There is much talk in the business ecosystem about building a diverse workplace. However, a diverse workplace must go beyond considering race, gender identity and sexual orientation; it must also include a diversity of thought and cognition, abilities, backgrounds and socioeconomic statues. To truly embrace the concept of inclusivity, discussions and decisions around diversity in the workplace must also include how to support neurodivergent talent.
It’s now widely recognized that every person has different strengths and abilities, and having a diverse mix of different skill sets, viewpoints and life experiences is an asset for businesses. But in many organizations, workplace policy decisions don’t always follow that understanding.
Although we are making progress, neurodiversity continues to be stigmatized, and misconceptions stubbornly persist.
An inclusive workplace must create spaces that welcome everyone, where people can be themselves and have autonomy over their work. For the neurodivergent, this includes opportunities that enable individuals to craft their schedules around how they work and learn best, such as shorter-term projects where they can remain inspired and challenged. It also requires ensuring — and helping to foster — open conversations with team members and leadership about what they need to be successful.
While a neurodivergent individual may need special accommodations, it’s essential to understand that neurodiversity is not a disability. Instead, it refers to the different ways neurodivergent brains process information and respond to external stimuli. Neurodiversity comes in various forms, such as attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), Tourette syndrome (TS), dyslexia and dyspraxia, all of which have different characteristics. Like the neurotypical, neurodivergent individuals are individuals with different needs and strengths.
Some neurodiverse people may have physical and sensory differences, such as being uncomfortable near or highly sensitive to certain smells, being unable to hear different voices in a crowded room clearly and being sensitive to light flickering.
A neurodivergent employee’s working style may not fit the traditional 9-5 format. Instead of working across an eight-hour day, they may be more productive working in time chunks to focus on one task at a time. This fluidity allows people to work when they are most effective. All it requires is for the manager to ask team members when they work best.
Tapping into the strengths of neurodiverse employees requires organizations and managers to become more flexible regarding their employee’s approach, work style and work hours, where applicable. Interestingly, time chunking is a popular time management methodology for general productivity.
Harnessing the Strengths of Neurodivergent Employees
While employing neurodivergent talent may require new considerations around work policies, it can be valuable for businesses. Neurodiverse people may view and analyze a situation differently than neurotypical people, thereby driving innovation and out-of-the-box thinking while bringing to light biases you may not have realized existed. They are often detail-oriented, possessing the ability to think critically and creatively.
Leaders must support and harness the strengths and abilities of neurodiverse talent. By doing so, the possibilities are powerful. Employers must consider how they can tailor projects to their strengths, including precision and detail-oriented abilities. Businesses must include diverse and neurodiverse perspectives to ensure they get all the great insights, new ideas and valuable skills.
When supported to work effectively and in a comfortable environment, neurodiverse staff can be a considerable strength for your business.
Becoming More Neurodiverse Friendly
Education is everything. Read as much as you can about neurodiversity and our experiences. Talk to neurodiverse colleagues, students, friends and neighbors about their experiences.
The key is not to make assumptions. Some forms of neurodiversity aren’t externally visible. Also, remember that how neurodiversity presents for one person does not necessarily apply to another.
Ask your neurodivergent talent what their strengths and needs are. Managers can create a “user manual” for each team member (not just for neurodiverse employees) where colleagues describe their preferred communication type, working hours and any other essentials to know about them.
Provide work experience and employment opportunities for neurodiverse candidates that are equitable and empathetic. Also, provide a culture of transparency that discloses when and where the person might be comfortable. Provide opportunities that build skills and confidence for the neurodiverse individual. Educate employers about neurodiversity strengths and workplace accommodations. Showcase resumes that highlight neurodiverse skills and abilities.
Consider whether the interview process rules out or puts off neurodiverse candidates. Some people need help communicating at their best before an interview panel or in-person interview. They may need help understanding how to take psychometric assessments or feel frustrated by a long list of requirements in a job description because they don’t meet 100% of them. Allow work flexibility that accommodates people of all cognitive needs.
One of the more interesting development since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic regarding the workplace is that all employees benefit from a more flexible, personalized approach to their work styles. Everyone has different needs and strengths. Everyone deserves to be treated with empathy and to work in an environment that provides an understanding of their unique situation. The more we can do this for employees, whether they are neurodiverse or neurotypical, the happier and more productive they will be.