Caitlin Collins: “Inclusion for neurodiversity”

Inclusion for neurodiversity. This one is closest to my heart and passion. Currently, about 20% of adults are neurodiverse. This percentage is anticipated to increase as our children enter the workforce. Neurodiversity is an untapped talent pool that spans race, gender, and orientation, and can offer so much to organizations as well as communities. There […]

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Inclusion for neurodiversity. This one is closest to my heart and passion. Currently, about 20% of adults are neurodiverse. This percentage is anticipated to increase as our children enter the workforce. Neurodiversity is an untapped talent pool that spans race, gender, and orientation, and can offer so much to organizations as well as communities.

There have been major disruptions in recent years that promise to change the very nature of work. From the ongoing shifts caused by the COVID19 pandemic, the impacts caused by automation, and other possible disruptions to the status quo, many wonder what the future holds in terms of employment. For example, a report by the McKinsey Global Institute that estimated automation will eliminate 73 million jobs by 2030.

To address this open question, we reached out to successful leaders in business, government, and labor, as well as thought leaders about the future of work to glean their insights and predictions on the future of work and the workplace.

As a part of this interview series called “Preparing For The Future Of Work”, we had the pleasure to interview Caitlin Collins.

Caitlin Collins is an Organizational Psychologist and a Principal Implementation Consultant who serves as a strategic advisor and a Betterworks program expert for the largest, most complex enterprise customers. She has spent her career consulting for global Fortune and FTSE 100 companies across various vertical markets developing people-centric strategies for recruitment, development, agile transformation, and change management to help organizations become more nimble, more capable, and more productive. With the belief that everyone deserves the opportunity to be great at their jobs, Caitlin has successfully taken a different approach to talent management by unlocking and understanding potential. Her personal mission is to help foster fulfilling work environments that will create a contagiously positive impact on lives outside of work and our communities. In support of that mission, she volunteered as a Trauma Intervention Specialist, studying and counseling people in moments of trauma and devastation. This has become a primary driver to build programs that help organizations support their people through all walks of life. Caitlin holds a Bachelor of Science degree and a Masters of Science degree, both in Organizational Psychology with a certification in Training and Development.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Our readers like to get an idea of who you are and where you came from. Can you tell us a bit about your background? Where do you come from? What are the life experiences that most shaped your current self?

I am an Organizational Psychologist. My career has been focused on building performance and change enablement programs with global organizations in different vertical markets. Years ago, I volunteered as a trauma intervention specialist. When a person called 911, someone like me would show up along emergency services or at a hospital. I would provide support in whatever way they needed.

In moments of devastation, sometimes we need someone to lean on, to protect us, to help make sense of what is happening, or just someone to be there. This experience taught me grace in ways I could never have imagined. It has been the most profound influence on the work I do with organizations.

A great performance program shouldn’t be focused on, “How do we get our people to show up for us, but instead should focus on how do we, as a company, show up for our people? How do we encourage, motivate and support people to be great at their jobs and love being a part of what we’re doing?”

When a company’s focus is from the inside-out, rather than the outside-in, it has an exponential impact not only on the success of the company but also on the wellbeing of people, their families, and the communities they live in. If the work I do contributes to the success of organizations and ultimately, has a positive impact on the people, their families, and the communities they touch, then I think that’s a professional life well lived.

What do you expect to be the major disruptions for employers in the next 10–15 years? How should employers pivot to adapt to these disruptions?

The trends that I’m seeing organizations begin to embrace or think about including the use of data and technology as well as the impacts of climate change. I think they will be evolving and ever-changing disruptions for organizations in all industries. We’re beginning to see how technology and automation are changing supply chains. These changes will continue to evolve as we expand our technology to be a strong competitor in our market as well as be able to respond to the climate crisis. I think the biggest impact of automation will be how artificial intelligence will be utilized including the jobs it will replace as well as create.

I think the most significant change that organizations should consider is embracing technology and automation. Those organizations that have not fully embraced what technology and automation mean to their industry will fall behind significantly and lose their advantage for their consumer. I realize there is a lot of fear for people around it since there are big unknowns regarding the future of jobs. However, there also is a very real risk of organizations failing altogether without it. With continued growth and data usage, technology and automation are not going away. We need to give credence to the idea that innovation from people will enable us to compete.

The choice as to whether or not a young person should pursue a college degree was once a “no-brainer”. But with the existence of many high profile millionaires (and billionaires) who did not earn degrees, as well as the fact that many graduates are saddled with crushing student loan debt and unable to find jobs it has become a much more complex question. What advice would you give to young adults considering whether or not to go to college?

I’m going to give a typical HR response and say, it depends. Some people are not made for college and that’s ok. I think whether someone does or does not earn a college degree is not necessarily an indicator that they will be successful. Being curious to learn and having the drive to succeed is what’s critical. A college degree will open more doors for you, which can make a difference in where you get your foot in the door as you begin your career. But the cost of higher education can be crippling.

It’s important to be intentional about your decision and to consider the ROI in your educational investment. Will the cost of a graduate degree in yoga enable you to be where you want to be in life in 5, 10, or 30 years from now? Will the cost of your degree from a private or out-of-state school set up your financial freedom versus an in-state school? The likely answer to both questions is no.

My advice is don’t go to college if it’s not for you. Instead, take advantage of life experiences to explore where your passions lie and where you excel. If you decide to go to college but don’t know what you want to do after graduation, use it as an opportunity to explore different areas of study. You’ll be able to find out what interests you and where you are most content for extended periods of time. No matter what you decide, you can always change direction or start over. Most importantly, whichever path, job, or career you choose, commit to being your best at it.

Despite the doom and gloom predictions, there are, and likely still will be, jobs available. How do you see job seekers having to change their approaches to finding not only employment but employment that fits their talents and interests?

I think how we adapt to finding jobs in new and expanding markets in the future also is how we’re experiencing those changes today. Job seekers finding new roles or entering the workforce likely won’t stay at one company for the entirety of their career like previous generations.

When you find a vocation you enjoy, and that fits your talents and interests, you focus on it, pay attention to it, and learn to excel at it. To handle changes in our chosen fields, we need to adapt. The best approach is taking what interests us about the job, working to retooling it to meet these changes, and committing to being the best at it.

To continue in a role that one loves but that now has a different focus, he or she must sell their potential and the value they bring to be an asset. I think the most sellable and growable part of an employee/potential employee are their soft skills. Being a strong communicator and a creative strategic thinker as well as having the ability to lead even when not in a leadership role are key. Willingness to learn and adapt also are essential.

As I’m saying this, I recognize that in many ways it’s discriminatory against neurodiversity. Neurodiversity is the range of differences in individual brain function and behavioral traits and is part of the normal variation in the human population. Globally and within the workforce, there is much we need to do to equalize it. If soft skills are a struggle for you, find your niche, passion, and value add. It makes a huge difference during the interview process when a candidate is specific about their desired focus as well as the value they can contribute, versus trying to be everything for everyone.

The statistics of artificial intelligence and automation eliminating millions of jobs, appear frightening to some. For example, Walmart aims to eliminate cashiers altogether and Dominos is instituting pizza delivery via driverless vehicles. How should people plan their careers such that they can hedge their bets against being replaced by automation or robots?

I do think that with the growing incorporation of artificial intelligence, new opportunities will emerge. A report by McKinsey notes that global consumption is predicted to increase by 23 trillion dollars from 2015 to 2030. Additionally, there is a predicted increase in technology and healthcare demands. Careers for those entering the workforce will look different than what they did 5 or 10 years ago. I do think that there will be job creation. To be transparent, I’m not entirely sure what that will look like. There certainly will be opportunities for people in different ways. I think more challenging than entering the workforce will be the displacement surrounding a changing workforce that requires learning new skills to adapt.

Technological advances and pandemic restrictions hastened the move to working from home. Do you see this trend continuing? Why or why not?

I do think there will be companies asking their people to return to the office when appropriate. There will be those who are looking forward to a return to the office due to the challenges of working from home. However, many industries are finding that they can expand their talent pool outside of office locations. Companies are experiencing increases in productivity with the forced flexibility working from home offers their employees.

When COVID restrictions begin to settle, I do think we’ll see an influx of employees returning to the office. However, it won’t be at pre-pandemic numbers. I do think where applicable, giving employees the flexibility to choose where they want to work will be and should be the trend.

Ultimately, the goal should be productive employees. But it might look different from employee to employee. As a result of the pandemic, we’re seeing trends in people leaving metro cities for the suburbs, which typically offer a lower cost of living. It will be interesting to see how this normalizes the housing market and payroll trends across the US.

What societal changes do you foresee as necessary to support the fundamental changes to work?

Diversity and inclusion across types. I think D&I needs to expand beyond race and sex to age, gender identity, and neurodiversity. As changes in our workforce reshape the landscape and job opportunities, employers cannot assume old constructs of how a high performer behaves and achieves.

What changes do you think will be the most difficult for employers to accept? What changes do you think will be the most difficult for employees to accept?

I think change will always be the most difficult for employers and employees. I don’t think specifying one thing is helpful. Rather, all of us will have to adapt to a rapidly changing world. It will require us (employers and employees alike) to approach decision-making with empathy.

As an employer embracing new technologies, reaching new markets/consumers, considering how to drive performance for employees in a changing environment, and leading with empathy will ensure you get the best from your people. For employees, it will be important to decide whether they want to embrace learning new skills, managing people differently, and balancing work and life in a new way so we feel better enabled to embrace new challenges.

The COVID-19 pandemic helped highlight the inadequate social safety net that many workers at all pay levels have. Is this something that you think should be addressed? In your opinion how should this be addressed?

Yes, absolutely, it needs to be addressed. The Covid-19 pandemic has put a spotlight on the inadequacies of our system, especially concerning healthcare coverage. It’s been interesting to see the effects in this area since the pandemic started. Certain industries are struggling to find employees who are opting to stay out of the labor market. At the same time, the pandemic has put pressure on people to have to stay home to care for family members or children due to school closures.

There is no question that our economy needs people to go back to work and I don’t think having a social safety net with an expiration date is enough to help people. We have to look at constraints that prevent them from working, which in large part includes affordable child care and home health care. As the federal pandemic unemployment benefits have expired and millions of people still not back to work, I think this will have a huge impact on our healthcare system. Not having insurance alone to cover existing medication or healthcare needs, pose a serious issue for people including the impact to their families with less money going into the economy and unpaid medical bills.

Despite all that we have said earlier, what is your greatest source of optimism about the future of work?

While the future of work may look different for many industries, I do think there will be a future of work with available jobs. Jobs for young adults may not include working in the fast food industry as they did 30 years ago. Instead, jobs might include understanding sustainability, coding a new app, or starting a small community service business. I think young people are one of our greatest sources of innovation and we should embrace all they have to share.

I also am looking forward to seeing how we come together to address more global concerns, lift up other communities, and begin to heal our world. The area I am the most passionate about (and I see it starting to gain some momentum) is creating work environments and opportunities for neurodiversity. In the US alone, we have a growing population of neurodiverse people who are an untapped talent pool that can offer a competitive advantage to the workforce. This is where empathy by employers is greatly needed. Recognizing strengths and challenges from our own perspective is a bias that needs to be acknowledged and removed to allow those who think and behave differently to make a valuable impact.

Historically, major disruptions to the status quo in employment, particularly disruptions that result in fewer jobs, are temporary with new jobs replacing the jobs lost. Unfortunately, there has often been a gap between job losses and the growth of new jobs. What do you think we can do to reduce the length of this gap?

I think this comes down to upskilling employees better. Employers should never be apprehensive about it. We know people stay longer and are more committed to companies that invest in them. Upskilling also enables them to close the gap on securing a new job, should they decide to move on.

I’ve seen emerging concepts and testing for the gamification of connecting employees with employers. There’s so much that needs to be done in how potential employees/applicants are narrowed down. I don’t think we’ve got it figured out yet.

Okay, wonderful. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “Top 5 Trends To Watch In the Future of Work?” (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. Inclusion for neurodiversity. This one is closest to my heart and passion. Currently, about 20% of adults are neurodiverse. This percentage is anticipated to increase as our children enter the workforce. Neurodiversity is an untapped talent pool that spans race, gender, and orientation, and can offer so much to organizations as well as communities.
  2. Global Climate Change. If we can’t begin to heal our world, there won’t be much of a future for us or generations to come. It will take collaboration between governments, businesses, and individuals to be accountable for the harm we are creating. Without it, we will lose wildlife, see increases in disasters and become sicker.
  3. Responsibility for using Data and Technology. An area that can really benefit from increased data and technology in healthcare, especially in predicting illnesses before they happen and how to heal them. Despite the amazing benefits we will realize from data and technology in the future, we should be careful and mindful of how we use it. We need to get ahead of understanding it before it becomes too big to manage.
  4. Increase in emotional intelligence. As globalization of data, communication, and the workforce increase, we need to grow and expand our soft skills in how we work with other cultures and enable performance/success for people who support the growth of our businesses. Leading and making decisions with empathy and understanding to improve the lives of our consumers, people, and communities will have much greater lasting effects.
  5. Flexible workforce. Even as we begin to return to the office, we will see growing trends of how people connect to work and get the job done versus the traditional 9–5 workday. Employers will need to allow for flexibility, enabling their employees to work where and when necessary. It should include understanding how to manage people differently and drive a culture that people can connect to in a different way.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how this quote has shaped your perspective?

Gosh, I have quite a few. One that I ponder and share with others often is to leave something/someone better than you found it/them. This is something I learned as a child from my grandmothers and mother. To expand on it further: When you borrow something from someone, return it in better shape than you received it. I refer to it often, in work or my personal life, even when it’s a small encounter. When I take on new projects or interact with someone at the grocery store, I ask myself, “When I walk away from an organization, a project or a person, will they be better having known or worked with me?” It could be leaving behind a new process, a new way of thinking, or just a smile. Whatever it is, I want it to have had a positive impact.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

It’s hard to pick one! The person who stands out to me the most is Mary Barra. I find her leadership style and what she has done to change the culture of GM inspiring. I would love to talk with her about her story, challenges, and experiences around the impact she’s had.

Our readers often like to follow our interview subjects’ careers. How can they further follow your work online?

I think LinkedIn would be the best place to follow what I do, as I post or am tagged in articles I write and sessions I lead. All are always welcomed!

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this. We wish you continued success and good health.

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