A friend of my posted a link to a Jordan Peterson interview done on Channel 4 news here in the UK. I have never heard of Jordan Peterson but from the interview I gather he is an American psychologist that challenges (perhaps upsets?) assumptions people make through his knowledge of psychological research. The gender pay gap came up and a heated discussion went on about why that might be. What struck me about the interview was that Peterson’s truths were based on research which can only be done on the present (or whenever the research was conducted). The results and conclusions of that research therefore can only be applied to the environment that that it was undertaken in.
An example of this was his assertion that so called feminine traits (e.g. compassion, tolerance, deference) were not valued in the workplace because men who tend not to show these traits, were far more likely to get promotions. To be a successful woman (now how do you define that?), they have to take on masculine traits as proven by the research. What happens if you have an environment that does value feminine traits? Peterson’s research can’t answer that question because no research has been done in such an environment. The top companies in the UK have environments created by men and I am sure by men that fall into a similar psychological profile, a profile that probably doesn’t include feminine traits.
As an autistic person I too live in an environment that is not created to encourage my success. My autistic traits are unlikely to be valued in a typical workplace because that workplace is designed by neuro-typical people. When I used to work for a large company I noticed that it was the extroverts that moved on up the management levels. They would laugh, cajole and talk their way into positions promising things that introverts like me had to come up with solutions to. Keeping your focus on the current work and doing a good job was not enough to warrant a good payrise. I never really wanted to play the politics that came with higher levels of management so I was pretty content being team leader to a techie group. We did have a superb product that was very respected and useful to the organisation.
Time moved on and the company reorganised to make it more efficient. My team was moved from its own private office to one where there were maybe forty people in a more open plan design. We had a corner to ourselves and carried on doing our thing. There was more admin integration but we still maintained complete control over the system. Then a merger happened. Politically our company took over another (the outside world had to see it that way because of a legal requirement) but in reality my organisation was on the losing side and though our system was far more advanced, my team was made to adopt a new system and the archaic procedures that ran with it. We lost administrative control of the system and we were isolated from our customers. Worse still we were moved to new building which was an open plan design containing hundreds of people on each floor from many different backgrounds. I retired due to ill health shortly afterwards and I think all my team moved away eventually. This was before I worked out my autism but I still knew then that that environment was not healthy for me.
For a NT workplace, my autism is a disability. One could say that having feminine traits is a disability for working in a top 100 company. The problem though isn’t the disability, it is the environment. An environment that doesn’t value autistic or feminine traits. That needs to change and I think it can. The IT industry could arguably be said to be built on autistic traits. I don’t think Silicon Valley would exist without people with autistic traits for example. If you want to measure success in monetary terms, then being an aspie can earn you big bucks in IT. Personally I think that we also need to change how we think about success.
I don’t think success is about being a top-dog, earning millions of pounds or having your name known worldwide. What good does that do? Psychologists would certainly tell you that those attributes do not make you happy. Do you need to be happy to be successful? I think contentment and fulfilment could be part of a metric for success, but I am sure there are other components too. The point is that success should be open to everybody no matter what traits you have.
Nowadays I work for and co-own a company that out of seven permanent employees, I am the only man. It is a company that set out from the start to follow an ethical framework which values the so-called feminine traits. It is a company where my autistic traits are accepted and my needs coped with where possible. It is a company where I feel safe. It is also a company that if you want to measure it, is successful in terms of financial security, longevity, customer respect and any number of other measures though, perhaps not in terms of ambition. My company helps people live better lives and it has done it for over twenty years. I am sure we are not alone in being different.
Perhaps somebody could do some psychological research into our and other business’ like us success? I am not sure the top companies will ever change but perhaps smaller dynamic companies will learn that valuing and being more inclusive will make them more successful in the long term and maybe some of them will become the top companies of tomorrow.