Optimist Prime vs. Negatron – Transforming into an Inclusive Workplace
Be an Optimist Prime, not a Negatron! Encouraging a diverse workplace that embraces new vision and talent creatively is a powerful motivator for an effective and positive work environment.
Recently I’ve been doing a lot of reading on gender discrimination in SET careers (Science, Engineering, & Technology). The articles aren’t written about disability in the workplace but I was struck by how many of these points hit home about how I see workplace diversity and disability challenges.
This quote by Keith Clarke (Chief Executive Atkins), brings up two important points:
“Diversity and differences enrich organizations and are the opposite of tokenism which deadens them. Achieving diversity is not convenient but it is right.”
Tokenism, it’s the bane of true diversity. Recently a friend told me about his experience getting an internship during his college years. He has cerebral palsy and for years had been faced with claptrap about not having any work experience. When he went back to college, he specifically chose a program with an internship work study period to address this aspect of his employ-ability. Despite getting more interviews than any other student in his class due to his excellent grades and resume, it took 17 interviews before he got a position. Over the 16 week program, he spent 8 weeks with nothing to do. Despite his excellent reputation they underestimated his work ability. He finished his assignments in half the time allotted, the work wasn’t challenging, and there wasn’t more of it!
It’s a classic example of well-meant tokenism. This organization was attempting to transform into an Optimist Prime but ended up being a Negatron for everyone involved by hiring my friend as a token representative of the disability community in the workplace, not a valued employee with potential. It was a waste of my friend and the organization’s time. The company missed out on a talented, hardworking and creative potential employee.
Clarke is right that transforming a workplace culture to embrace the new is not convenient. Transformations take a lot of energy! Making an organization’s espoused values match enacted ones takes top-down leadership, follow up, and commitment. Clearly my friend had stumbled upon an organization that was in the process of making these changes but lacked some guidance in enacting the values of community living. For people unfamiliar with embracing diversity it can take time to assume people are capable.
“Workplace cultures serve two important social functions. First they oil the wheels of the job and the organization. Second, they have the potential to shape who is included and excluded at work. This can have a subtle but significant bearing on whether one progresses within a company or occupation.”
-Wendy Faulkner, SET: A Course for Women Returners
Faulkner hits the nail on the head here. As leaders in the disability community I think it’s so important to role model inclusion. It’s our own subtle way of advertising people’s potential and true strength. There are few things more powerful than demonstrated ability and leveraging it to your own advantage. The private sector quickly adopts effective practices. By finding ways to tap into the potential of the people we support and including them in our communities we build more opportunities for us all! How support workers include people in our day to day lives has a subtle and important impact. By seeing talent, ability, and power in vulnerable people we support the world to see it. That’s an amazing super power so remember, transform as an Optimist Prime, not a Negatron!
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