The Happy Manifesto

Creating workspaces where neurodivergent people can thrive, with Ludmila Praslova

Embracing neurodiversity in the workplace not only benefits neurodiverse individuals, but creates a more inclusive, flexible, and productive environment for everyone. By understanding and acknowledging different strengths and needs, we can reshape jobs and work cultures to foster a sense of belonging and joy, leading to more effective organisations.

Ludmila Praslova is an organisational psychologist at Vanguard University in Southern California. Her work focuses on embracing neurodiversity in the workplace and promoting a more inclusive, flexible, and productive environment for everyone. She champions the idea of understanding and acknowledging different strengths and needs to foster a sense of belonging and joy in workplace settings.

Ludmila’s tips for a happy workplace

  1. Create flexible social environments that allow people to connect in ways that work for them.
  2. Adapt work schedules, information sharing, and learning opportunities to suit individual cognitive strengths.
  3. Encourage a non-judgmental environment where people feel comfortable expressing their feelings without fear of criticism or misunderstanding.
  4. Cater to individual physical and sensory needs, like temperature preferences, noise levels, and work locations.

Links

Transcript
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Hello, I'm Henry.

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And I'm Maureen.

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and today we have on our podcast Ludmila Praslova, who is on the

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guru radar of the Thinkers 50 and very involved in neurodiversity

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Well, this is gonna be an exciting one, looking at

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neurodiversity, so, oh, can't wait.

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But in, before we get Ludmila on Henry, what's been giving you joy?

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Well, I've had a couple of Liberating Structures events.

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I've had one today and I've had an immersion workshop, which is a

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full eight Liberating Structures.

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And Liberating Structures are about.

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Um, well, if you, uh, do you ever have people who dominate in your meetings

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or events, um, this is a way to avoid that and give people an equal voice.

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Uh, one example is one, two for all, where you spend, where whatever

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the topic is, you spend a minute in private reflection, two minutes in

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pairs, four minutes in fours, and then you all come back together.

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And we, we use, uh, the Structures Throughout our leadership

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management courses, don't we?

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No, it really does work.

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I mean, first of all, I was like, Ooh, looks like it's a long

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process, but it's a process that actually is about inclusivity.

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Everyone's involved, everyone gets charged to speak their

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truth and share their ideas.

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And what, what has been your joy at work?

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Or joy generally?

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you know me, Henry, I go beyond joy at work.

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You can do the joy at work.

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I'm just giving you joy.

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Okay?

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So my joy this time is I've actually booked, one of my

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bucket lists dreams, and that is to go see the Northern Lights.

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Oh wow.

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Yes.

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So I have now booked to go to see the Northern Lights in Norway.

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And yes, I will be doing that in the midst of winter.

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You know, I prefer the heat.

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Yeah.

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Yeah, I know.

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you're gonna have to look out for me because I don't usually do the cold.

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I know, But I'm excited, so I'm already gonna, I'm filled with Joy

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already and that's gonna last me a long time until I've seen the lights.

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Excellent.

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Over to Ludmila.

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Ludmila you are an organizational, organizational psychologist at

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Vanguard University in Southern California, and you are also on

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the Guru radar of the Thinkers 50.

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How, how is it to be on that?

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Wonderful.

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I love Thinkers 50 and the colleagues and my experience.

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Great fun.

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Awesome.

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so, Ludmila, finding out more about you, every time I am reading

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a blog, listening to videos, and one of the things, um, amongst many

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that stood out for me is something that you talk about autistic joy.

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Absolutely.

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It's something that seems counter stereotypical because there's just so

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many stories and portrayals, uh, that show artistic experiences just such

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sad and gloomy, which obviously there are some disabling experiences, but

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the point about autistic experience is.

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Intensity.

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So if we experience joy and positive emotions, they can

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also actually be very intense.

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So it doesn't just go in the negative direction.

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It goes in both directions.

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But people hardly ever talk about the positive side.

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So autistic people can have immense joy, for example, from connecting with

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nature, experiencing, experiencing very deeply from working on our

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interests, from learning something.

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So there's a lot of, uh, intense.

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Positive experience as well.

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And of course, if society is treating us well, we're much more likely to

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experience, uh, those joyful times.

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But, uh, it's just something that people usually lose the sight of that

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autistic experience is more intense and it applies to positive experience.

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So we've started off talking about autistic joy.

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So Ludmila, can you just tell us about autism as well and your recent, well

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you had a diagnosis in 2020, I believe.

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Yes, and boy, this is such a huge question.

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To do it justice would obviously require a long time because it is such

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a large group of people who are very different from each other in many ways.

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There are characteristics, uh, that are similar.

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For example, many people tend to have intense interests.

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Uh, many people have sensory sensitivities, but again, not everyone.

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Uh, some people like intense sensory experiences.

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Other people are, uh, overwhelmed by it.

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And, um, there are different degrees to which autistic people can

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experience social environments as, uh.

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stressful or difficult, but again, not everyone, and not in every context.

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For example, there are famous autistic actors and comedians, so again, it would

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be stereotypical to say that we just, you know, can't even think about doing

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anything in front of the crowd because, and, and there's plenty of professors.

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So, uh, it's a very, very broad, uh, group of people you met one autistic

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person, you met one autistic person.

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But there are characteristics that to some extent, uh, most of us share.

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So, uh, sometimes people might, uh, for example, prefer, uh, the routine.

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And to some people it's being on a very.

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Similar schedule all the time.

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For other people, for example, it's food and, uh, they like having very

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predictable, uh, kinds of food.

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I, for example, don't have this particular characteristic, uh,

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but I, I don't like moving, so it's not exactly the same way.

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How a preference for routine and sameness can be exhibited and in some

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of, some of us, like change in some areas of our lives and not in others.

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So I just, I'm trying to avoid stereotypes because again, even, uh,

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depending on your gender, your social economic class, again, all of this is

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going to color your autistic experience.

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Okay, so how, so how can organizations move beyond stereotypes

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of neurodivergent individuals?

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Enable them to play to their strengths?

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Well, that's what my entire book is about.

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And uh, so there are many ways, and I think organizations should allow

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everyone to play to their strengths.

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Because organizations are losing so much.

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According to statistics, very few people even get to work

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with their main strength at all in, uh, in a given work week.

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It is a little bit more pronounced need for neurodivergent people

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because many neurodivergent people have spiky profiles of abilities.

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So we are really, really good at something and really, really

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not good at something else.

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So capitalizing on our strengths and allowing us to do that, be through

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job crafting or creating job positions that actually make sense and don't

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ask someone to do statistics and answer the phones, which people do.

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And uh, that would.

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Help everyone who help organizations but will particularly, uh, help

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neurodivergent people to be on their best and to work with those

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talents that are pronounced.

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And it's easier said than done because traditional organizational,

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uh, practices value sameness.

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So it would require some different managerial approaches and different

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thinking in how we structure jobs, in how we define jobs.

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And a little bit less focus on, okay, this is how I envision the job and

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I'm going to try a human into it, even if it requires doing something

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to that human is that's pretty painful, but rather creating jobs.

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And we can do it now.

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Many jobs now have a lot of flexibility and, uh, allow

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creating jobs around humans.

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And I call it strengths-based .Staffing rather than trying to, you know,

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cram a human, uh, in, you know, like square packs into round holes, how

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about will create this a little bit more complicated picture, but where

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people feed within their strengths and, uh, you can create an organization

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that is much more productive.

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If we spend most of our time doing what we're good at and what gives us joy.

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Rather than doing drudgery for the most part, and then doing something

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we allow for 10 minutes a week.

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That doesn't make any sense for anybody.

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so does that link to, uh, I've, I've heard you talk about joy crafting?

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Yes, we talked about job crafting for a long time, which is creating,

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uh, allowing people to be a little bit creative and changing their

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responsibilities and changing, how maybe certain aspects of their work are done.

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What I'm proposing is joy crafting, which is a little bit further.

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Really focusing, not just, okay, you are good at something, but

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also what's life giving to you?

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And focusing on the emotional aspect of work, which is another part of my book.

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Very few people talk about emotional, uh, inclusion, emotional aspect of

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work, which isn't just, you know, because someone has a problem.

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No, emotion is just an everyday part of our life, and we can treat

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it as something that can enrich everyone's experience rather than

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telling people, okay, forget who you are, just come here and sit

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there with a, you know, blank face.

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And that's what we want from you.

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Why not design work?

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Around joy, right?

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Indeed.

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That's what we do at Happy.

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Very definitely.

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Um, so your book is called The Canary Code and it's out in the UK in May.

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Um, and that's based on the canaries in the coal mines, isn't it?

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Because, you were talking there about strengths and because, uh, of

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strengths from neurodivergent people is great for everybody really, isn't it?

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Exactly, so, canaries are not defective, right?

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Canaries were taken to the coal mine, which is a true story, uh, because

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their air metabolism is more intense.

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So they are, uh, first to feel, uh, toxic air.

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And the same thing with neurodivergent people, because neurodivergent

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people experience the world more intensely, again, the good and the bad.

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When there's the bad in the organization, like, uh, toxic

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leadership, bullying, uh, scheduling, that doesn't make any sense, uh,

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neurodivergent people are more likely to suffer first, but then

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everyone else is going to suffer just like with canaries and the miners.

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So yes, let's create good organizations where canaries can thrive

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because then everyone can thrive.

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That's a great analogy.

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There really is.

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So, so just building on that, because um, I think I was reading where you

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were talking about autism and new direct virgins is expanding beyond

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autism, but at the same breath it is also understanding that lots of

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people as yourself have been diagnosed with autism recently and women in

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particular have been diagnosed later though there, there's lots of women.

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So tell me more about that, there was lots of women being misdiagnosed.

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Oh my I even have an appendix in my book for managers about late diagnosis

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because so many people don't get it.

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Uh, you know, you are successful, you've been doing all those things.

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And how come you are autistic or you have ADHD or uh, I did, I never knew

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you were dyslexic or whatever it is.

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And especially, uh, uh, autism, ADHD, uh, learning difference

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sometimes actually also could be masked by high intelligence.

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So it is not impossible even for learning differences to

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be, uh, diagnosed later on.

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But, uh, one aspect obviously is gender and most of research, uh,

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early research on autism was done on little boys, and the criteria

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are written to describe little boys.

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Well, little girls are different and, uh, uh, girls are more likely to try

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harder to fit in, not just girls.

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There are, not necessarily girls, but statistically more likely,

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uh, to want to fit in, to try to please, to try to appear social, uh,

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even if it doesn't come naturally.

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Or let's say, uh, for ADHD criteria.

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Again, uh, the idea is it's a little boy who is bouncing off the walls.

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So the little girl is just sitting there and daydreaming, uh, she is

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much less likely to be identified.

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So when girls are identified, they're much more likely to have much more

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pronounced and significant pattern of issues than a boy, because it

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takes a stronger difference for a girl to be seen as neurodivergent.

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And obviously that's just one characteristic.

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So for a very long time, black and brown children would be diagnosed more likely

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with, uh, um, oppositional defiant disorder versus autism, for example.

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So, uh, there, there is also, it's not only the boy, it's usually a white boy.

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In that stereotype, in their social economic class, access to diagnosis.

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And so that is another issue why some people just kind of stumble around

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their life until they're later in, uh, later on and then figure something out.

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And, uh, so everything, language differences, if it's a new

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immigrant group, there's all kinds of intersectionalities.

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And then obviously, people who come from, not just Gen X,

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but even older millennials.

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And even in some younger generations, people could be missed, but in

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older generations, which are, you know, gen X and older millennials

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that are still a majority of the workplace, there was very little

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access to diagnosis and understanding.

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So some of the most pronounced stereotypical cases might have been

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diagnosed, but anyone who is a little bit less pronounced, a little bit less

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typically presenting someone with high intelligence, uh, very likely had been

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missed in those generations as well.

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so one of the reasons why I asked that question, um, is that there a

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lot of neurodiverse people in the workplace that may not know this,

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you know, and it's about actually understanding this and the way that it

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might affect and the way that people work and experience joy, you know?

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And as part of the previous question's, like how can

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organizations ensure that they can help work to people's strengths?

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So understanding Neurodiversity help with that towards that.

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Absolutely.

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Whether you had the privilege of a diagnosis or not.

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If organizations just become more flexible, then it would also

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help people who just, you know, still trying to figure it out.

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Now in the Canary Code you talk about Louis Capaldi at Glastonbury,

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uh, and he has Tourette's syndrome and, and his at, at, on his set,

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his voice faltered and he struggled with the word someone you love.

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And the audience joined in with no mockery, impatience.

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I a bit emotional about that, um, because I've been to Glastonbury

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and I know it's an amazing place.

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Um, so what would it be like to replicate the Glastonbury

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effect in our workplace?

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You know, that that story really resonated with me, which is why

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I, that's actually was one of the things I was keeping secret so far.

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I, I divulged a lot of things from the book, but not that,

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uh, dedication because it is, uh, kind of an emotional thing.

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And it is something that we would love in our workplaces, right?

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Just people be kind and understanding and just not cruel.

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And unfortunately many of the workplaces tend to be pretty

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toxic and the opposite of it.

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So I do talk about creating organizational structures and

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cultures that would allow people to.

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one thing, not be excessively competitive for no good reason.

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Many of our organizations are cutthroat for no good reason,

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because of a mistaken belief that competing with our coworkers makes

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us more competitive, as in our, as an organization that's a mistake.

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So if, for example, we remove this unnecessary cutthroatness from our

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organizations, that's one factor.

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And um, then, uh, we could also think about organizations

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as more trauma informed.

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Because people come from all kinds of different situations and we're so quick

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to just judge and jump to conclusion and say, well, this person is not

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doing something I want them to do, bad.

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So train ourselves to start thinking about, okay, so

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what actually is happening?

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Maybe this person does not need being yelled at.

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Maybe they just need to be, uh, calmed down and help for five

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minutes and then they're going to get over whatever is happening.

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So, uh, teaching organizations to be trauma informed.

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But I do have a pretty lengthy chapter on that topic as, so

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there's, there's more to it.

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So it really sounds like we've got to read these books,

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so it's coming out in May.

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You say

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Yes, hopefully it was supposed to come out earlier, but you

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know, printers, things happen.

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okay, well, I'm looking forward to reading more about this.

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And one of the things in the book, which I found amazing, is that autistic

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people with college degrees have an 80 to 85% unemployment rate in the US.

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Is that right?

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It does not make any sense.

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Uh, but that has been a finding that, uh, has been shown in

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many different environments.

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Some of it likely includes underemployment, which is when

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people are working way below their educational level, so their waiting

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tables and they have a college degree.

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But it's pretty striking and it is a little bit better in other countries

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of the world, like 30 to 40 ish percent in Germany and Australia,

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so other countries do better.

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But it's still pretty significant.

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So a lot of that has to do with, um, access and success

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barriers of getting jobs.

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Because, you know, interview.

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Whether or not you actually have to bid a social butterfly and be

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able to brag to do your actual job, that's a barrier for everybody.

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And then you get into the workplace, and then again, your manager only

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knows how to manage in one way.

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And, uh, uh, your coworkers just, you know, make fun of

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you because you're different.

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So all the many different factors combine to create

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that unemployment trait.

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But all those things are really bad for everybody.

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Having valid selection is good for everybody.

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Having bullying free work environment is good for everybody.

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So addressing those unemployment traits really would create

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better workplaces for everyone.

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And do you know any organizations that actually have, uh, decent diversity?

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Well, I talk about couple of organizations in my book and, um, there

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are some large companies that have, uh, neurodiversity hiring programs.

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So, Dell, Deloitte, Microsoft, EY, there's many organizations

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that have special programs.

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But what I really like is organizations that go beyond special programs and

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just create their entire structure that's neurodiversity welcoming.

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So I talk about Ultranauts, uh, which is, um, a tech company

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that was specifically designed to be, neuro inclusive, and

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they were about 85% autistic on all levels of the organization.

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And they just designed the organization to be fair, trauma-informed,

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uh, flexible, and that.

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Help them to be successful and to be, again, majority neurodivergent.

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And they're just diverse in every way you can think of.

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And, uh, then there are other organizations like Lemon Tree, which

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is an Indian hotel chain, uh, which hires, again, all kinds of people

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who are marginalized in society.

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They started with actually hiring, um, deaf people and hard of hearing.

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And then they expanded it to people who survived, um, acid attacks and,

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you know, all kinds of people who really are rejected by society.

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And they, they hire artistic people and they have an amazing, uh, program for

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people with Down Syndrome where they also create jobs around their strengths.

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Because there are some things that they can do very well.

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So they take specific functions, whether it's uh, setting tables

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or working in the coffee shop, and design them in a way that people with

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Down Syndrome thrive on those jobs.

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So those organizations, I'm just really, really impressed on because

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they go a little bit, well, quite a bit further than just, okay, there's

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special program, we're going to hire autistic programmers, and that's that.

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Which is, I appreciate that.

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It help people.

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I just want to see more.

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That's awesome.

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So a organization that really wants to become neuro inclusive,

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what would you say would be the, like one of the first steps, or

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what's the first thing to consider?

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Uh, participation is the first principle in my model.

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Ask people what they need.

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And ask people how to design work around them, rather than

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trying to design for them.

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So a lot of traditional design thinking is like, I'm going to empathize with

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you and I'm going to design for you, but there's limits to how much you can

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understand other person's experience.

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It makes a lot more sense to actually ask the person.

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So participation is the first thing.

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And then I talk about the role of transparency, uh, which also would

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have neurodivergent people and people who come from different cultures,

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people who are first generation, uh, college graduates and don't know some

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of the ins and outs that otherwise their parents could have taught them.

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And this organizational justice is another principle.

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But, designing organizations around those principles, like valid selection,

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valid decision making, not just, well, I like your face, or you're similar

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to me, which we know happens a lot.

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But using valid instruments for selection and promotion is

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something that will support justice and inclusion at the same time.

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Well I think, I think you may just have, have talked about this, but what are

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your three tips for a happy workplace?

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Okay.

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Can I do four?

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Do four?

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Yes.

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Do

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Okay, well that's because, um, I talk about belonging and specifically

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holistic belonging, and it is supported by four aspects of holistic inclusion.

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Uh, the first one is social inclusion, and that is not just inviting everyone

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to the same party, but understanding that some people need a party and

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other people prefer one-on-one conversation in a quiet corner.

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And creating our social life that allows people to connect in ways that

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work for them, rather than forcing someone into models of connection that

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may not necessarily align with them.

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So flexible social environments and different ways of connecting.

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Uh, the second one is cognitive inclusion.

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Uh, how you schedule your work, how you receive information, how you learn.

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Uh, we're all different, so understanding those differences

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will make for happier, more fulfilled workforce because

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we'll be able to work with our strengths, our cognitive strength.

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So the third one is emotional inclusion, because again, many

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organization cells don't bring your feelings to work and or always smile.

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Or why are you smiling so much?

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You look weird, right?

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We, we hear all of that.

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So stop being judgy and just label people, uh, with all those things that,

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you know what I said and worse, just because their facial expression is

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something that you didn't grow up with.

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It doesn't make any sense.

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We need to appreciate people for variety of emotional

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expression, uh, that we have.

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We don't need, uh, you know, those limitations of you can only be a

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company person in one way and you have to smile four times a day,

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but not five or whatever it is.

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And, you know, and you should never cry.

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Like crying is natural.

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It's, it happens.

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Yes, absolutely.

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And the last one is physical sensory inclusion.

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Because many workplaces can be pretty physically torturous for

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some people, again unnecessarily.

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So give people more flexibility.

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Don't stick everyone in a huge bullpen or a huge open office, uh, where

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people can't be productive anyway.

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Let people work in from home.

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Let them, uh, use different ways that make them physically comfortable,

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which is anything from, uh, temperature to allowing some people block out

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the noise with headphones and other people listen to their little music.

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It's not hurting anybody.

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So just allow more flexibility in, um, acknowledging that we're

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also very different physically and we have very different

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sensory responses to the world.

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absolutely.

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Very good.

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Very good.

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Okay, so check out, uh, Ludmila's book, the Canary Code.

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It's, uh, it is a really great, really great book.

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And thank you Ludmilla.

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So good to talk to you.

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Thank you, Henry, and thank you, Mo.

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It's just been fantastic talking to you.

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I think what Ludmila has done is really spot, um, put the spotlight

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on the importance of inclusion.

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You know, and there's so much more work that needs to be done to ensure a truly

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inclusive workspace world, you know.

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In fact, beyond the workspace, beyond it's the world, So, yeah, there was

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lots and lots of great things in there.

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I mean, even just talking about, um, being emotionally inclusive, And just

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making sure, um, her last point about the physical sensory inclusion as well.

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So all of these different things about inclusion.

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So the main thing for me was about just being inclusive in all different ways,

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asking people what they need in order for them to be able to be comfortable.

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Yes.

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And I love the, the, I love the, the, the title of the Canary Code because,

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you know, it's based on, uh, canaries in the coal mines where, you know,

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uh, where they were able to, uh, see the, uh, poison when, when it came.

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And that, that idea that because of the neurodivergent, people

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will see, will see the, uh the toxicity before it comes.

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Yes.

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It's fascinating.

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It really is.

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I was just was talking about this and it's almost like they, they sense

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it first, so they're there, then there's a pause before it gets to us.

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So there's value there, you know, and we need to value everyone.

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No, that's awesome.

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I can't wait to read the book.

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Indeed.

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And the, the book has in it, also in the appendix it has, in how to enable

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neurodiversity in meetings, how to enable neurodiversity in hiring.

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You know, it's, it's, yeah, it is, it is a very good book.

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Right.

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Please do subscribe this podcast wherever you get your podcasts.

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Check us out at happy.co.uk.

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And keep creating joy at work.

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