Inclusive hiring: Are you leaving some ‘uncut grass’ in your cubicle?

Wells Fargo onboards first cohort of neurodivergent employees in India

Updated - April 27, 2022 04:17 pm IST

Published - April 26, 2022 01:04 pm IST

Representational image.

Representational image. | Photo Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

In the two-volume Prayer of the Frog, Anthony De Mello (1931-87) presented a collectanea of stories gleaned from occidental, oriental and other recognised traditions under the sun. Pithy, sharp-witted and often gently marinated in humour, these stories dissected the human condition with finesse, and seemed capable of being applied to a variety of situations.

One story is about inclusion of the helpless -- at the time of its being included in De Mello’s treasury of stories, inclusion in the corporate context would have been a piece of amorphous wisdom, which only in the current times is emerging into a crystallised, easily-identified form. Despite that, with some help from the human imagination, this story lends itself handsomely to being an analogy for inclusion in the corporate ecosystem.

This story is about a father bribing her daughter to pare the lawn down to uniformity and order, mowing down the unwanted grass. Excited by the prospect of having some pocket money, the girl mows the expansive lawn in a frenzy, but curiously enough, leaves one patch of grass undisturbed. No amount of goading would cause her to run those now almost-obsolete curved blades on that patch. Standing her ground, she even chooses to not take the proffered money. It comes to light that a toad had made that patch its home. Anthony De Mello concludes the story thus: “Where there is love, there is disorder. Perfect order would make the world a graveyard.”

Inclusion and diversity in the corporate world never follow an easy, straightforward course: It requires intent, effort, and bending of attitudes. In recent times, there have been exemplary efforts from the corporate world to leave cubicles with some “uncut grass”. Among the more recent examples is a programme by Wells Fargo to hire neurodivergent candidates in India, which reached its logical conclusion only four weeks ago. Then, NASCOMM in partnership with NASCOMM Foundation is organising a summit (April 27-28) which seeks to remove Inclusion from the marginalia of human-resource discussions and take it to the headlines of boardroom deliberations and business strategy, in the technology sector.

The Wells Fargo story

Wells Fargo’s neurodiversity programme — which began in the United States in 2020 — has been extended to a new clime, with 12 neurodivergent individuals becoming part of its India operations. Out of this cohort, 10 have been placed in technology roles. The two others are in banking operations.

It is remarkable that the onboarding happened towards the end of March, and the Wells Fargo team had chosen the timing carefully, pushing it close to a month that symbolises inclusion. April is Autism Awareness Month. However, as a communication from the company observes, the organisation focusses on a broader spectrum of neurodiversity — one that spans across Autism, ADHD, Bipolar disorder, Dyslexia and other forms of neurodiversity.

Alex Ouseph, senior vice president, Wells Fargo India & Philippines, leads multiple technology-operations teams, and with a spirit of volunteering leads the neurodiversity programme in India. Some onboaded neurodivergent individuals that don technology roles are part of Alex’s team.

During an interaction with The Hindu Opportunities, Alex dwells on the three steps of the programme. This hiring programme began way before it started being spoken about in the public domain. It got out of the blocks in March 2021.

“We mapped out the different steps of the programme,” says Alex, and emphasising that each step had to be treated on a par with every other step.

Wells Fargo had adopted a Train-Intern-Hire model. As the model was being implemented, the team would have to work with a range of associates, not all of them on the company’s rolls.

The community partner, EnAble India, would identify the candidates for the programme.

Alex notes that they worked with the community partner to ensure a combination a soft-skills and domain-skills training.

“From the domain-skills angle, we took the lead,” he adds.

The skills training exercise, which covered 14 weeks, was preceded by intensive job analysis. Alex explains that open roles with the companies were identified for these candidates.

The 14-week training was “in preparation for the internship, which is about an intense on-the-job training for three months,” says Alex.

The sensitisation part

Even as the neurodivergent candidates were being prepared for their roles, the teams were being prepared to receive them.

“Even as we started the programme, we simultaneously created considerable awareness internally. We took a top-down approach wherein we started a sensitisation exercise for all senior managers. As we looked at which teams these candidates would be a part of, we organised a specific sensitisation programme for all of the immediate employees who would work with the neurodivergent employees,” says Alex.

Beyond the cubicle

Alex explains how a neurodiversity hiring programme has to cover much ground, one that lies outside the cubicle, in fact, far from the office. “Many of the candidates on the spectrum depend hugely on their families; and we ensured that the parents stayed connected to the programme. Even before the candidates came on board, even as the training period was under way, we connected with their parents. The parents were keen on learning about the environment that their children would be a part of.”

A communication from Wells Fargo elaborates on this aspect of the programme.

“It helps prepare the family and caregivers for the individual’s employment journey. In a work-from-home situation, parents often have to be job ‘coaches’, a role usually played by co-workers, mentors and managers, so involving both work family and family is a win-win.”

Another such cohort is reportedly on the cards.

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