How to support neurodiversity in the workplace

Over recent years, the benefits of DEI initiatives have finally been getting the attention they deserve. One specific category shines a light on neurodiversity in the workplace which has become a much more openly discussed topic. Improvements in educational support and the transformative use of social media have helped increase more open dialogue, understanding, and sharing of lived experiences. However, despite this greater awareness, there is still significantly more that needs to be done and how to support neurodiversity in the workplace needs to be better understood.

What is neurodiversity?

The term ‘neurodiversity’ embraces the natural variations in human neurology, including neurodivergent conditions like autism, ADHD, dyslexia, and dyspraxia. This list is not exhaustive, as being neurodivergent has a broad membership.

The challenge

It is estimated that approximately 15 to 20% of the population are neurodivergent. Even with this being a significant proportion of the population, the research findings indicate a large difference in employment rates for neurodivergent adults. An article from Culture Amp discussed the statistics for individuals with neurodiversity in the workplace, stating that their unemployment rates are as much as “three times higher than the rate for disabled, and eight times higher than the rate for people without disabilities.” In addition, researchers at Birkbeck University have found that, once they are in the role, 65% of neurodivergent employees fear discrimination from management.

These data underscore the pressing need to prioritize and enhance employment opportunities for neurominorities and ensure they are supported in the workplace. This is particularly needed as

substantial evidence has emerged demonstrating the social and commercial advantages of having a neurodiverse workforce. We live in a world where having employees who are more predisposed to think differently and innovatively is a significant asset.

Despite this, there remains uncertainty around the practicalities of supporting more inclusive recruitment, best practices for talent management solutions, and how to promote the value of neurodiversity on a wide scale. In addition, organizations are unclear on how best to handle supporting neurodiversity in the workplace and how they can enable these fundamental strengths to flourish.

How to support neurodiversity in the workplace

A way to consider this quite complicated initiative and to help facilitate a more inclusive workplace is by looking at the issue from the lens of our ABC model of allyship. This model reflects what we can personally do (but more specifically what hiring managers and leaders can do as they are ultimately the gatekeepers of the selection process) to be more inclusive of others. If we take a deeper look at our own behavior, we can be better prepared when it comes to supporting neurodiversity in the workplace.

Appreciate

The starting point is appreciating that neurodiversity in the workplace is something we all need to actively learn about, as it impacts one in six fellow humans. The experiences of many neurodiverse individuals can vary significantly, and there is sometimes a lack of knowledge and understanding. For some it can have a significant impact on self-esteem and identity throughout their lives, which could lead to discomfort disclosing at work.

This is despite all the overwhelming evidence that neurodiverse individuals have made a disproportionately positive impact on society, business, art, and science. In order to start to facilitate change, we need a baseline of appreciation and knowledge.

  • Try to be learning oriented and understand the experiences of ADHD, dyslexia, dyspraxia, autism, and other neurodiverse conditions and how this can impact the individual’s life. Each is different, and for some interconnected. But by being curious, reading more about the subject, or listening to podcasts for example, you can develop a better foundation for supporting neurodiversity in the workplace.
  • Try to be empathetic and take the time to see things through the perspective of others. Consider what they experience on a day-to-day basis and how it can affect them. Personal experience itself can be the ‘great unlocker’ of empathy, so see how you can learn more from those around you.
  • Be open-minded and question your assumptions. Reconsider what makes someone effective and how people do things, then focus more on the outcomes themselves. Question any internalized norms and your reaction when people do not conform to them, especially if the outcomes are still positive.
Build

This second stage moves from gaining awareness and knowledge to actively building a more supportive workplace for neurodiverse colleagues via our own actions. This stage is more practically oriented and focused on what you can personally do to create a more inclusive climate for neurodiverse colleagues. Individuals in this phase are helping to build an inclusive, fair, and equitable environment for their colleagues by their actions.

  • Flexibility is at the heart of supporting neurodiversity in the workplace. The more we are able to be flexible in our expectations and how we approach work, the better we can support our colleagues and provide them the capacity to deliver at work.
  • Do some proactive relationship building with colleagues outside your network and engage directly with colleagues with a range of experiences. By building connections and hearing different perspectives, you will have a greater capacity to enact and facilitate change.
  • Composure is also needed for supporting neurodiversity in the workplace as any change requires going outside of your comfort zone. Remaining calm and composed is essential to help facilitate greater learning and the opportunity to improve things for the better.  
Champion

The last stage is focused on advocacy. If we want sustained change to happen at a wider organizational level, we need to demonstrate behaviors that go above and beyond simple interactions with others. This stage of supporting neurodiversity in the workplace is about taking that behavioral commitment to another level, creating a climate that supports inclusive behaviors and values. To do this you need to:

  • Act with courage. Taking a stand for what is right, fair, and equitable can feel intimidating. To be an ally of a neurodiverse workforce and help support colleagues where there is inequity, bravery is needed as you will need to convince others who may disagree with you.
  • Champion change to help improve fairness and inclusion for neurodiverse colleagues. Making change happen is not easy, so you will need to maintain a positive attitude in the face of resistance. Change requires energy, effort, and time to make things happen, so sustained effort will need to be applied.
  • Act with accountability and transparency, as it is not just about saying the right things, it’s about doing the right things that advocate improvements. An inclusive climate needs trust and requires holding yourself and others accountable to the standards you espouse.

The benefits of a neurodiverse workforce

By supporting neurodiversity in the workplace, organizations can tap into a wide range of skills, creativity, and problem-solving approaches that may not be present in a neurotypical workforce. This can lead to increased innovation, productivity, and improved decision-making skills.

However, any change requires effort, time, patience, and support. Use the ABCs of the allyship model as a useful roadmap to support neurodiverse colleagues in your organization. While this personal allyship needs to be coupled with wider changes to societal procedures and perceptions, we can use this framework as a call to action that can be the conduit for lasting systemic change.

Championing neurodiversity and emotional intelligence in the workplace

Why is neurodiversity crucial for organizational effectiveness?

Neurodiversity is a term that many of us in the corporate world are becoming familiar with. But what is neurodiversity, and why is an understanding of how to nurture the broad spectrum of talents associated with non-typical thinking styles, so crucial for organizational effectiveness?

In this whitepaper, we aim to shed light on these questions, by bringing together two different, but complementary perspectives on supporting the development of those who fall within this grouping.

Download Now