I am so excited to welcome a very special guest to this episode of the RecruitingDaily Podcast! Diane Delaney, Neurodiversity@IBM Program Manager, and Women and Veteran Hiring Advocate, is here is with me to talk about unlocking potential and embracing diversity of thought, leading us into a great discussion around neurodiversity.
Diane has been with IBM in several different roles, and she now spearheads IBM’s Global Neurodiversity Program. She also manages talent programs for IBM Security Early Professionals and is a hiring advocate for Women and Veterans.
Today we fully define the meaning of neurodiversity, how diversity of thought benefits the workplace, and the programs Diane and IBM have implemented to create and support a neurodiverse (and diverse, in general) culture at the organization.
Listen up, give us your thoughts, and thanks for being with us!
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Ladies and gentlemen, this is William Tincup. And you’re listening to the RecruitingDaily podcast. Today, we have Diane on from IBM, and we’re going to be talking about a really cool topic; it’s Unlocking Potential, embracing diversity of thought, which leads us to a great discussion around neurodiversity. And so without any further ado, Diane, would you introduce both yourself and what you do at IBM?
Okay, great. Thank you. Thank you, William. It’s really nice to meet you. And thank you for inviting me to your podcast today. So I’ve been with IBM for many years. Too many actually say on this on this podcast, I think. And I’ve held several different roles, different positions, within IBM. So they included technical roles. I was a people manager for quite a few years, moved into human resources and talent acquisition. I’m also an IBM and Project Management Institute, PMI, certified project manager, and I am the Neurodiversity @IBM Global Program Manager. And
And neurodiversity as, as you think about it, and as, okay again, as probably as you explain it to both people at IBM and your customers, and even just people that are, you know, just regular folks, how do you explain neuro diversity to people?
Yeah, and that’s a great question. And I usually start with that when I’m talking, you know, giving a presentation or talking with folks just to kind of level set and make sure we’re all on the same page and folks know what neuro diversity is. So we explain it as a concept where neurological differences are to be accepted and respected as any other human variation. And then the second part I go, you know, these differences can include autism, ADH, dyslexia, dyspraxia, and really many other neurological differences, and then talk about how these differences just need to be viewed as variations of the human condition and not a disease to be cured.
And usually, when I give, you know, when I say that, then they know autism, and they’re going okay, okay, I think I’m, I’m on the same page. So.
And it’s yet another spoke of diversity in general, right? So think of, we think we’ve thought of diversity, historically, in terms of gender, race, and sexual orientation. And then again, many, many, many, many other spokes, but neurodiversity is just yet another way to think about diversity inside of [inaudible].
So, so let’s kind of drill into kind of how companies can benefit from kind of having neurodivergence or neurodiversity in their workforce.
There’s really so many benefits. I think, if it’s okay, can I kind of start with how IBM I’ve started on this journey? Okay. So our neurodiversity journey, it actually began about six years ago. And it really began as a grassroots effort. And it was that way for several years.
It started really with two individuals in our company of over 300,000 people, and they had a personal passion for autism and neurodiversity. And they saw that IBM wasn’t really doing anything in this area. And I’m sure you’re familiar and the listeners are familiar with IBM’s 110-year history and diversity and inclusion have been embedded in our history from the very beginning. And I think neurodiversity is just one of the newer diversity and inclusion efforts.
So this grassroots effort has grown over the years, the last six years. And it really grew because of the passion and the dedication of many IBMers. And it was just a year ago when couple of these IBMers brought a business case forward to formalize the neurodiversity at IBM Global Program.
And so that program was approved, and you through a, you know, a couple things I, I got asked to be the program manager for it. And I think that’s it. It just was meant to be that, that I came into that role. I had moved to a new team; it was called the New Collar Team. And I’ll talk about that in a minute. And I have, I have autistic family members. And I had shared with my manager, that I knew about this grassroots effort happening.
And if there was ever an opportunity for me on this New Collar, on this new team with New Collar, to help with that initiative that I would, you know, I would really welcome that opportunity to kind of marry my skills and expertise and my personal interest. And when that business case was approved, the manager, the executive deemed that it would be part of New Collar. So he then went to my manager, my manager just turned around and asked and told me, I was the new program manager for it.
So I’m very happy for all of that happening.
A New Collar, as y’all define it. Tell us a little bit about that.
Yeah, so New Collar was something that our prior CEO Ginni Rometty, coined the term New Collar was several years ago now. And it’s really a focus on the skills that a person has, the skills and experiences, and not whether they have a degree or not, or what their degree’s in, right, and kind of throwing out the degree and just looking at the person and say, you know, what skills do you have, and do those skills match up with a particular job.
And so I think New Collar’s a really great fit for, excuse me, neurodiversity is a really great fit for New Collar, as it’s looking at the skills these individuals have. Many of them do have degrees. But it’s not a focus on the degree, it’s focused on the skills we have.
This is our fourth New Collar program. The other three, just for reference, our apprenticeships and tech reentry. And tech reentry is for individuals who’ve been out of the workforce for a year or more. And it was intended for people who took time off to raise a family or take care of a parent. And then after some years, wanted to come back into the into the industry and to get a job again. And then Pathways to Technology, P Tech or P Tech Schools is that the third program and neurodiversity the fourth.
I love that because, you know, I love the concept of New Collar, because there’s oftentimes there’s a lot of bias, you know, if someone went to Princeton, or Wharton or Harvard, or whatever you assume, we assume certain things in talent acquisition and HR about them. And if they don’t go there, we also assume things about that.
So I really liked the focus that IBM’s had, especially on skills and transferable skills. Okay, well, you don’t have a degree in this, but you have a degree in something else. You know, those are transferable skills. So I love that.
Let me ask a question in terms of, you know, like, when people think of neurodiversity as a part of diversity, what do they think of in terms of diversity of thought? And then how do you, how do you, how do you like to bring kind of context to the way diversity of thought is yet another way to add to the tapestry of diversity?
I think for many people, it’s a new aspect to diversity, right? They hadn’t thought about it before. But typically, when you start talking about it, it just makes sense, right? And then you talk about, you know, we all have different experiences and background. And it’s, it’s bringing that to the table, it’s bringing a different way of looking at a problem, right? So you get some you get better solutions, you get more innovative solutions. So I think it’s, it’s been really beneficial to include neurodivergence as one more talent group, right, to our company and our teams.
Yeah, it’s, again, it’s when you have different you typically have conflict then, and conflict in a good way, because it forces you to reconcile, it forces you think, forces you to collaborate. It forces you to do things differently. So neurodiversity and diversity of thought in particular, just gets people to think about things differently. And you can oftentimes come up with better solutions because of those different viewpoints. And in this case, particularly the diversity of thought.
So let’s, let’s talk about setting the table for success for those that you know, they want to go down this path. And, in particular, let’s start with HR. You know, what do you what do you suggest, you know, in terms of resources that they need to support neurodivergent and professionals?
Yeah, I think it begins. With our program, we have three key components to it, which I think are really important.
The first is enablement of all employees. So everybody needs to understand what neurodiversity is right? That includes individual contributors in the company. It includes management, HR, talent acquisition, everybody. Everybody has to understand this. So that’s one key component.
We co-created a neurodiversity 101 course. It’s 77 minutes long; we did this with optimized experts in this area. And we’ve gotten such great feedback on this course, it’s the best course that people have taken once they finish it. So I think that’s something that we push and pushing it out to make sure all of our employees are taking that training. So training’s one piece.
Taking a look at your process and procedures, and making sure they’re inclusive, right and eliminating bias, eliminating stereotypical thinking. And so and that’s really, there’s a lot of process and procedure, right with hiring people, right, the whole interview process. So that’s something that takes a lot of time and effort. But you can just, you know, just start with it right and focus on, you know, a piece of it and make enhancements or improvements there.
We’ve got a couple different projects going on, looking at our job descriptions. So right, that’s one of the first things an applicant or a candidate sees. So making sure those are inclusive. And again, our focus is not just on inclusiveness of neurodivergence, but really of everyone, right? So making enhancements to, enhancements to job descriptions, the application process, right? Onboarding. Those are the first things that individuals see as part of a company that they might be joining.
And then the third piece is the actual hiring of neurodivergent talent. Many neurodivergent can come through what we call our, our mainstream process, and they do quite well and come in and some self-identify, and some don’t identify. But there’s many individuals who, who can’t make it through that process, right? They have, just, it’s difficult for them, and they’re just not able to successfully get through it, right? And compete with all those others applying for that job. So we have to run, we run special hiring programs specifically for autistic and neurodivergent talent. We change the process up a little bit and do more of an assessment, instead of an interview where it’s a one-on-one person, you know, throwing questions out of them.
But more work, you know, pre COVID, working side by side for a couple of days or a week so that they get it, the candidate gets a chance to work on something real with the IBM team. And we can interact, right? And you can get those new ideas and how does a person approach a problem to solve it, and presentation opportunities. So it gives them a chance to kind of demonstrate their skills and experience. And oftentimes that that works better for the individual.
I like that. You’re also doing a lot of education, you know, behind the scenes outside of the classes with HR, but your recruiters everybody in talent acquisition, from sourcing all the way to hiring managers, to make sure that they also understand what neurodivergent and neurodiversity looks like. So what about accommodations?
And again, this could be something that comes from candidates or employees. But where, where, and I tend to use the word thrive, you know, where neurodivergent folks thrive? Like, how do we create, how does HR? Even larger than that, how do leaders create environments where neurodivergent folks thrive?
And I think we just finished a project looking at our accommodation process in the United States during for the applicant, right? So it begins that early, I think.
Giving them an opportunity to say, you know, an example we some of our jobs require an assessment, a test, and sometimes people need a little bit more time, right? So let us know upfront that you need a little bit more time to complete that test so that you know you can bring your best self and to that. So we started with that. And then there’s also accommodations once an employee starts and for our, our current employees.
And I think one of the things I’ve found is that when people in particular HR and management hear the word accommodations, I think they think it’s expensive. I know, it’s, it’s not easy to do, right? And I think all these shields, these walls just come up. And they go, oh, no, can’t do that. No, and they shy away from it.
Or it’s a slippery slope argument. Well, if we give this person accommodation, then we got to give this person accommodation. I avoided, purposely, I avoided the word accommodations and, and moved to the word thrive because it’s like, because you know, first of all, everyone wants to thrive. Like you don’t take a job to fail. Yeah, you want to thrive. You want to do your best, you want to bring your best self to work and all that other stuff.
So accommodations, I think you’re right. I that word is it’s, it’s loaded. It’s almost taken on a new kind of definition in corporate America, especially. And, unfortunately, because it’s like there’s nothing wrong with accommodations. It’s not a bad word. It’s just loaded with folks. Go ahead.
Yep. I know. You know, it’s another company. I heard this on a conference not long ago, they called them success enablers.
Which I really like. So I’m trying, yeah, I’m trying to use that a little bit more, more often. And, you know, when you really, if you stop and take a look at it, most of them we find are like less than $500. It’s not that you’re asking to spend 1000s of dollars on something, right?
And some of them don’t cost any money. And some of it’s just, you know, we do these social contracts, how we’re going to work together. And we do these with our managers and our team.
So it could be as simple as, I prefer to have my, you know, assignments and my tasks in writing. So can you put it in writing to me through slack or email, rather than coming up to me at my desk, tapping me on the shoulder, interrupting what I’m working on, and giving me 10 things that I need to remember I need to do, right? But um, so it can be that simple.
So I think, I think just talking about it more and, and really, making it very basic and simple. They’re not complex, they’re not expensive. Just listen to what the person needs, or is asking for, and come up with a solution for it.
I love that. So. So I know that you’re, you’re, kind of your global move for neurodiversity has kind of the three components of awareness, acceptance, and advancement, which I’m which I love.
Could you kind of walk us through kind of what those things are, the pillars of those, and kind of how you’re trying to, again, you’re educating, you’re constantly educating people as to what this is, and why it’s important. But take us take us through the three A’s.
Sure, it we love that we have the first two. And several months ago, we had to figure out that third a, so. So awareness is the very, you know, the very beginning where folks are just really learning about it. Right? And that’s where a lot of the education happens. And it’s passive, right? You’re just understanding. So that that’s great. And everybody’s in a different place, right? And there’s no criticism about that.
We’re each in our, you know, our own journeys on understanding neurodiversity. So we start with awareness. And then we move towards acceptance, right? So that’s actually taking what you’ve learned and doing something with it. Right. So last year, we launched a neurodiversity ally badge. So they these are the digital badges. And so that badge in order to earn that badge, you have to do the training, right? So learn about it.
But then you have to take that training, and you have to do something with it. So we give, we give the people earning the badges, you know, four or five options to make that inclusive, right. Not everybody wants to get up and present. But you could organize or schedule a presentation and invite someone else to speak if that’s not your thing. But getting people together, so you’re spreading the word of what you’ve learned, right? Which is part of our enablement.
So then they need to do things to demonstrate that they’re an ally. We asked them to join, we have a global BRG, and we use Slack. And so we asked them to join our Slack channel and put something out there that they’re earning the MD Ally Badge. What that means to them, maybe why they’ve started that journey, and what they’re going to do to be an ally.
So that’s the kind of the second piece and then the advancement is really getting our neurodivergent voices to be heard. And getting the neuro divergence to be sought after for leadership roles. And with our program, we, we co-manage this, it is not neurotypicals leading a program for that community, right, for them. And you’ll hear that in a few places. Ours is, we work together on this. And so it’s, it’s not that. It’s, we have these two groups. So I may talk about that.
We have these, they’re called task forces, there’s actually autistic, and actually neurodivergent. And they are just that, actually artistic employees and actually neurodivergent employees. They are private groups. There, we call them safe spaces. And I know the leaders of the two groups, but I don’t necessarily know the individuals in the group unless they’ve, you know, disclosed to me. But they meet on a regular basis. And they, they help each other, they provide support for each other.
But they also talk about, you know, hey, this worked really well for me, you know, we need to make this known. Or I had a bad experience, right, and this part isn’t working so well. And so they’ll bring those ideas to me, and we can discuss them and figure out, you know, for what’s not working well, what can we do to make it better? And then for those things that are working? Well, let’s share that. So more people at our company, understand the program and what we’re doing.
I love this. I mean, I got a million questions. But one of the questions I know the audience is going to have is, you know, starting down this path, as you’ve already kind of eloquently brought us into IBM’s journey. How will HR, and we’ll stay at it, we’ll step out of IBM for just a second, but how will HR leaders and recruitment leaders, how will they know that they’re doing a good job with neurodivergent, or even neurodiversity, in general.
You, you’ll find that you’ll get feedback, you’ll get direct, immediate feedback really quickly. It is not a community that’s shy and doesn’t let you know what they’re thinking. And, you know, to be honest, we made a couple mistakes through social media, and we got the feedback.
And I think the really important thing to do with that is take acknowledge your mistake, right? Take the feedback, take it seriously, acknowledge you made a mistake, and if you can, do something about it. And so, you know, we did just that.
We’d posted a video. It didn’t have, I think it had it had neurotypical and neurodivergent folks in it. But it was like, why couldn’t this be all neurodivergent? Right, right, or the voices be the neurodivergence. So we revamped it, and we did just that. And we didn’t just do it on the fly, we said, okay, good, great feedback. Let’s, let’s fix this.
And moving forward, we’ve made a point to make sure that the neurodivergent voice is heard in everything we do. So when we do presentations, it’s not neurotypicals. on their own. It’s, it’s co, neurodivergent and neurotypical together, going out to share, you know, share a presentation, or talk to somebody.
Well, everyone likes to see themselves in an organization, right? I mean, this is something I’ve been talking to a lot of Gen Z, in the recruitment process, they want to see other Gen Z, right? Shocking, not shocking, if you’re a female engineer, you want to see other female engineers, right? So it would stand to reason, if you’re a neurodivergent, that you would like to see other neurodivergent folks in the recruitment or even in the employment process, so that makes sense to me.
And so I love the fact you call it a mistake. It’s, I think that if you don’t make mistakes, you’re not trying. So like, like I look at something like that with a video is just that that’s just a great learn. That’s something you needed to learn, and if you could have easily not done anything and not created a video and never learned that.
So I’m happy that you learned it, but I’m also very excited that you learned it and then you turned it into an action. So I love that.
I want to go backwards because you mentioned something about job descriptions, and I want to just go back to a real quick. With, you know, as we attract talent, you know, the things that we need to do to attract talent and neurodiverse, you know, neurodivergent and autistic talent, is there any advice that you’d give to recruiters or, you know, those that are making job descriptions and job ads and things like that, things that career sites that we do to attract talent, and this particular group of talent.
Is there any advice that you’d give those folks?
Yeah, I think on the job descriptions, not making them, you know, 20 pages long, right? Yeah. Yep. Digestible job descriptions.
That’s for me, by the way. That’s ADHD. But yeah, yes.
Okay. Yeah. And we’re focusing on trying to have maybe five or fewer requirements and making them truly applicable to the job. Right. And I saw a job once in it, I think it was a warehouse picker. And they, one of the requirements was to be able to present to C suite executives. And I just thought, I don’t think that person is going to do that.
So why is that on there? Right? Yeah. So really, yeah, just thinking about what is the job? What’s required for this job, and have that, you know, those things listed as the requirements for the job.
I think I think the only thing I’d add to that is different is different is great. You know, as we, as we look at this, at the world through a new through a new lens, from Me Too, Love is Love, Black Lives Matter, etc., different, great. Like, that’s what that’s actually that’s what we should be looking at. But the way that we look at transferable skills, I love the way that you’ve said, you know, what, shorten the job description, really prioritize the things that are super important and super relevant. And, and, and be, you know, talk with a, you know, an open language around neurodiversity, so that people understand that they’re welcome.
I think that’s, yeah, I’m sorry. I think that’s really important to put that out there that you’re a neurodivergent friendly company, right? If an applicant’s not seeing anything on, you know, the web about it, then maybe you’re not going to try?
That’s right. Well, I would assume that. I mean, I would assume again, if, pick any of these things. We could be talking about LGBTQ+ community, any of these things that if you don’t see that, and people don’t state it explicitly, then you kind of assume that that it’s not a priority for them. So I get it. That’s fair. Diane, and I could talk to you forever. This is such a fascinating discussion. And, and I know you’re, you know, you’re on the learning path. We should definitely touch base in, you know, a year or so, and just kind of see where you’re at then. Because you’ll have all kinds of new learns that that I want to learn from, so.
That sounds great. Yeah, that would be wonderful.
Thank you so much for your time today.
You’re welcome. I do if I could just throw out a
Website if folks want to learn more about what we’re doing and more about neuro diversity. Yes. Okay. It’s IBM.biz/newsroomnd. N-D for neurodiversity. And we just launched this in April, and April was our neurodiversity acceptance month. And there are.
Yeah, was a great month, so many things that we did. But we have nine IBMers who have shared their stories, and they’re out on the newsrooms. So I invite everyone to go out there, check that out, read about our employees, and our program. And if there’s any questions, feel free to reach out to me.
I love it. I love it. I’m glad you brought that up because those stories are so important. And it’s also where we can learn and learn both what’s going on at IBM but also what we should be doing at our own companies. So thank you for that, and just thanks for the time today.
You’re very welcome. Thank you.
Already and thanks for everyone listening to the RecruitingDaily Podcast. Until next time.
William is the President & Editor-at-Large of RecruitingDaily. At the intersection of HR and technology, he’s a writer, speaker, advisor, consultant, investor, storyteller & teacher. He's been writing about HR and Recruiting related issues for longer than he cares to disclose. William serves on the Board of Advisors / Board of Directors for 20+ HR technology startups. William is a graduate of the University of Alabama at Birmingham with a BA in Art History. He also earned an MA in American Indian Studies from the University of Arizona and an MBA from Case Western Reserve University.