There isn’t anything new about neurodiversity – neurodiversity simply means that it is a scientific fact that there is a natural diversity of the human brain. However, societal familiarity with neurodiversity has historically been low. Over the past few years, the terms ‘neurodiversity’ and ‘neurodiversity at work’ have been at the forefront for companies like Google, DXC Technology, and Ultranauts, but are now much more commonplace with HR professionals in all industries. With this has been a movement with the neurodiverse community disclosing they are ‘neurodistinct’ to their employers – autistic people, ADHDers, and dyslexics are a few examples.
“Not having neurodiversity inclusion misses out on tremendous talents in the human population underutilized because they don’t fit mainstream thinking. We have some big challenges to solve and we need all the brain power that this species has. – Walter Pienciak, Cognitive Architect
The common misconceptions of neurodiversity
The neurodiverse community is large; estimates vary anywhere from 1 in 20 people to as many as 1 in 5, but people who don’t have a direct or familial connection to someone who is neurodistinct can often be very under-informed leading to some common misconceptions.
“If you don’t know someone personally, all you really have is TV or you have movies and you see Rainman, or you see the Sheldon Coopers of the world. ‘This person I just met can’t be autistic because they don’t act like this person I saw in this movie once.’ It’s just the cycle of misinformation that I think keeps people in the dark as to what it really means.” – Megan Lavine, Senior Human Resources Manager at Procter & Gamble
This widespread ignorance can cause neurodistinct people to feel misunderstood and marginalized at work. This leads to individuals feeling the need to ‘mask’ their behaviors – compromising their comfort at work, productivity, and the collaborative potential of their teams. Work policies and practices have been created with neurotypical employees in mind (or those who fall within the social “norms”), creating considerable barriers for neurodistinct individuals when it comes to getting hired, promoted, and just being able to thrive on a day-to-day basis in their roles.
“I don’t think people get quite how much effort it can take to survive the day, to survive the routine, to survive the workspace environment. It’s tough very often and some days we are grateful, and yet we’re always fearful that we’re going to be found out and then told to leave.” – Piers Roberts, Neurodiversity Advocate
Other issues related to this cultural ignorance of neurodiversity can be a lack of a shared language or lexicon with which to talk confidently about neurodiversity, and a related fear of complexity, of ‘getting it wrong’, through using the wrong language. This can paralyze managers into inaction due to anxiety about how to effectively start the conversation leading to teams not feeling valued or heard.
Neurodiversity education as a solution to biases and creating a better culture
Not surprisingly, then, DEI & neurodiversity program builders – whether of specific hiring programs or enterprise-wide initiatives – typically cite neurodiversity education as THE key piece of their initiatives, and how they got neurodiversity programs rolling in their organizations.
“You’ve gotta get your training, your awareness up to speed to know now to build a safe environment.” – Michael Fieldhouse, Social Impact Practice Leader at DXC Technology
“If we really want to be as productive as possible, we need to educate the managers how to interact in a confident manner with people with diverse conditions. It’s really a win-win game, because if we are able to give them the work environment that really makes them productive, and if we can train the managers and the employees on how to interact in a confident manner, we will also allow them to express their full potential in the workplace. This is clearly a business opportunity that we don’t want to miss.” -Yves Veuillet, Global Disability Inclusion Leader at IBM
Real neurodiversity training learner feedback
Organizations report the effects of training that benefit not only their neurodiverse population of their company, but all employees. Commonly reported benefits include:
- Helping companies hire people they would never have hired before through interviewers being more sensitive to their differences.
- Neurodiversity training has been proven to make managers better managers by changing how they think about differences within their team.
- Training boosts acceptance and wellbeing amongst neurodistinct individuals.
- While disclosure shouldn’t always be the ultimate goal, all programs have seen a boost in neurodistinct employees self-disclosing and advocating for their needs at work.
How education drives true neuroinclusion
Neurodiversity training starts with awareness and appreciation – but also extends to more role-specific, tactical instruction. Allowing key roles such as recruiters and HR to implement small, incremental process changes to drive neuroinclusion improves the whole organization.
Some examples include:
- Hiring – there are many common interviewing techniques that are unintentionally excluding neurodiverse talent.
- Employee wellbeing – company culture is the main concern among neurodistinct employees, not ability to perform the job at a high standard.
“You should have better education so that managers know types of accommodations, best practices around how to engage people, how to support them. And not just through the hiring process, but also once they’re within the company so that you can retain neurodivergent talent.” – Danielle Biddick, Senior Advisor, Diversity Talent Acquisition at Dell
Not only is it the right thing to do, but it also improves KPIs
Proactively shaping processes, procedures, and cultures, improving hiring practices, and putting a focus on talent management programs is good for the bottom line.
- Drive retention and productivity – many neurodiversity hiring programs have seen significant retention statistic – over 90% – exceeding norms.
- Attract an untapped talent pool – 85% of autistic employees are unemployed or underemployed.
- Boost innovation through diversity of thought – A Boston Consulting Group study found that companies with more diverse management teams have 19% higher revenues due to innovation.