Next up for Hofstede’s dichotomies is Individualism v. Collectivism. This measures the degree to which individuals are integrated into groups and how they perceive themselves in that group. Individualists tend to use first person singular pronouns, look out for themselves, place their emphasis on personal achievement and choose their own affiliations with others. Collectivist groups (non-political) see themselves as part of a group, will use first person plural more frequently, look out for the good of the group and take their lead on friendships and partnerships from the group as a whole.
Not surprisingly the United States is one of the strongest Individualist societies measured by Hofstede (source) with Australia the UK slightly behind it. Canada is still strongly individualist as well though not as strong as the first three. At the opposite end of the spectrum you find China, Pakistan and the northern countries of South America [note the split between the northern countries -- Peru, Ecuador, Columbia and Venezuela-- and the Chile, Argentina, Brazil & Uruguay cluster is fascinating].
In a theoretical sense I can make an argument for Autism being either an individualist subculture due to the well documented social issues or a collectivist subculture due to the unifying experience of being an excluded and in many cases severely tormented group. The research in this area has been heavily focused on the issues of ASD folk integrating with the Neurotypical society (e.g. Source 1, Source 2) which then tends to lead us on a path of individualism. Countering that is the growing belief that Autism is a variation of the human condition rather than an illness requiring a cure. Web sites like The Autistic Self Advocacy Network, Shift Journal and Wrong Planet offer a much more communal feel indicating a process of integration not seen among neurotypical groups in the United States and other individualist societies.
I think it is safe to say that regardless of where an ASD subculture would fall on the individualist v collectivist dichotomy the extreme individualism of the United States, Great Britain, Australia and, to a lesser extent, Canada requires a work interaction approach similar to someone coming from a collectivist society. To that end the tips from Kwinitessential are extremely applicable:
• Use your own initiative; do not depend on the group for answers
• Personal life and business life are usually kept separated
• People will expect to be given a chance to complete work on their own without intervention from you
• Co-workers will attempt to stand out in some way even in group settings; this is expected and tolerated
And while the Kwintessential tips do not state this I think it bears exploration in terms of the last tip I paraphrased. It is common for those on the Spectrum to avoid calling attention to themselves and may even resent those who do. In the work setting those who call attention to themselves are often promoted or rewarded meaning that many of us on the Spectrum get left behind. It will feel alien to you to point to your own work but you may have to do just that if you want to get ahead. Come up with a way that works for you and run with it. if nothing else keep a journal of projects and accomplishments that you have done to break out at your review or put on your resume when looking for a job. Resentment and resistance to this are natural for someone on the Spectrum but do not let it paralyze you.
As a final note I want to address the concept of using advocates in the job hunt or the workplace. With limited exception a true agent is not a normal practice in the American workplace (I cannot speak for elsewhere but I would suspect that the UK, Australia and Canada are similar in that aspect). Institutionalized advocates are barely present in the form of the Equal Employment Opportunity officers, Ombudsmen and Employee Relations and keep in mind, they all work for the company too. They may not be totally biased but they do have to balance their considerations. It is not all bleak though. Recruiters are a common way to find work and given a bit of honesty between you and the recruiter they can be an excellent advocate in the job search even helping you gloss over some of the difficulties you might have. Inside the workplace you can find the people I mentioned above that will help you resolve issues and possibly even get fair treatment. Additionally many companies provide Employee Assistance Programs that offer counseling in psychological, monetary or even legal terms. And then there are the governmental and non-profit organizations such as the EEOC or GRASP that can help with guidance. Check these out and make use of them.
Update: I totally forgot about Unions as a form of workplace advocacy. If you are in an industry with trade union representation it may be well worth the dues and time to engage them with your workplace struggles.
Scott J. Shea is the proprietor of Job Sink, offering career advice and exploring employment issues and workplace difficulties faced by those on the autism spectrum.
Part 4: Autism and Geert Hofstede’s Cultural Dimensions Theory – Individualism v Collectivism, the fourth in a series of eight, appears here by permission.
[image via Psychology Wiki]