Harnessing the potential of diversity for your business
The challenges of diversifying your workforce
Nicky loves to work. So when he started his new job and was given a digital work log, he raced through the tasks, eager to finish it. But working this quickly meant sometimes errors were made.
Luckily, Nicky's new job was at Steps With Theera. We run a vocational centre for people with learning differences like dyslexia and autism, so we understand that employees work in different ways. We were impressed by Nicky's enthusiasm, but wanted to help him avoid future errors. So we made him a simple visual checklist, helping him remember to read the task carefully, ask if he isn't sure what to do, send a draft first and get feedback, and send an email if he needs more work.
Change isn't always easy. But it is always worthwhile.
What is the relevance of Nicky's experience to the wider business world?
Nicky is one of the two million people with disabilities living in Thailand. Only 31% of those aged 15 to 60 are working. There is increasing evidence globally that employing a more diverse spectrum of people is good for businesses – it increases work satisfaction for all employees (not just those with disabilities), and can bring exceptional talent in areas such as analytical skills, pattern recognition and innovative thinking into the workplace.
When the Rembrandt Hotel in Bangkok took on Steve, a Steps trainee, as an intern, they were struck by his talent. Nipaporn Noichan, the Front Office Manager, explains:
"The way Steve works is unique and sometimes better than us. I have learned how to apply and utilise his unique abilities for our organisation."
There are also incentives – tax breaks, for example – from the Thai government to hire more people with disabilities.
Businesses stand to benefit greatly by diversifying, but they need to be prepared for a number of challenges when they make the decision to hire people outside of their normal demographic.
Challenge 1: Transforming your culture
It's not enough for just you to be on board. If your business is to embrace diversity then a cultural shift is needed. HR processes need to incorporate your new inclusive approach – from job descriptions to interview techniques. Staff at every level need to understand the implications (and the benefits). The best place to start is with diversity and inclusion training across the organisation.
Challenge 2: Gaps in training
Less than 9% of people with disabilities in Thailand go to secondary school, and less than 2% have a vocational training certificate. This can impact the skills they bring to the workplace. If you're serious about creating opportunities for all walks of life, take a chance to play your part by providing in house training. Or, by connecting with organisations which focus on training for people with disabilities (such as Steps with Theera), you can find graduates who have learned essential skills and applied them in real work situations.
Challenge 3: Adapting online and offline work spaces
Like Nicky, it is common for people with learning differences such as ADHD or autism to learn and communicate in different ways to the majority of other workers. They might need visual guides to new equipment or processes, or they may be sensitive to the contrast of colours on a webpage.
Nipaporn from The Rembrandt says:
"I have learned how to use different ways to communicate with Steve, such as using a checklist or using clear and concise language. One more challenge is his punctuality, he is very punctual which is a super skill but if his work hours finish, he leaves right away although his work is not finished yet. We need to accommodate by providing him with tasks that he is able to finish properly by his home time. Win-Win!”
Steve feels comfortable and supported in his role, as he told us:
"My manager is very helpful and understanding of my situation. She knows my weaknesses and limitations. She understands I take some time to do some tasks. She carefully explained the instructions to me. I can ask questions if I don't understand something.”
Organisations like Steps can help your business prepare for the adjustments that may be needed. Normally, businesses which have made these adaptations realise it has actually made things easier for all their staff, and even customers. Because who doesn't benefit from simplified website navigation, or flowcharts for every day work processes like petty cash forms?
Pui Varangkana, founder of More Than a Game cafe in Bangkok, agrees. She employed two Steps trainees on internships, and says:
"We set out the job roles and expectations, and assigned mentors. There was nothing we needed to adapt specifically, but we learned to break down tasks and use visuals to communicate better, which actually benefits everyone."
Challenge 4: social skills
Many people with learning differences struggle with social situations. They may be very literal in the way they communicate (sometimes brutally honest!), and they may react in unexpected ways to sudden changes in processes or in the working environment.
Training and preparation are key to facing this challenge. Equip your staff with the knowledge of what may crop up and how to be sensitive to the needs of their colleagues. Work closely with your new recruits, listen to and respect their needs. Ultimately, all staff have their own triggers and needs, so working in a way that's in tune with this will benefit everyone and boost morale.
This is a challenge which Nipaporn has faced, and overcome, with Steve at The Rembrandt. She says:
"We need to acknowledge our staff about his differences and what we can do to support him. For example, as the office is a hotel's centre of communication, there are people from every department coming to the office for discussion. He easily gets distracted by what we discuss and often jumps in the conversation. What we can do is to make sure we talk in the private zone and explain to him that we need privacy.”
In these uncertain times, we don't want to reverse the progress we've made towards a brighter future for people with disabilities in Thailand. Support from businesses means more now than it ever has.
Visit http://stepswiththeera.com/our-partners to find out more about hiring our trainees.
Steps with Theera is a social enterprise set up in 2016. We believe everyone has a right to a sustainable, fulfilling career, so we run vocational training centres for young adults across Thailand. Some of our trainees have come to us because they have learning differences and traditional education doesn't work for them. They might have autism, a condition which means their brain functions differently to what society calls 'normal', or they may have other conditions which mean they struggle with communication, speech or social interactions.
We have a unique model: our training centres include cafes and zero waste shops – open to the public – where our trainees can get hands on experience of serving. We forge links with local businesses to hire our graduates when they finish their training.
Author: Tanya Perdikou, Consultant, Steps with Theera, email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Series Editor: Christopher F. Bruton, Executive Director, Dataconsult Ltd, email@example.com. Dataconsult's Thailand Regional Forum provides seminars and extensive documentation to update business on future trends in Thailand and in the Mekong Region.