Why Awareness is Not Good Enough

This month is Autism Awareness Month. However, in talking with one of my kids who has autism, I was recently educated on why “awareness” is not seen positively and why it should be reframed as “Autism Acceptance Month.”

Awareness is (relatively) easy; however, making people aware of something does not make them accept or understand it. Here is an example: When my child would lose themselves in a video game to the point of forgetting any other tasks, I would get frustrated. Even though I was aware they have autism, I still viewed these actions through my own bias as a problem that would potentially keep them from getting a job and being more independent. However, over time, I moved from awareness to understanding and realized that this is how my child copes with anxious situations and how they regulate themselves. Aren’t those good skills to have?

I was at the first stage for a while, content that I was aware of my kid’s needs. It was relatively easy for me to be aware. However, it was ultimately my understanding, and then acceptance of their needs that led me to breakthroughs. Acceptance is much harder than awareness as it is a constant process and requires work and determination. But, this is also where you see greater outcomes and rewards.

The same principles should be true in business. For example, each of us is exposed to tons of data and information on a daily basis, and we are aware that data should inform our decisions. Yet, we all have biases and mental models based on our limited perspectives. Science has proven multiple times that a team of culturally and cognitively diverse people will outperform a team of highly intelligent people who all have the same perspectives. If this is the case, why are many organizations still not working towards democratizing data and information for all? Why are they still limiting decision making to a select set of individuals? Why do so many organizations fail to foster a data-informed culture, where it is okay to speak up – where it is okay to make a decision, realize the decision was not ideal and then learn from it?

Many organizations fail to foster a data-informed culture for the same reason that many people proudly say they support autism awareness. Because they are scared or uncomfortable, they believe it is enough to simply be aware. It is no longer acceptable for people to be aware they have bias. It is important they understand how that bias impacts their view on data and their decisions, and then accept that they must work to mitigate it. Beyond a personal level, I know this to be true as a member of Qlik-Able, our Employee Resource Group, which works to combat ableism, support nontypical bodies and minds, and champion the kind of neurodiversity that can help organizations truly tap into all their talent.

So, let’s all take on a challenge this month and try to move from awareness to understanding and acceptance. Just like my child has educated me that awareness of autism is not enough – and the goal should be understanding and acceptance – we should all step out of our comfort zone and embrace data-informed decision making as a team sport. Remember, we are much stronger together than we are divided.

"Awareness is (relatively) easy; however, making people aware of something does not make them accept or understand it," @Qlik's @KevinHanegan on why accepting & supporting our mentally diverse colleague is so support.

 

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