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April 20, 2023
The concept of neurodiversity in the workplace has gained traction in recent years. Neurodiversity refers to diversity in the human brain and cognition. This could include sociability, learning, attention, mood and other mental functions.
Despite increased diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) efforts, neurodivergent individuals are often overlooked. An estimated 15%-20% of the global population is neurodiverse. This group could be an untapped asset for organizations.
Employers have an opportunity to embrace neurodiversity and reduce the stigma around it. They can build workplaces where all workers belong and show up as their authentic selves.
The basics of neurodivergence
The foundation of neurodiversity is brain function variations. Differences in brain functioning are normal and represent strengths and weaknesses. It is also often used as an umbrella term covering several conditions or features.
Some common examples of neurodivergence include ADHD, autism spectrum disorder and dyslexia.
Most of the population, who are not neurodivergent, are classified as neurotypical.
Workplace challenges for neurodivergent employees
People who are neurodivergent have differences in the way their brain works.
First, neurodiversity is generally non-visible. Someone looking at a neurodiverse person would not immediately be able to tell. As a result, many neurodivergent workers must disclose their needs or request accommodation.
Most workplaces—and society in general—are tailored for neurotypical minds. Neurodiversity can often be misunderstood. This makes neurodivergent people feel the need to camouflage in typical organizations. This behavior is called “masking”. One of the issues with masking is that it creates exhaustion and stress and can increase the risk of burnout. Masking looks different for everyone. It is often triggered by a need to fit in to avoid judgment and have a sense of belonging. Masking can have severe mental health implications.
Benefits of a Neurodiverse Workforce
DEI programs have become standard practice for many organizations. But such efforts may fall short if they don’t account for a neurodiversity in the workplace.
Along with delivering on DEI initiatives, there are benefits of employing neurodiverse teams:
- Fresh, unique perspectives
- Exceptional focus and concentration
- Out-of-the-box problem-solving, which supports innovative and creative thinking
- Strong observational skills and keen attention to detail
Deloitte research suggests that teams with neurodivergent professionals are 30% more productive.
Diverse workplaces can also earn deeper trust and commitment from their employees. This could lead to higher employee retention rates. An inclusive workforce can be an advantage for employers as they compete for top talent.
Fostering Neurodivergent-inclusive Workplaces
When employees feel safe to be themselves, they can reach their full potential. Here are a few ways to start making neurodiversity in the workplace a priority.
Assess hiring and onboarding processes
The hiring process sets the tone with candidates. Inclusive hiring practices make a good first impression. Consider ways to streamline the hiring and onboarding process. The goal is to make them customizable and accommodate various abilities and preferences.
Create channels that attract neurodiverse workers
Recruiting is not a one-size-fits-all approach. Consider adding tactics that may be more appealing to neurodivergent workers. For example, host smaller recruiting events with fewer attendees to reduce social anxiety. You could also provide a detailed agenda, so candidates feel more at ease.
Focus on skills-based hiring
Ensure job postings are accurate and reflect roles and responsibilities. For example, many jobs require “excellent communication skills.” But this may deter qualified individuals from applying. Tailor each job description to depict the role and seek transferable skills.
Offer flexible working options
Remote work models can give workers flexibility and control. Organizations that adopt an on-site or hybrid work model are an attractive option. Other flexible options include:
- flexible working hours
- modified workspaces (e.g., collaborative areas and quiet spaces)
- other accommodations (e.g., noise-canceling headphones).
Encourage employee resource groups (ERGs)
ERGs consist of employees who share a common interest, background or demographic factor. A neurodivergent ERG could focus on employee support, inclusivity and career development. Generally, all employees are welcome to join an ERG to support their co-workers and be allies.
Neurodivergent workers thrive with strong support from their managers and peers. A formal mentorship program could help all employees grow and succeed.
Communicate with clarity
There’s always room for error if employee communication is not specific or clear enough. To reduce potential confusion, ensure communications are straightforward and include actions.
DEI efforts start at the top, but managers must receive ongoing training and development. This will help them better engage, manage and support employees. Managers can work with neurodivergent employees to identify strengths and maximize their contributions.
Employers have a responsibility to help combat the stigmas associated with neurodivergence. Be champions for neurodiversity in the workplace. We can build work environments where all employees can thrive.