Dear Future Employer,
My name is Ryan Lowry. I am 19 years old, live in Leesburg, Virginia, and I have autism. I also have a unique sense of humor, am gifted at math, really good with technology, and a really quick learner.
I am interested in a job in animation, or in IT. I realize that someone like you will have to take a chance on me. I don’t learn like typical people do. I would need a mentor to teach me, but I learn quickly. Once you explain it, I get it. I promise you that if you hire me and teach me, you’ll be glad that you did. I will show up every day, do what you tell me to do, and work really hard.
Please let me know if you would like to talk about this with me.
After Ryan posted the above letter on LinkedIn a couple of months back, it received over 7 million views. The reason? Ryan is autistic, and his letter touched a nerve among people who face discrimination in several forms in getting gainfully employed because of their disabilities – real or perceived.
Ryan’s letter busts the myth that diverse talent is not available, and gives a sense of the ground reality. In fact, there is a large pool of highly qualified talent – LGBT+, people with disabilities (cognitive and physical), etc. – who are just waiting for opportunities to work!
Tweak your recruitment style
To identify overlooked and untapped talent pools, companies need to adjust their sourcing strategies. The message is clear: if your go-to tactics haven’t produced diverse candidates in the past, it’s time to change them now.
New-age recruitment should analyse both, skill and motivation. Companies should drill into specific competencies rather than focus on soft skills alone or on outdated notions of ‘culture fit.’ Today, we cannot judge people only on the basis of their cognitive skills – a candidate who ‘works hard, plays harder’ may bring more value than the one with straight A-s.
For instance, to circumvent the challenges that diversity candidates – especially LGBT+ or PWDs – face in 1:1 interactions, organizations could assess them based on the time they have spent in working on technical skills at their campus before formal onboarding, and by customising the interview process in formal and informal settings to enable a level of comfort to candidates. The focus must be on analysing whether a candidate has the required skill set for the specific job.
Expand your candidate search
The importance that organisations attach to formal degrees may need to be toned down. It is evident that college degrees say less about one’s ability in entirety, while in some cases, access to higher education may have been the result of privilege.
Also, job descriptions should be inclusive. For example, a ‘highly skilled software engineer’ may not possess ‘excellent communication’ or ‘highly organized’ skills. Such verbiage tends to exclude people who struggle in social interactions.
Companies can also partner with external organizations to find qualified talent. Many are actually pairing with government bodies/institutions to find meaningful employment for neurodivergent people. Also, it helps to regularly present an organization’s commitment to diversity and inclusion in the public domain, such as showcasing employee demographics and diversified cultural practices. This makes the organisations appear as an employer of choice to prospective candidates.
Provide diversity employees with extra support
Diversity candidates may need extra support to succeed. It helps to have 1:1 mentors or job coaches to help them settle into their roles, or provide common platforms for LGBT+ or PWD groups to share their experiences. This can build trust and credibility to ensure high levels of retention among such hires.
Extending medical benefits to employees’ partners irrespective of their sexual orientation, having ‘all-gender restrooms’ with equal access to all regardless of gender expression, identity or ability; using gender-neutral language like ‘partners’ to offset assumptions about employees’ sexual orientation – all these go a long way to promote a culture of equity.
There is no one-size-fits-all solution that addresses hiring discrimination or sustains as a model for effective best practices. On the ground, D&I practitioners are taking initiatives to serve hitherto unserved populations. One cannot ensure these steps will improve diversity hiring, but will surely go a long way to make your organization equitable.
Be the Benchmark … in the new D&I journey!
In this day and age, where digital transformation is a critical means to benefit all of humanity, organisations should look at redefining their journey and be the benchmark in contributing to society, fighting exclusion, and ensuring equal opportunities to all. In short, this is the time for unleashing human energy through technology for an inclusive and sustainable future.
P.S - Ryan received an overwhelming response to his letter. He received several job offers, and an offer with a top company to participate in its neuro-diverse program. His family is also responding to more than 1000 organizations interested in helping Ryan on his behalf.
As Ryan’s mother said about his letter: It’s raw. It’s beautiful. All they need is a chance!