Autism employment statistics continue to be of concern. Many autistic adults are underemployed or have difficulty securing employment. Mentorship is one method to promote employment. A tried-and-true practice of building a professional community and career advancement, mentorship’s main premise is that a mentee learns from a mentor who has more knowledge, skills, and abilities, and all the learning is for the mentee – but is this really true? Just because someone has more years on the earth or a few more layers on their resume can the relationship be such that only one member of the pair can learn from the other? What if each member of the pair entered the relationship with the shared expectation that they would learn from each other? With a little finesse the power dynamic can shift from mentor to mentee to offering a co-mentoring experience where both members benefit. Co-mentoring is defined as an intense mutual mentoring relationship that is common among peers but transcends age, rank, and organizational level boundaries. With generous support from the Bhatia Family Foundation and in collaboration with NEXT Gen Board, NEXT for AUTISM has embarked in a co-mentoring initiative – NEXT Gen Connect. This program has been established for young professionals who may or may not be autistic and aspiring young autistic professionals. These peers connect with a shared goal of promoting a more inclusive workplace. Established professionals learn about neuroinclusivity while aspiring autistic professionals build their network and develop skills and connections to secure employment. Our goal is to ensure a workplace that truly values autistic employees, and that every autistic adult who wants to work can secure meaningful employment. Here’s what one of the co-mentors shared after their first meeting in our pilot launch of NEXT Gen Connect:
“I met with my co-mentor today. It was so nice getting to know him and learning more about him. The materials were excellent – I thought they structured the meeting well and promoted thoughtful discussion. We chose a theme for our next meeting that I think complements both the prepared materials and his goals. This is so much fun!” – Alexa West, NEXT Gen Board Member NEXT for AUTISM believes that we can all learn from each other. NEXT Gen Connect is a model of inclusivity, ensuring each co-mentor, both, teaches and learns. This inclusive model is what we want in the workplace, increasing the understanding that everyone has something to offer. To be honest, this desire for inclusivity extends beyond the workplace, it is what NEXT for AUTISM wants for society, an understanding and belief that diversity is a strength.