When organizations look at diversity and inclusion, one area, supporting neurodiversity, is often overlooked. Employees are looking for workplaces where they feel supported as individuals. They want their strengths to be used, their contributions celebrated, and their career goals achieved. Part of an organization’s diversity, equity, inclusion, belonging, and access (DEIBA) strategy includes an intentional approach to honoring such individuality.
The neurodiversity movement has become more mainstream in the past few years as organizations are paying greater attention to the implications of DEIBA for all employees. Simply put, neurodiversity means that not all staff think or feel the same way. Many people’s brains are “wired differently,” and these differences are normal.
A neurotypical person is one whose brain exhibits typical (when compared to the majority of humans) cognitive functioning. A neurodivergent person has less typical cognitive functioning. Autism, ADHD, and dyslexia are the most well-known examples of neurodivergence. Other types include Tourette’s; Down syndrome; and chronic mental health illnesses such as bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, anxiety, and depression.
Three ways to support neurodiversity
Most organizations understand the benefits of neurodiversity by now. According to Deloitte, “research suggests that teams with neurodivergent professionals in some roles can be 30 percent more productive than those without them.” Creativity, innovation, and diverse perspectives are some of the positive outcomes of hiring neurodivergent individuals.
Deloitte also notes that successfully including and integrating neurodivergent individuals in the workplace boosts employee morale. As employers continue to increase their workforce neurodiversity, they must understand how to best support individuals. Here are some practical ways to do so.
Honor people’s preferences.
Giving neurodivergent people the flexibility to create their ideal working environment is the first step to enabling their success in your organization. Being honest about your workplace environment during the hiring process will allow neurodivergent candidates to assess and state their needs. As part of the onboarding process, ask every new hire how they prefer to work. For many neurodivergent individuals, loud and busy workplaces are distracting at the least and even panic-inducing at times.
Some people’s mental health and well-being may depend on connecting with people face-to-face, while others prefer the quiet of a home office to do their best work. And even before hiring someone, ensure that your organization can support their needs.
Get creative about communication.
Animation, video, and flashy visuals are distracting to many with atypical cognitive functioning. Consider eliminating such “digital noise” and keeping all communications visually clean and simple.
Additionally, frequent virtual meetings via Zoom or Teams can cause greater fatigue for some neurodivergent individuals because they require maintaining focus and eye contact for long periods of time. By reducing the total number of meetings, you might also reduce the stress these virtual gatherings place on neurodivergent and neurotypical employees.
Finally, seek to understand how individuals best receive information and tailor communications accordingly. For example, someone may need to read detailed instructions via email, someone else may prefer talking through a process over the phone, and another person may seek a face-to-face meeting to absorb non-verbal messages.
Cultivate interpersonal connections.
Belonging requires a meaningful connection. Like neurotypical individuals, neurodivergent employees want purposeful relationships at work; helping them find these connections makes all the difference in engaging and retaining them.
Educating employees about the differences in social interaction, communication, and interpersonal skills among neurodivergent individuals is one way to create these relational bridges. Ask neurodivergent employees to help lead such conversations for even greater understanding and inclusion. Also, provide opportunities for mentoring and coaching within the neurodiverse employee population. Mentoring and coaching help advance more seasoned individuals’ career goals while creating instant belonging for new talent.
Privacy rules and supporting neurodiversity
Managers and HR professionals should remember that HIPPA laws cover someone’s neurodivergent status. The employee can share the information however they want. But you cannot share information about an employee without their consent. You must treat any neurodivergent employee like neurotypical employees unless the employee asks for accommodation to do their work. Questions around neurodiversity, managing neurodiverse employees, and privacy can be tricky. We are happy to help answer questions.
A Framework for DEI Strategy
Your organization is ready to get serious about Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI). But what does that mean? What departments does that include? How do you start? We’ve prepared this visual tool to help you better understand what’s included in a DEI plan and where you can start.