Autism Awareness and the Workplace
 

April 2nd, 2019, marks World Autism Awareness Day. A day in which people who hold this cause near and dear to their hearts will wear light blue, and buildings, landmarks, homes and communities will light up with light blue color, to hope to spread additional awareness of autism and its impacts across the world. For me, the day has special significance due to a beloved family member being on the autism spectrum, and it makes me wonder what the world will be like for her when she becomes an adult someday - - Will it be an inclusive world? An understanding world? A forgiving world when she struggles to find the right words, demonstrate self-control of her actions, and express herself accordingly? What will her employment opportunities look like...

...or will there be employment opportunities for her? The current estimation is that between 75-85% of adults on the autism spectrum are unemployed, and worldwide, employers are making strides to become more inclusive and employ people on the spectrum. But in a world where Walmart is one of the largest employers and they’ve just ceased having their largest position for the elderly and those with disabilities - the famous Walmart Greeter, is there more to be done?

The answer is a resounding ‘absolutely’. But when and how? The right time is now, when the current overall unemployment rate is so low, at only 3.8% as of February 2019. Businesses are struggling to find the right talent, and when they find them, retaining them is a struggle - As you’re likely aware, younger baby boomers are now reported to have held 11.7 jobs in their lifetime, and it’s projected the statistic will increase for Generation X, Millennials, and beyond. There’s an untapped goldmine by hiring individuals on the autism spectrum who can learn a position and perform it well, tailored as it can be to their own unique abilities.

This is a call to Human Resource professionals, to lead this employment initiative within their business to help solve the likely talent gap in their own workplace. There are many services that are being developed to help both employees with autism gain employment, and to teach businesses how to employ individuals with disabilities, including autism. One such organization locally in Indianapolis is Tangram, and (full disclosure) I’m proud to be on their Board of Directors. If your organization is looking to employ an incredible population of individuals, such as my loved one, there are opportunities to partner with organizations such as this to train your managers, design positions, and find individuals with disabilities such as autism to make your workplace light up blue every day!

Sources:

https://www.autismspeaks.org/world-autism-awareness-day

https://the-art-of-autism.com/the-employment-shift-rethinking-autism-employment-initiatives/

https://www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/empsit.pdf

https://www.bls.gov/nls/nlsfaqs.htm

https://www.thetangramway.org


 
Dawn Lively
Introducing Broad Ripple's newest school: Purdue Polytechnic High School
 

In our final blog post of the month, we wanted to highlight Purdue Polytechnic High School (“PPHS”), a school that provides opportunities for diverse students with the skills needed to prepare for careers in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math).  Supported by Purdue University to bridge the gap for diverse students and create a pipeline for their technical majors, PPHS has one location at the Circle Center Mall in Downtown Indy, and are opening another location in Broad Ripple this summer.

Purdue Polytechnic High School leaders: Ronni Moore, Karen Puffer, Aireal Anderson, and Tim Wright

Purdue Polytechnic High School leaders: Ronni Moore, Karen Puffer, Aireal Anderson, and Tim Wright

We believe what PPHS is doing is important for the diversity and inclusion conversation is because they are exposing diverse teenagers to careers in STEM at an early age.  If kids see careers in STEM as a possibility early on in their learning journey, it will increase the odds that they pursue these careers when it comes time for them to enter the workforce.  To learn more, we sat down with school leaders Ronni Moore, Karen Puffer, Aireal Anderson, and Tim Wright to learn more about PPHS and their unique approach.

Here are some questions we asked the team and their insights:

Q: What are some of the challenges your students are facing to become career-ready in STEM fields?

A: Some of the biggest challenges our students face is their responsibility they have to take care of their families and siblings. These personal responsibilities can make it difficult for them to focus on their future careers. Also, many of our students have not been exposed to STEM careers in their daily lives so it can be difficult for them to understand what is possible for their future.

Q: What is unique about your school compared to other high schools?

A: We are preparing students of color for STEM careers, and helping build a pipeline of diverse students for Purdue University.  In all of the educational curriculum, we use design thinking principles which help them to think creatively outside of the box. Our core values as a school are communication, collaboration, and innovation which are woven into every element of their education.  Finally, for disciplinary purposes we use Restorative Practices, which focuses on restoring relationships that have been broken instead of a punitive approach that penalizes and excludes students from participation in the community.

Q: What can technology companies in Indiana do to support your school & programs?

A: It is important for tech companies to create more points of contact with these students and the workforce they are wanting to build. They can do this by volunteering in schools like PPHS that are more diverse and providing opportunities for our students to learn more about their company and the technologies they use. By creating opportunities for more face-to-face interactions through clubs or internships, it helps to bridge the gap between academia and application in a variety of tech careers.

Q: What can technology companies do to become more diverse, and to attract and retain diverse talent?

A: First, identify the diversity champions within your organization and let those employees lead the diversity movement in the right direction. Second, ideate on how your organization can intertwine values of diversity and inclusion into every aspect of the organization. Third, create more opportunities for students of color to attend events at your company or at conferences your company attends that allows students to see the future of the tech industry and where they can potentially fit in careers.

We are excited to see the growth of Purdue Polytechnic High School continues to do in the lives of their students, in the community, and how they will impact the STEM industries in the years to come. For more information about PPHS and how you can get more involved with their mission, visit https://pphs.purdue.edu/.  

 
Gracen Perdue
An Interview with Dawn Lively, FullStack's COO and Co-Founder
 

In March, we are celebrating Women’s history month and want to take this time to reflect on how we can continue to increase gender equality in leadership. For this purpose, we sat down with FullStack’s COO and Co-Founder, Dawn Lively, to hear about her experience as a female leader in business throughout her career.

Dawn recently attended the Indy Chamber’s Women In Business retreat and said that it was wonderful to talk to other female leaders who are making strides in the business world. Doing this interview following this retreat has Dawn in the right mindset and a fresh perspective on what diversity and inclusion means to her.

Here are a few questions we asked Dawn about her experiences:

Q: What are some challenges you have faced as a female leader throughout your career?

A: When I was in my mid-twenties, I was working as an HR professional in an advisory capacity and when I would go into meet with clients, I was constantly judged for how young I was. Many managers believed that I had no experience and learned everything from the books because of my age. It felt like there was a constant microscope on my professionalism and I had to be very mindful about that professionalism. Another example is when I was working for a company and they would hire people from the outside and hire them without knowing how they perform, but if I was up for a position they would ‘try me out’ in that role before giving me that position. It felt like a safety for my own development, but I also wish that I had been given the chance to succeed from the beginning of each new role. As an owner now, my biggest challenge is doubting myself and my own capabilities and accepting that errors will occur.

Q: Why is diversity and inclusion personally important to you?

A: Studies have clearly shown that diverse organizations perform better so even if I did not have an emotional tie, it just makes business sense. For me, I learn so much from other people so it is really important for me to surround myself with diverse opinions and backgrounds because I don’t believe that I know everything. My newest passion as it relates to diversity and inclusion is people with disabilities. I just want to be aware of diversity and inclusion in all senses of the words and create a better working environment for loved ones and colleagues.

Q: What advice do you have for young women going into industries where leadership is male-dominated?

A: Try not to be intimidated in any way, shape or form, and that is really true of any male or female leader. Studies show that if women look at a job description and feel as if they do not meet all the criteria, they won’t apply for the job, while men are more likely to apply for something they are not 100% qualified for. So it’s important to not underestimate yourself and your abilities. It is also important to learn the difference between being assertive and aggressive. Traditionally women have been put into the category of aggression so there is a fine art of learning about yourself and your communication style.

We are grateful for Dawn’s leadership at FullStack and her passion for diversity and inclusion, which shapes the ethos of our company and our decisions on a daily basis.


 
Gracen Perdue
Interview with Gracen Perdue
 
Gracen+Perdue+Edited.jpg

In continuation of our theme of diversity and inclusion, we sat down with the newest member of the FullStack Team, Gracen Perdue, to talk about her experiences as a woman in a male-majority business major at a local university.  Her being a minority woman is not unique to her school, but a trend across business schools nationwide. Gracen strongly believes that advocating for gender equality in the workplace will allow more young women like her to feel comfortable pursuing male-majority majors, careers, and leadership roles.

Here are a few questions we asked Gracen about her experiences thus far:

Q: What is it like for you as a woman, in the present, to be in the more male-dominated business major?

A: At a scholarship event for business majors, I walked into the room and the first thing I noticed was the number of men that would be my peers. It can be extremely intimidating to walk into a room and recognize that you are the minority. I feel as if I must always work harder than my male counterparts to prove that I do have valuable skills to offer to any project.

Q: What barriers do you face currently as a woman, and what barriers do you expect in the future in business?

A: One barrier that I think is being talked a lot about right now is the language that is used to describe women. With the release of the new Nike Ad, this topic is being discussed more. I personally have experienced this fear of language in group work. In one group project, I was the CEO of my group and I feared to be assertive or ask my teammates to help out more in fear of being called crazy or controlling. Many times, women are called demeaning names for behaviors for which men are praised.

Q:  With what you know about gender inequality in leadership in business nationwide, how does this shape your approach to your future career?

A: As a woman with big goals, I think that I have become extremely focused on my academic career and accomplishing my goals due to gender inequality in leadership. I understand just how hard it is for a woman to move through the ranks of a company and I know that I must work just as hard or harder than my male counterparts. When I look at specific companies and see that a woman sits on an executive board, I have a little bit of hope that I too can someday reach that level of leadership.

We are thankful for Gracen, what she brings to our team, and hope that with greater awareness and efforts toward gender equality in business leadership, the landscape will be different for her when she graduates and enters fully into the workforce.  What is your company doing today to change the employee experience for the better for young women like Gracen? Please let us know in the comments.

 
Gracen Perdue
Why I'm Passionate about Diversity & Inclusion
 

We opened up our themes for 2019 with a big topic that cannot be covered in a month, so we’ve decided to extend diversity and inclusion for another month into March, which just so happens to be Women’s History Month!

We have some exciting stories upcoming of incredible people of color and amazing women who are doing great things in business in Indiana. Before we publish these, I (Daniel Fuller, VP Business Development) want to tell you the personal why behind my passion for diversity and inclusion in the workplace, and all environments for that matter. As Julie Kratz mentioned in our last post, I have had to embrace a personal reason to get involved in the conversation, and mine has been watching the experience of my wife who is a gifted leader, as well as other women and minority leaders I have coached or worked alongside. For each of them, their experiences as leaders have been much more challenging than my experience as a white male leader. In my career, I have coached female leaders who were called divisive by their male superiors for speaking up for their teams, challenging their superiors, and not staying silent and submissive as was their company’s unspoken cultural expectation for women. I have also coached and supported African-American and Latino leaders who endured unconscious bias and overt racism from their white leaders and colleagues.

THIS IS NOT OKAY! I want to be a part of changing this reality. Until recently, I have focused my energies in more quiet and covert efforts against these oppressive forces of our culture and companies that keep people from leading in the way they are gifted and skilled to lead. Then in February, I received challenges from Julie Kratz from Pivot Point and Kristen Cooper from The Startup Ladies, to speak and write more boldly on this topic as an ally, and I accepted their challenges! Julie and Kristen’s work challenges me to listen to and learn from the amazing women and people of color who are leading in the Indiana business community, and tell their stories. As I lead FullStack on this forum, it is my intention to do this well and be open to ongoing feedback of how I can do it better for the sake of diversity, inclusion, and gender equality.

 
Daniel Fuller