JAN consultant Melanie Whetzel had the opportunity to interview Julia Martensson, Senior Talent Acquisition Manager of Specialisterne, to find out more about the company and its role in promoting workplace neurodiversity.
Specialisterne, which translates from Danish as “The Specialists,” is a global organization and social enterprise that works to enable meaningful employment for individuals on the autism spectrum and other members of the neurodivergent community.
MW: Would you tell us about Specialisterne’s mission, vision and why you exist?
JM: Specialisterne is a global network of organizations that works to enable a more vibrant labor market for people on the autism spectrum, or with other neurodivergence. Through social entrepreneurship, employer engagement and innovation, we are working to advocate and build capacity for workplace neurodiversity.
In North America, our mission is to enable 125,000 meaningful jobs for the autistic and neurodivergent population, contributing to 1 million jobs globally. We exist to remove systemic barriers and drive positive change in the employment market.
Our vision is a world where all people are given equal opportunities in the labor market. This includes a world where employers are leveraging better, and more inclusive hiring processes and team cultures are built on an understanding and appreciation of difference.
MW: How would you explain the concept of diversity?
JM: To me, the concept of diversity is about acceptance and respect. It's about understanding and appreciating that each individual is unique and recognizing and embracing individual differences. These differences can relate to a wide range of dimensions, such as the dimensions of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, age, physical or cognitive abilities, religious or political beliefs...or simply just different perspectives and ways of being.
Diversity also refers to the importance and benefit of creating welcoming and positive environments where these differences can be nurtured. From my perspective, diversity is what makes the human race beautiful and interesting, and what is driving innovation and progression in our society.
MW: And neurodiversity?
JM: Neurodiversity as a concept (noun) refers to the great diversity of human brains and minds, and that we all have different ways of communicating, thinking, acting and experiencing in the world; that the human population by definition is neurodiverse. The neurodiversity paradigm is an important movement that advocates for the appreciation of these differences and creating processes, cultures, learning systems, and work environments that recognize and nurture them.
Some people can be considered neurodivergent if their cognitive traits, communication style or other related differences deviate from societal standards of "normal.” The concept of neurodiversity helps advocate for creating systems and environments that work well for these individuals as well. Many of the issues we identify and work to address are the result of our society developing systems based on “neurotypical” profiles, which prevents many from reaching their potential.
MW: Tell us about how you work with employers to break down systemic barriers to employment for neurodivergent candidates.
JM: We have a wide range of services, all designed to help create better and more inclusive practices for hiring, workplace integration, and management. Our most commonly used engagement model involves recruitment, onboarding and support services to fill open positions. Within that model, we use competency-based candidate assessment and selection methods to identify the strengths of each candidate. Individuals participating in our recruitment processes never go through an interview, instead we spend an extended amount of time with them working on task-based projects in a relaxed environment. We also follow a structured onboarding process to ensure a comfortable and productive integration into the new role and its environment. We also work with managers to help them improve their communication skills and ensure they build a strong working relationship with their employees.
We also provide education and eLearning solutions to enhance understanding of autism and neurodiversity in the workplace. This helps organizations develop better inclusive environments and we also equip co-workers and leaders with tools and strategies to help them get better at leveraging differences in people. Everything we do is rooted in Universal Design, meaning that we implement practices that generally work well for most people and generate success broadly, regardless of whether you are hiring from our pool or through mainstream channels.
MW: Can you also explain the best way for employers, job seekers, and community organizations to connect and work with Specialisterne?
JM: Anyone, regardless of their background or motivation for connecting, can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Individuals looking for work are also encouraged to complete a questionnaire on our site at specialisterneusa.com/recruitment. This will add them to our candidate pool and enable us to notify them when we have jobs that suit their interests and preferences.
MW: Is there anything else you would like to share with us that would be of help to our JAN customers?
JM: Just that we are always looking to connect with individuals and organizations with an interest in working together. We are here to help create a better and more inclusive world, and we are doing that in collaboration with our community. Our team is always available for a chat and our engagement models for employers are very versatile, so I guess my final words are - don't hesitate to connect with us!
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