Should Neurodiversity be part of your DE&I Strategy?
This article explores neurodiversity in the workplace to help get us thinking and talking about being more inclusive of those who think differently.
At first glance, Tristan Lavender seems to be a successful content strategist who enjoys writing, editing, and photography. His LinkedIn profile, articles, and posts prove his passion and success in creating and executing content strategies to build thought leadership in HR and talent management.
Yet, in a post reflecting on his experiences, Tristan shares that he was diagnosed with autism at 23, right after completing college. The diagnosis completely changed his life because the stigma and misunderstanding surrounding neurodiversity and autism tend to lead to exclusion and prejudices that limit opportunities accessible to neurodivergent job applicants.
Tristan was surrounded by supportive people and enjoyed the immense strengths, such as attention to detail, dedication, and focus, often associated with autism. Nonetheless, he notes, “The shame always remained, though. The fear, too. Fear that being open about my “condition” would close the door to others again and throw me back into isolation.”
Think Differently about Inclusivity
Tristan Lavender is an excellent example of how neurodivergent people can adapt to healthy working environments and thrive. But this leads to a critical question; why do neurodivergent people get limited opportunities to thrive like anyone else, despite being equally qualified?
For example, approximately 85% of people with autism are unemployed. In addition, nearly 50% of 25-year-olds with autism have never held a paying job despite having the expertise and skillset. How are companies building and executing diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) programs without conversations and the inclusion of neurodivergent people?
Creating an inclusive and diverse workplace culture is critical for business success in the current business environment. Therefore, to have holistic conversations about the DEI strategy, companies must consider the talents and capabilities that come with individuals with different psychological makeups. Those who learn, behave and think differently. It is time to make the inclusion of neurodivergent people a permanent offering.
What is Neurodiversity?
If you are hiring talent management or work in an organization committed to creating an inclusive and diverse work environment, you have probably heard about neurodiversity. But what exactly does the term entail, and how does it affect or benefit an organization?
Neurodiversity is a term used to describe the idea that people interact with and experience the world around them differently. It explains that variations in the human brain’s neurocognitive functioning influence how people function, think, process, learn, and behave in a given environment. Neurodiversity encompasses multiple conditions, such as autism spectrum disorder (ASD), attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Still, dyslexia, anxiety, depression, Tourette’s syndrome, intellectual disability, and schizophrenia fall under neurodiverse conditions.
Companies advocating for diversity and inclusion should understand and embrace neurodiversity to ensure that all people feel understood and appreciated in the workplace and society. Therefore, fostering an environment conducive to neurodivergent people is crucial to recognizing and supporting individual strengths and talents while offering support to accommodate their needs and differences.
Why Does Neurodiversity Matter as part of the DE&I Strategy?
Society classifies people as ‘neurotypical’ based on their capability to conform to various standard behaviors considered ‘typical.’ On the contrary, those who deviate from these standards in one or more ways are considered neurodivergent. The stigma and misunderstanding associated with this classification often lead to excluding people with neurodevelopmental differences in the workplace.
Integrating neurodiversity in the DE&I strategy can help clear these misconceptions and create an environment that embraces and is open to other ways of learning and collaborating. It means adjusting the neurotypical way of thinking and encouraging activities and behaviors that cater to neurodiverse conditions. Notably, neurodiverse people are creative, innovative, curious, and engaged and can help improve organizational productivity.
Benefits of Hiring a Neurodiverse Staff
# 1. Hiring a neurodiverse staff brings new perspectives
Neurodivergent people experience and perceive the world differently, enabling them to produce unique ideas that enhance innovation and creativity. For example, some have heightened senses and are more empathetic and resilient due to their challenges. Besides, some must learn skills differently compared to their peers through, for example, special education programs. These different experiences influence their approaches and understanding of problems. Combining perspectives and opinions from neurotypical and neurodivergent employees can result in broad and deep views that translate to high-quality products and services.
# 2. High retention rate
One major problem trending in the U.S. is an increase in staff turnover. However, this persistent problem is much lower among neurodivergent employees. For example, studies have shown that the retention rate among autistic workers is more than 90%. Many neurodivergent people are eager and capable of using their talents in environments that care for and support them.
# 3. Improving organizational culture
True inclusion and acceptance of people can build a judgment-free and safe environment that allows all employees to be the best version of themselves at work. Such an environment is characterized by respect, unconditional support, and teamwork, which lead to a positive work environment. Employees who feel comfortable and supported at work have positive attitudes, higher satisfaction, and motivation that makes them more productive.
# 4. Professionalism
Most neurodivergent people flourish in structured environments requiring them to abide by specific routines and follow the rules. In this case, they are invaluable resources to companies that assign routine tasks to employees and expect them to follow schedules, making them unmatched in observing professionalism.
# 5. Boosting a company’s problem-solving capabilities
One significant aspect that makes neurodivergent employees valuable team members is their incredible attention to detail. This strength set enables them to identify gaps, ideas, or information their peers may miss when solving a problem. A study by the University of Montreal revealed that people with autism are up to 40% faster at problem-solving than their non-autistic peers.
How to Create a Workplace That Supports Neurodiversity
Much more needs to be done to improve the support offered to neurodiverse employees and create more opportunities to allow them to accomplish their life goals. Companies should create workplaces that are safe and welcoming for all people, as well as create corporate cultures that embrace and celebrate individual differences.
Four ways that employers can create working environments that support neurodiversity.
# 1. Review the company’s hiring and onboarding processes and practices
The first step to building a neurodiverse culture is reviewing the recruitment procedures to emphasize the company’s commitment to diversity and inclusion. The wording of the job postings and roles of the positions should be clear and precise and should not include discriminative terms. HR and talent managers can add a statement on diversity and inclusion to encourage all applicants to apply without the fear of judgment. In addition, the interviewing process should be structured to match each interviewee’s needs and be free of unconscious bias.
#2. Offer employee training
Building an inclusive workplace requires staff to understand and be willing to work and collaborate with other employees regardless of their differences. Although more people and companies are having conversations on DEI, bias and stigma around neurodiversity persist in workplaces. Training can eliminate this challenge by improving education and understanding to clear the existing misconceptions while encouraging neurodivergent employees to speak up about their needs for further improvements.
# 3. Be ready and willing to accommodate
Regardless of their strengths, neurodivergent employees may still experience challenges impacting their functioning in the workplace. For example, employees with autism may be sensitive to noise, temperature, and lighting. They may require accommodative tendencies such as quiet rooms, noise-canceling headphones, flexible seating, and working schedules. Notably, neurodivergent individuals hate the pressure of having to be “on” in front of multiple people.
One major way companies can accommodate neurodivergent employees is by offering remote working opportunities, which, paired with asynchronous working hours, allows them to customize individual experiences. Here, individuals are in charge of their work environment, schedules, and the extent to which they socialize. This approach can help increase their productivity and improve their mental health.
# 4. Create space for open and transparent conversations on neurodiversity
An organization’s leadership should converse with their teams on what it means to have a neurodiverse workforce. The discussions should allow both the neurotypical and neurodivergent employees to communicate and ask questions to boost the overall understanding of neurodiversity and how to accommodate each individual’s needs.
It is time for leaders to engage their teams and co-design a working environment that is accommodative and supportive. Diversity and inclusion are not a one-time thing; it is an ongoing commitment to promote fair values and embrace inclusive practices, to ensure all people, regardless of their differences, receive equal treatment and access to opportunities and resources.
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