yeah, we'll just hire a bunch of autistic people because they do twice the work. And not entirely sure. That's the best rationale, even though it's been used as this is why you should hire neuro diverse people, but in general, what ever and or neuro minority, so I told you not to use neuro diversity. It's so it's so used all the time that but the people from neuro minority groups is just like any other group. For the sake of human dignity, you hire people, you also hire people to educate yourself on different perspectives. So if you think about it from a different perspective, if you live in this, like neurotypical empathy paradigm, and never expanded, then you're actually stealing a lot of world experience from yourself. So just trying to work with people who are different in any kind of way, really allows you to expand your mind your empathy and sensitivity to different kinds of being and thinking and, and feeling. So it goes much further than just an economic benefit. It goes to a really human mutual human enrichment, our mutual thriving. So it's not just economic thriving, it's also human thriving, when we allow everyone who is different from us to participate in exchanges and learning from each other. So it's much more than just economic benefits. So you wanted examples of different companies. So when we started with JPMorgan, SAP, and Microsoft, big companies, they definitely represent a great example of economic success. And they have been able to employ some people who otherwise might have had trouble getting a job. But it's hard even with that kind of problem programs to make a dent in those unemployment rates. So they've been trying to change higher and other areas beyond tech, because that has been one kind of stereotypical thing, okay, we're only going to hire entry level tech positions. that eliminates a lot of people who are not techie and who are not entry level. For example, older people who didn't even have a chance to be diagnosed because they were born before DSM one even included things like autism or many of our understanding of any other

Unknown Speaker 19:29

conditions that relate to neuro diversity. So when you kind of make it okay, so just for young deaf people, well, that's a bit of a problem. And trying to think beyond that there were fewer organizations that have tried to go either beyond tech or beyond tech roles. So alternate is one example. That was kind of designed from the ground up with The intention of hiring autistic employees and the company I believe is 75% autistic, but all kinds of diverse people from different backgrounds, it just thrive. There's it's a very diverse company in many different ways. It's not just your minority experience. And then companies that go go beyond tech, and try to say, okay, we're going to work with autistic creatives. And, and they're usually smaller companies, smaller groups, but I find those super fascinating because they do something that is counter threat typical, and that requires original thinking. So spectrum fusion is a smaller company in Texas, but they work specifically with artistic creatives, and create creating beautiful videos, graphic design, songwriting. So that is a way for people to show the full spectrum of talents, or neuroplastic, which is it's an input for profit that publishes by autistic people, for autistic people, a lot of writers poets, just find them lazy, they're so I think that is really fascinating. Because, again, it goes way beyond Okay, so let's hire people for tech roles, because that's what they're typically good at. But going even further and say, Okay, what are the talents out there that haven't had a chance, but could really in reach overall humanity? So a lot of interesting success examples, but I would pay more attention to those smaller and non tech companies, because we definitely don't talk about them nearly as much as about large companies.

Unknown Speaker 22:01

Wow, I'm so glad that those are great examples. I never thought, of course, you're naturally going to think about how tech companies can benefit from, you know, hiring neuro minorities, but the idea of creative companies and small companies hiring as well. And the way that they've benefited is just amazing. And, and it makes me realize that because I'm so interested in you, as well as the Mila, can you tell us just a little bit more? I know, I asked you this question at the beginning. But how did you become so passionate about this subject?

Unknown Speaker 22:34

Yes, I didn't know how to answer it. In the beginning. I know. I kind of split over it. But I really wanted to know,

Unknown Speaker 22:40

well, I've been in the diversity and inclusion space since I was 20 years old. And I started with global environment. And I was back on Moscow just became an international hub out of the blue region, which was a very new development. So it was actually super fun. And I just loved everything, diversity, everything culture. And so then I went to graduate school, where I studied industrial organizational psychology, but my thesis, my dissertation, everything was on culture. So I always wanted to understand people and their cultural context. And then it just kind of started becoming more and more disappointed, because it felt like, we're not moving fast enough. And in some ways, we're even going backwards, when we're talking about diversity and inclusion, and something was missing. And then within my own life, it just started to like, an includible, which is a term that I've been using, when you have so many different intersectionalities that weren't even one thing can be helped, then other things is going to get you so let's say I love the company where it was point blank told that I'm not eligible for professional development, because I was a woman. Okay, so I went somewhere else, and then that run, then I'm running into like, anti immigrant prejudice, and then I go somewhere else. And then there's just some other stuff. Or it's, I assume that everyone has a car to go to the company function and a dawn because I didn't have a car until after I had my PhD. So I just you always keep running into if it's not gender and social economic status, if it's not social economic status, it's, you know, nissa t, there's just so many things that eventually I'm like, Okay, I'm, I'm just not includable. And then eventually, I figured, after I figured out, I was autistic in my late 40s, I figured out that if you accommodate your minorities, everything else is again 99% likely to fall into place because by doing all those things that are welcoming to narrow minorities, it's also going to help people who come from from low socio economic background is going to help women is going to help many ethnic groups. So a lot of things that you do to consider diversity on the psychological level. Yes, you do sewing things within your organization that are includable people become includable. So that really is something that it's been fascinating for both the last year and a half.

Unknown Speaker 25:33

Wow, this episode is mind blowing, that thank you so much for sharing that and your personal experience, because I think it really helps me and hopefully our audience understand not just what it looks like out there, but also how you've experienced it, you know, so you have a really unique lens, because you know, not just, you know, again, what it looks like in terms of the ROI, right of the economic impact of inclusion, but also the personal impact. That's extraordinary. And you know, your mind, I love you,

Unknown Speaker 26:14

ROI, but you don't even have to aim for ROI. If you allow people exercise their talents, they will give you ROI.

Unknown Speaker 26:22

Yeah, you have been phenomenal. And I know that you folded your coaching tips into your answers, but is there anything else left unsaid that you want our viewers and our listeners to know about?

Unknown Speaker 26:35

It just kind of reinforcing the point that it's so easy to fall into easily stick assumptions, because society is saturated with a blaze. So just reminding yourself to check head and to think about okay is a difference? Or is it a deficiency is something that can really take whether an executive or personal in any level of organization who wants to be an ally, very far, but then also for people who have influence in their organizations, try to not just sell ROI. But think about the human connection and the empathy, how you can develop your own empathy, not just developing empathy and others and thinking about it as a mutual growth, rather than some people are. grown and Don and correct and other people are somehow doing. So that's just kind of a philosophical way to look at it. With not allowing those very typical knee jerk assumptions, guide, anything you do in your organization, and then just basic things, valid selection and psychological safety can really go a long way. Oh,

Unknown Speaker 28:04

awesome. Thank you so much. I want to leave everyone with just one coaching question, so you can reflect on what we've Mila has taught us today. If you could ask yourself, How could your organization benefit from neuro diversity? Just that one question alone can go a long way. Thank you so much for these amazing tips. where can our viewers find out more about you?

Unknown Speaker 28:26

Well, thank you, Sarah. I have a very active LinkedIn page. So it's an easiest way. And my name is unique. So if you just find me on LinkedIn, a lot of my writing is laying there. So I write on diversity of topics for Sherm Law Society for human resources management, I also have another page in your in your clastic, my university page for our master's program in industrial organizational psychology, all of this is actually linked to my LinkedIn profile. So it's the easiest hard to find all the different things that I do.

Unknown Speaker 29:03

And is that where we find your blog to? I know, Justin had an image of your blog. Let's pull that up just to show the audience. audience. Yeah, this is a blog, where do people find this,

Unknown Speaker 29:13

this is my author page. So you can just go to shrm blog and look for my name, or you can go to my LinkedIn page, and it's linked from there as one link to all of my articles.

Unknown Speaker 29:26

Awesome. Again, thank you so much. I have a feeling we're going to be talking again and I would love to have you back to talk more about psychological safety in general because you have so much to say on the subject. I really appreciate your time today and thanks to everyone else for tuning in to this awesome episode of executives uncut. And if you enjoyed it, make sure to subscribe share with your friends who could benefit and you can always visit Hodges coaching comm for new episodes, or follow us at Hodges coaching on LinkedIn or YouTube. Thank you again dude Mila. I'm Sarah Hodges, and I'll see you next week. Thank you Sarah was fabulous. Thank you

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