In recognition of April being Autism Awareness Month, retail commentator Dave Farrell considers the role of those on the spectrum in retail.
Retail has always been a veiled refuge for those on the autistic spectrum. The industry offers a climate that lauds attention to detail within the haven of a collective atmosphere. They are a silent, yet prolific group of people, unknown to the company, the workforce and sometimes themselves. Who thrive at each level, take part in every practice, be it accounting, buying, sales or human resource. Leadership too is well represented. The recognition of this talent requires much more than the removal of social blinkers and the wish for a culture of awareness.
One need look no further than that of a well-kept store or the housekeeping of a department. Not surprised by their fine merchandising, exceptional product ranges, logistical know-how or integrity compliance.
There is no specific list of traits other than eccentricities to a perceived norm. Some may have in-depth knowledge on a subject or a particular skill but most fall on the same continuum of human capability. The difference is in the operating system, in how we process stimuli and information. Any leader worth their salt can and will cherish this aptitude in a broad culture.
To disclose or not to disclose – that is the question?
In an inclusive world, this wouldn’t be an issue, but fear, disregard and prejudice create a quandary for the individual deliberating to come out.
So what is at stake?
Ignorance is the key factor. Employers too are prejudiced against those they regard as disabled and who hide behind the bureaucracy of health and safety or make assumptions on how their customers might feel about it. They bandy diversification around at length, but there is no hint of inclusion beyond the confines of race, gender and religion. All require the strength of character to strip away their inhibitions and reluctance of change to form bonds of embodiment and benefit.
The day has come for those in the trade, many of whom are empathetic, to assess the ambivalence towards inclusivity. A time to plan a proactive transition before the impending legislation becomes a reality. To pay homage to the significance, they lay claim to, on both social and emotional intelligence, but now to include (dis)abled intelligence which to date they have shunned or cowered from.
Social Intelligence (SI) is the ability to get along well with others and to have them cooperate with you.
Emotional Intelligence (EI) is the capacity of individuals to recognise their own and other people’s emotions.
(Dis)abled Intelligence (DI) is the competence to accept and encourage diversity toward an inclusive climate of mutual benefit.
Why then the unwillingness?
Misconception: Fallacies circulate through management, fuelled by an oblivious leadership, who perceive employees outside the norm as high maintenance and who do not add value to the business.
Ignorance: Few have experience with or are provided with the tools to manage diversification. So are under-equipped to reinforce and develop those within this genre.
Fear of failure, fear of change, fear of standing out. Of being bold. The dread of an unknown quantity without the means and support of the organisation. Preoccupied with a culture of neat little boxes and to not upset the status quo.
So what is the solution?
Commitment: Retailers need to improve their own (dis)abled intelligence so they can champion progressive teams to embed inclusive grass root cultures.
Change: The financial and communal benefits of an inclusive business are exponential, far outweighing costs of social education and cultural reform. To achieve a balance, we need a cross-section of society otherwise; we risk the unthinkable. A mundane environment devoid of innovation and variegation.
Support: Seek input from autistic people and advocates. Hire a facilitator to uphold the cause. Then listen with intent for there are more (dis)abled people working with us than most appreciate.
Educational and support groups have a reasonable grasp of (dis)abled intelligence and do much to prepare youths for the next step in life. Commerce and in particular retailing is inept at taking over the reins and fulfilling their role in a holistic society.