The locally owned bank has partnered with Brain Badge, a local initiative that describes itself as ‘the world’s first neurodiversity certification’.
Since the pandemic, the way in which many of us work has changed dramatically. Working from home remains commonplace and employees have a stronger understanding of flexibility when it comes to how we balance work, life and everything in between.
For people who are neurodivergent or display some neurodiverse traits, including but not limited to those with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), these steps forward in workplace flexibility may help, but not necessarily solve, the challenges of employment. That’s because we now understand that there’s an endless spectrum of what may have once been described as “disorders” or “disabilities”. They’ve since been rightly framed as valuable traits that shouldn’t be a barrier to employment, but for many, and even in a post-Covid world of increased flexibility, they still can be.
Brain Badge is a local initiative that seeks to certify businesses that are a welcoming place for neurodiverse individuals. It’s partnered with companies like The Warehouse Group, Auckland Transport and now Kiwibank.
Jess Segal, Kiwibank senior manager of leadership and diversity, explains what the partnership means for the company, why they’re doing it now and how they’ll be held to account.
Answers have been edited for clarity and brevity.
Hi Jess. Tell us about Brain Badge. What is it exactly?
We are a founding partner with Brain Badge, an organisation that is doing work around how to change the system around neurodiversity so that education is a more accessible experience for kids who think in ways that don’t align to the traditional curriculum.
The work that we do with Brain Badge is around how we can create systemic change within corporates, so that people who are neurodiverse are able to thrive within the systems that exist. Our work with Brain Badge will be looking at what we’re doing internally and also what we’re doing to make sure we can bring on neurodiverse people into Kiwibank that allows them through the door.
Why decide to partner with Brain Badge now?
Neurodiversity has been around for a really long time but it’s only really recently that people have started to pay closer attention to the nuances of neurodiversity within “differentiated instruction strategies” – meaning tailoring instruction to meet individual needs – and wider accessibility strategies. The reason we are partnering with Brain Badge now is because we are in a position where we are able to start doing this work, with the help of an outfit that has the expertise around neurodiversity. They have the resources to be able to do a lot of the research and provide the support we wouldn’t be able to do internally.
It’s a bit like the Rainbow Tick, right? But this has been criticised by some when businesses haven’t really ‘walked the talk’ in terms of demonstrating support for their rainbow staff.
The partnership we have with Brain Badge is quite different to the kind of partnership you’d have with something like Gender Tick or Rainbow Tick where they are an already established company. They’ve already set up their criteria for getting the tick.
Brain Badge is still doing that so we have come in at a founding partner level… where we have the opportunity to work very closely with Brain Badge to create the criteria. What that means is Kiwibank can do a whole bunch of testing and together we’ll be setting the criteria so other organisations will be able to do this work.
In the past, do you think Kiwibank has been a challenging place for neurodivergent people to work at?
Neurodivergence is a very complex thing to be interacting with. Two people might have the same outward diagnosis, but those two people aren’t going to be experiencing the world in the same way. So when it comes to how people have been able to work, the experience is going to be super different for each individual depending on what their needs are.
I would hope that given the work we’ve been doing around flexibility, around accessibility and inclusion at Kiwibank over the last few years, there’s been a real increase for people to be able to perform. But the point of this work is to say “we know we’re not perfect”. In fact, we’ll never be perfect – but we know we’re not and we know we have a lot of work here and we’re looking to Brain Badge to help support us in doing the work we need to do to help our people thrive.
The reality is that about 40% of us have neurodivergent traits so this could be quite revolutionary for a lot of people at Kiwibank who might never get a diagnosis or know they have neurodivergent traits. All of us have nuanced ways of thinking, that’s what makes diversity so cool.
What about prospective employees? Will Kiwibank be equipped to understand that someone who is interviewing for a role might be neurodivergent?
What we’re doing at the moment is to start thinking about what we do when we need someone to fill a position. Things like the language we’re using in job advertisements, where we’re putting job advertisements, how people can interact with that advertisement. We’re also doing things like rethinking how you might submit a CV or whether you have to submit a CV at all. For some people, writing a CV is a really tricky thing to do – it doesn’t mean they don’t have exactly the skills that we need, but a video might be a better way for them to submit their skills and capabilities.
And then when they get through to the next stage – what does that mean? Interviews can be really, really hard. That doesn’t work for a lot of people, so what can we do to change that experience for some people? What we are saying at the moment is we are just at the starting blocks. There are some things we know we are not doing at the moment that people at Brain Badge are going to be able to help us understand, acknowledge and then do something about it.
Are there standards that must be met, or a way that Kiwibank will be held accountable?
The work we’re doing with Brain Badge will be to help us establish those standards. But what we’re also doing internally is setting up a neurodiversity network of our people. We have a philosophy around diversity at Kiwibank which is: “Nothing about us, without us”. So even though we are working with Brain Badge there is another really critical group of people that will help us to understand what expectations we should be setting at Kiwibank and how we meet them – and that is our people.
Things like Covid have actually presented a good opportunity for us to do some testing around how people work and how we can better enable people to work in different ways and still be productive. I think people generally have a better understanding now that some people thrive in conditions that weren’t enabled pre-Covid. And so we need to keep that going even though things are starting to change in terms of office life.
This is sparking a conversation within Kiwibank – but do you want that conversation to be sparked in other companies or industries?
The work we can do is about Kiwibank but I firmly believe that anything that we do here has fingers out into other places too. The more people that talk about this kind of thing, then the more likely we are to be able to make a broad difference. That’s what I love about Brain Badge – yes they’re trying to make a difference in terms of corporates, but they’re also really trying to make a difference beyond that and create systemic change that starts with our kids.
That’s absolutely where we should be focusing.