Blog Post

How to Be a Champion for Neurodivergent Inclusion

By Mollie Teitelbaum
February 21, 2023

Neurodivergent is a broad term that includes conditions such as Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), Dyslexia, ADHD, Tourette’s Syndrome, and other learning and cognitive differences. Among the global population, it is estimated that up to 20 percent are neurodivergent—meaning that there is an extensive neurodivergent talent pool. Most companies are missing a critical opportunity to build their competitive advantage through intentional strategies to recruit, retain, and advance neurodivergent talent.

This article will provide an overview of how neurodivergent talent experiences inequities in the workplace and offer strategies and competencies to prioritize to build inclusion for neurodivergent talent. The strategies presented have the added benefit of driving a sense of belonging for all employees, including those who are neurotypical.

Neurodivergent Employees Often Lack Inclusion

Research indicates that teams with neurodivergent professionals can be 30 percent more productive than those without them. Yet, unconscious or even intentional bias among leaders and hiring managers toward neurodivergent talent is pervasive. Half of managers admit that they would be uncomfortable hiring a neurodivergent individual; it is likely that this is a low estimate considering the fear of stigma that managers might feel if they reveal their own biases in a survey.

For neurodivergent talent that makes it past the hiring barriers, the workplace environment often presents its own challenges to inclusion. The majority of individuals who are autistic or dyspraxic—60 percent and 55 percent, respectively—report that people in their workplace act in ways that exclude neurodivergent colleagues. Unsurprisingly, for neurotypical employees reflecting on the same prompt, only 29 percent perceive exclusion toward neurodivergent colleagues.

There is a moral imperative for neurotypical employees to keep the lived experiences of neurodivergent professionals top of mind. Small moments of microaggressions and micro-insults may fly below the radar, and neurotypical colleagues and managers may not always notice practices and behaviors that exclude neurodivergent employees.

It is crucial that there are real opportunities for neurodivergent employees to voice their needs and for colleagues and managers to listen intently to their everyday realities so that workplaces can be better environments for all employees.

Replace the Golden Rule with the Platinum Rule

At the heart of inclusion is the platinum rule: “Treat others how they want to be treated.” Notably, this is a tougher imperative to carry out than the golden rule (treating others how you want to be treated). Adhering to the golden rule merely requires that we ask ourselves “Would I want someone to treat me this way?” If the answer is yes, then we proceed. If the answer is no, then we adjust our behavior toward greater empathy, kindness, and flexibility.

The platinum rule, on the other hand, cannot be upheld through mere intuition. Particularly when colleagues’ identities and needs (that might be masked) differ from our own, establishing open communication is the only way to gain the knowledge and understanding that inclusive behavior requires.

For example, consider a neurodivergent professional who expresses that they prefer to stay off-camera in certain meetings because it enables greater focus and more persuasive communication. Although a neurotypical colleague might believe that being on-camera and connecting face-to-face enables more effective communication, they should be careful not to let their own perspective keep them from hearing someone else’s different, equally valid, need, especially if the end goals are more productivity, innovation, and out-of-the-box thinking.

Taking a multidimensional approach to interventions means being responsive to the four types of neurodivergent needs: processing differences, sensory needs, social environment, and communication needs. Small, often cost-free adjustments that are responsive to the needs of neurodivergent talent are necessary, especially in the hybrid realities of the current workplace, to drive engagement and autonomy.

Embrace Universal Design

Being able to provide accommodations when a neurodivergent employee requests it is important, but it is not sufficient to build neurodivergent inclusion. A workplace needs to provide a culture of belonging for all employees, regardless of whether or not they disclose that they are neurodivergent.

One crucial approach to embrace this reality is the principle of universal design. Simply put, universal design is the idea of creating processes to serve the greatest number of individuals. Not only is this approach proactive, but it also lends itself to scalable solutions.

For example, the Centre for Neurodiversity at Work finds that 92 percent of people with a hidden disability want help with memory and concentration. Rather than waiting for these needs to bubble up and impact an employee’s engagement and quality of their work product, companies at the forefront of neurodivergent inclusion proactively provide resources to address these challenges. Onboarding for all employees can easily include training that provides strategies and tools to bolster memory and concentration, important elements of executive functioning. Notably, most, if not all, employees could benefit from such training and demonstrate a higher level of productivity and output in the workplace.

It tends to be the case for all inclusion efforts that what is designed for a particular group or need often serves the greater good. Attentive, responsive, intentional, and flexible workplaces are more efficient and more attractive to talent in the long run. For organizations interested in capturing the best talent, retaining them, and building a diverse leadership pool, building inclusion for neurodivergent talent should be a top priority.

This article features strategies and insights for culture change drawn from the Seramount DEI workshop, “Advocating for Your Neurodivergent Talent.” To learn more about Seramount’s powerful DEI solutions, contact us.  

About the Author

Mollie Headshot
Mollie Teitelbaum
Associate Director, Learning