What is Neurodiversity at Work?

Recently, terms like diversity and gender equality have been buzzwords within corporate America, and many employers have gone through great lengths to ensure that they have more racially, culturally, and gender diverse workforces, as well as policies that are more inclusive of “minorities.”

As the business case for diversity and inclusion has become clearer and more evidenced, much of this has rested on the power of so-called “diversity of thought” – the (proven) concept that people with varying experiences and thought processes can contribute different perspectives to their teams that benefit their organizations.

Yet as companies prize and continue to pursue the benefits diversity of thought can bring, one critical contributor has been, until recently, largely unexplored: neurodiversity. 

Neurodiversity refers to the natural diversity of the wiring of the human brain (how people process information differently). While there is no “standard” of the human brain, societies have typically come to label certain thinking styles and traits as “normal,” providing a great disadvantage to everyone who falls outside those established norms.

As a result, neurodistinct (ND) individuals — such as autistic people, dyslexic people, and ADHDers –  often find themselves marginalized in the workplace, despite bringing significant strengths in the way they process information and see the world. Such different perspectives, of course, can be key inputs to a company achieving and harnessing true diversity of thought. 

Due to (until recently) widespread ignorance about neurodiversity at work, many work policies and practices have been created with neurotypical (NT) 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.

When employers allow these barriers to exist within their organizations, they’re not only hurting neurodistinct individuals, but they’re doing a great disservice to their own businesses. Why?

Because there is great benefit in having a workforce that is made up of employees with a wider range of cognitive approaches, perspectives, and problem-solving skills.

How Businesses Benefit from a More Neurodiverse Workforce

Studies show that increased diversity in the workplace sparks innovation, which can accelerate market growth. One national study found that having higher levels of diversity in leadership make businesses 45% more likely to experience market share growth and 70% more likely to capture a new market. And another study showed that companies with more diverse management teams had 19% higher revenue driven from innovation.

Additionally, diversity in the workplace is an important recruitment and employee retention tool for businesses today. More than two-thirds (67%) of prospective employees consider diversity when looking for a new job, and more than half (57%) of current employees say they would like to see their employers increase diversity. Diversity has been shown to be especially important for Millennials who are looking for work.

Today, many companies are starting to realize the benefits of creating more neurodiverse workplaces, and as a result, they are establishing practices, policies, and initiatives within their organizations that will allow them to attract and retain a more neurodistinct individuals.

Taking these steps helps employers:

  • Recruit untapped talent
  • Boost employee well-being and engagement
  • Improve employee retention levels
  • Increase innovation and productivity due to more well-balanced teams
  • Drive up market share and revenue growth
Real Stories from Businesses That Are Doing It Right

One example of a company that has served as an innovative leader in bringing greater neurodiversity and inclusion to the workplace is IBM. The multinational technology company has a group called Neurodiversity@IBM, which exists for the purpose of creating a workplace where all neurological variations are accepted and respected.

IBM’s leadership says the company’s diversity and inclusion policies have been important to their success, as these efforts have helped improve collaborative teamwork, productivity, and innovation.

Some of the steps that IBM has taken to increase neurodiversity within their company include delivering a neurodiversity awareness training program with access available for IBMers across the firm’s global offices, and implementing simple changes to the company’s office environment to better accommodate neurodistinct individuals, such as creating sensory rooms and meditation spaces to help combat sensory overload.

Salesforce, another company that has found success after implementing a neurodiversity program in partnership with Uptimize, started with a hiring program and then expanded to a broader focus, completing retooling the organization’s hiring and management practices to create a more level playing field and supportive environment for neurodistinct applicants and employees.

“Our goal is to eventually have neurodiversity embedded in our hiring practices because our culture will be built to handle the diverse community,” said Jessica Roth, Program Manager in the Office of Accessibility at Salesforce. “Get the training built up, get our resources built up, and then eventually just have that as part of our typical inclusive hiring practices.”

Leadership within Salesforce reported an increase of awareness of neurodiversity within the organization (with more employees proactively asking for training), but also an increase in neurodistinct employees feeling comfortable enough to disclose their neuroidentieis and ask for support where needed.

Learn more about IBM’s and Salesforce’s efforts to increase neurodiversity and inclusion within their organizations.

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For a more comprehensive explanation of the benefits of embracing neurodiversity at work, download our free guide Introduction to Neurodiversity at Work.

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