Watch PowerToFly's recent conversation with our partner 15five facilitating impactful conversations about DEIB in the workplace.
PowerToFly Global DEIB Strategist & Trainer Zara Chaudary recently joined our partner 15five for an illuminating conversation on how to best authentically support differences in the workplace. Zara was joined by 15five's Senior Director of DEI Cara Pelletier as well as leaders from Pave and Raydiant.
Your company may strive for diversity, but are you truly being inclusive and equitable as well? To instill a culture of psychological safety and belonging, everyone including executives, HR, managers, and employees must practice supporting differences in the workplace. And it’s hard to get it “right” without aligning on what that means and how to recover when we inevitably make mistakes.
Whether it’s a difference in culture, identity, age, beliefs, or disability (and the list goes on) this webinar focuses on building a workplace community of allyship. Our differences are reflected in our appreciation, feedback, and communication styles, so watch our panelists from 15Five, Pave, PowerToFly, and Raydiant for a powerful conversation on how to navigate these authentically.
What you’ll learn:
- How to facilitate impactful conversations about DEIB (diversity, equity, inclusion, belonging) between managers and employees
- How to navigate and encourage cultural differences in a hybrid workplace
- What initiatives can promote a culture of psychological safety and allyship
- How to build stronger work relationships in the face of DEIB mistakes
- Tools and resources to promote inclusion across employees
The first time in his multi-decade engineering career that Henry Carr felt like an outsider was during a Society of Women Engineers event a few years ago.
“Walking into a place where suddenly you are the minority was really powerful, because it feels very different,” he says, reflecting on the experience. “Even if I knew 60% of the people in the room, it was the first professional meeting I had where I walked in and didn’t see people who looked like me.”
Henry had been committed to building an inclusive engineering environment before attending that event, but having a first-hand glimpse into the everyday experiences of women, people of color, and other underrepresented minorities in engineering made him double down.
“I've kind of been through a journey of ‘mechanical engineers look like this – with similar interests, education, etc’ because that's what I grew up with and what I was used to,” says Henry. “But in reality mechanical engineers can have hugely varied backgrounds and experience, and it’s actually better to get all of those diverse opinions. Sometimes if you are trained in the same way or think in the same way as the rest of your team, that’s not very good for innovation.”
As an Advanced Engineering Manager at international power company Cummins Inc., Henry’s responsibilities include technical work and more traditional people leadership. In both aspects of his job, he looks for ways to build more paths for people of different backgrounds to find success at Cummins and in the engineering field writ large.
We sat down to talk about Henry’s professional and DEI journey — and to hear what advice he has for other leaders interested in running their own version of the multi-year accessibility audit he recently finished for Cummins.
“Do it Where You Can”
Henry knew he was interested in mechanical engineering from a young age.
“My natural interest was in making things, and that’s still what I do in my free time now,” he says.
Henry built his own car at 20, then sold it and built a faster one; he then got involved in racing teams and electric vehicle competitions, and now works with university students as an advisor on such projects.
“Globally, we talk a lot about diversity and inclusion, but too few people really do anything. I saw an opportunity where I could do something on this project,” he says, referencing the Green Power team he helps out with at his local schools. “I said, ‘Let’s aim for a 50/50 gender split.’ The gender split is so inequitable [in mechanical engineering and racing] when you get to university, and part of that is because we’re not highlighting opportunities and because women don’t see their peers or people they aspire to be in these roles.”
The challenge worked, and a few weeks later, the school’s race team was half men and half women.
Henry took a simple lesson from that experience: “Do it where you can. Look towards equity and inclusion wherever you can. It’s not a case of, ‘We can’t’; it’s a case of, ‘How much do we want it?’”
Believing that he and other leaders can make an impact with simple changes is a core value of Henry’s, and a big part of what shapes his approach to DEI at work. “There’s a saying that you can’t boil the ocean. Well, actually, I think you probably can, with enough effort,” he says.
How Engineering Frameworks Help with DEI Goals
Henry was driven to study engineering to better understand how things work. His first job out of university had him running endurance tests on internal combustion engines.
“We wanted to know what happens when things go very wrong,” he says. “I found it really interesting, seeing how things fail and then trying to work backwards — being a bit of a detective and figuring out how something failed, what happened first.”
That same curiosity and logical rigor is why he appreciates having a diverse team, stacked with employees of different genders, countries of origin, academic backgrounds, native languages, and ways of learning, working, and communicating.
“There's never just one answer. That’s partly where diversity comes in: if you all think the same, then you miss things,” he says.
And there have been no shortage of answers to work through at Cummins. The fact that Henry has spent 18 years there is a surprise even to himself.
“I genuinely thought after a few years of experience, maybe my interest would’ve gone elsewhere, but it really hasn’t,” he explains. “Cummins is such a big organization, and you’re free to move between business units with their full support. They seem genuinely interested in your career and helping people be the best they can be, to reach their potential.”
That doesn’t mean everyone is on a track to manage people, Henry adds, noting that he enjoys the fact that his job is a mix of technical projects and people management. It does mean that everyone is encouraged to pursue the growth path that makes the most sense to them, and is supported with ample training resources along the way.
“Cummins does a good job of supporting every type of learning, and not leaving behind people who learn differently,” he says. “And they’re always interested in knowing what they can do better and how they can make sure everyone is happy and comfortable.”
Recently, Cummins’ engineering DEI initiative LIFT — which stands for “leading inclusion for technical” — prioritized looking at how they could make their division more inclusive.
“The goal was to ask, ‘How can we come up with a way of assessing our technical centers for inclusion and diversity?’ A way to look at, ‘This is how well we are doing, and this is how we can improve,’” says Henry. Two years of investigation later, he shares what he learned.
4 Learnings from Running an Accessibility Audit
Henry and his team looked at seven different aspects of diversity — from physical ability to sexual orientation to religion and more — and how Cummins was or was not set up to support it.
“What’s best practice for one person doesn’t translate to another,” he says. “It was important that we had a diverse pool of people on the team.”
They looked at everything from recruiting to retention to physical space, says Henry. “The output was a health checklist of where we can improve—and identifying the priority areas.” Those included:
- Updating 70-year-old sites to add elevators to better accommodate people with disabilities or temporary health challenges
- Rewriting job descriptions to strip out gendered language and unnecessary requirements
- Adding more virtual and hybrid work options to allow people to work from where they are most comfortable
And he has tips for other leaders looking to do the same:
- “Expect the tough questions, and answer them. They’re the ones that will help you do better and develop more.”
- “Don’t expect to be perfect. It’s important to be really self-critical. A perfect score probably means something's wrong.”
- “Don’t consult the same people. We tried to get a very diverse team to be involved in creating that audit, to make sure we have all those viewpoints. And even that is limited by who we already have working here.”
- Remember that diversity is “not a priority, it’s a value. If you treat it as a priority, it might never get done. Whereas if it's a value, it's just part of what you do.”
The word ‘home’ has a unique meaning for Lindsey Skelton.
Although she’s lived in St. Louis, Missouri her entire life, she understands that home isn’t a specific location— it’s a place where you feel like you belong. And she does her best to create a safe, inclusive space for others, whether that’s at work as NGA’s Diversity and Inclusion Program Manager or at her house, which she’s opened to over 40 foster children in the past six years.
Now living with her four adopted children and 9 furbabies, Lindsey is focusing her energy on developing NGA’s Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility (DEIA) strategy and training her colleagues on how to advocate for themselves and others. We recently sat down with Lindsey to hear more about her journey as well as her top tips for self-advocating.
NGA born and raised
When Lindsey scored her first college internship with NGA, it was no surprise to her parents. “Both of my parents worked at NGA and their predecessor organizations,” explains Lindsey. “I remember listening to [their] stories around the dinner table.” So when she was offered a full-time position in Human Resources, she didn’t think twice before accepting.
Since then, Lindsey has worked in a number of different positions at the Agency, from geospatial open source research to foundation GEOINT contracts to DEI. “There's an enormous amount of opportunity for growth and mobility both laterally and upward [at NGA].”
The Agency has supported her on her career journey by giving her the space to create her own positions and opportunities to complete two masters degrees and multiple certifications. Through the support and learning opportunities, she transitioned into her most recent position as a Team Lead in DEIA (Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility).
You don’t have to be one to join one
Lindsey has been interested in DEIA ever since she can remember. “I think a lot of it came from the fact that I felt different from my peers as a child,” she explains. “I came out as a lesbian when I was a teenager and I experienced different levels of discrimination throughout my childhood and adolescence.”
With her personal experience and DEIA-related coursework under her belt, Lindsey spends most of her time creating DEIA frameworks to further NGA’s impact on underrepresented groups and supporting internal Special Emphasis Program (SEP) Councils. “I'm able to ensure that DEIA initiatives are occurring around the Agency and that everyone is treated with respect and dignity.”
Similar to Employee Resource Groups, SEP councils give employees the opportunity to grow professionally and a safe place to advocate for themselves and others. “Our tagline is ‘you don't have to be one to join one,’” explains Lindsey. “So if you don't see yourself within any of the councils, you can still join!” For example, there are several men on the federal women's program council. In this case, “we stress that men have the opportunity to use their voice and their privilege to help advance opportunities for women.”
3 tips to advocate for yourself and those around you
Whether championing for a new role or providing children with a safe home, Lindsey advocates for herself and others in all aspects of life. “I definitely think that self-advocacy at work, and in your personal life, is critical to being happy,” she explains. “No one else is going to advocate for you the way that you can advocate for yourself.” Based on her experiences, she suggests three main actions to make advocacy a bit easier.
Tip 1: Champion and value yourself. Celebrating and supporting diversity starts by valuing your full background—including race, gender, culture, and values. Value your experiences and your perspective, even if it’s different from others’.
Tip 2: Speak up for yourself. Communication is key and speaking up for yourself “will give you more control over making your own choices in your life making it easier to stand up for your rights.” This, in turn, helps those around you to better understand what you think, what you want, what you need, and how they can support you.
Tip 3: Believe in yourself. “Everyone is unique, valuable, and worth the effort to advocate for themselves and to protect their rights; no matter who they are, what they look like, and who they love,” explains Lindsey. “Believing in yourself will help you champion others to do the same, too.”
Interested in growing your career at NGA? Check out their open roles here!
Being unique in the professional realm is a game-changer.
Different ways of thinking can lead to new innovations and competitive advantages for businesses. With fresh eyes, sharp minds, and unique abilities, that’s just one of the benefits neurodivergent employees can offer! That’s why making sure your neurodivergent employees are supported is an important investment for the future of business.
In April, we celebrate neurodiversity through Autism Awareness Month. And while it’s an important time to appreciate the many talents and unique perspectives that this community brings to the workplace, it’s a celebration that should continue year-round.
Perhaps that’s why many have stopped calling it Autism Awareness Month and started using Autism Acceptance Month— because it’s time to move past being aware and start accepting and celebrating the different ways that people think!
Whether you’re an employer or a coworker, you can help cultivate a safe environment for unique perspectives, creativity, and talent! Here is a list of 5 ways that you can do just that by supporting neurodivergent employees in the workplace.
1. Discuss individual needs and accommodations
Neurodiversity is an umbrella term that covers autism spectrum disorder, dyslexia, ADHD, dyspraxia, and learning disabilities. This means no two neurodivergent people are the same and each one will have their own specific needs to be met in the workplace to ensure success.
The best way to make sure that each individual is successfully accommodated is to discuss it with them personally. Allow them to tell you what accommodations could be made so they can be as productive and comfortable as possible. Then work with them to develop solutions for any problems and cultivate an environment that will best fit their needs.
For example, if an individual struggles with sensory sensitivity, they may require a quiet space to work, a fragrance-free environment, or maybe specific lighting fixtures. Or perhaps you’re working with a dyslexic individual. They might benefit from either virtual or in-person meetings rather than email or written forms of conversing.
Whatever it may be, open communication is key to a safe and successful workplace atmosphere!
2. Give clear communication, instructions, and expectations
Avoid being ambiguous in your communication with neurodivergent workers. Whether you’re a manager or a coworker, it’s always important to be as clear as you can in whatever form your communication takes.
Some neurodivergent individuals may struggle to grasp nuances or inferred meanings unlike neurotypical thinkers, so it’s crucial to be explicit about job expectations, priorities, and available support.
It is also important to remember to be as specific as possible when giving instructions. The National Autistic Society offers a great example: “...rather than saying 'Give everybody a copy of this', say 'Make three photocopies of this, and give one each to Sam, Mary and Ahmed'.” This avoids accidental misinterpretations that can lead to frustration and confusion for some neurodivergent workers.
It is also important to cater to individual communication requirements. For instance, an autistic staff member may benefit from written instructions that they can refer back to at any time, but a dyslexic staff member may prefer verbal communication to avoid any confusion.
3. Make work schedules are structured and flexible
Structure is important, and even more so for neurodivergent people. Structured schedules for neurodivergent employees help to ensure them certainty, success, and less frustration in the workplace.
Always be willing to help prioritize daily, weekly, and monthly tasks, and offer precise start times and deadlines for those that may need them. Some employees with autism spectrum disorder may also benefit from breaking these bigger tasks into smaller, more manageable steps.
It may also be necessary to help those on the autism spectrum with adjusting to a routine, as well as preparing them in advance for any upcoming changes that could affect their schedule.
But while some neurodivergent individuals benefit from a strict daily routine, others, especially those with ADHD, may benefit from a schedule that allows for flexible days and hours as well as regular breaks. This allows them to be able to perform their best without the stress of breaking a rigid schedule.
4. Offer support and resources
A healthy, inclusive atmosphere for neurodivergent individuals begins with education in the workplace. Educating neurotypical employees on neurodiversity and the benefits and unique ways of thinking they can bring to the professional realm can help cultivate an environment that is both aware and appreciative of the importance of being different.
Educated staff can better collaborate with their neurodivergent coworkers and accommodate their needs by knowing how they can help their colleagues succeed on a daily basis. Educated managers are more apt to communicate, offer support, and listen to new ideas offered by their neurodivergent team members.
It is also important to offer resources to the neurodiverse staff. Whether it’s a mentor, manager, or another form of one-on-one assistance, having someone to support them in times of stress, answer questions, or help with making accommodations can make a huge impact on creating a healthy, inclusive workplace.
5. Use positive and inclusive language
It’s important that both employers and coworkers show their respect and appreciation for neurodivergent team members in their communication.
Officially, businesses can show their inclusivity through professional communication. This includes a business' mission statement, vision and values, job descriptions, HR policies, and so on. While these directly affect employees internally, it also has an external effect by spreading awareness and normalizing neurodiverse inclusivity in the professional realm.
Coworkers can also play a big role in inclusivity through communication. Supporting, encouraging, and accommodating neurodivergent colleagues when possible helps them feel like a valued community member. Whether it’s emails, meetings, or daily conversations with colleagues, using positive and inclusive language can help cultivate a safe environment for neurodivergent coworkers.
Want to learn more about how to support neurodivergent employees? Check out this free guide!