Today many companies have come around to enforce gender and sexuality diversity at their workplace. Now it’s the turn to understand what the concept of neurodiversity is and why it is also important to have differently-thinking people at a company. Some companies have already started promoting this movement and we believe that these cases sound really inspiring for others to take the importance of neurodiversity for consideration.


About The Concept Of Neurodiversity

First of all, what does the term neurodiversity mean, if we put it simple? It is understood as a range of different deviations in individual brain function and behavioral traits, considered to be a part of normal variation in the human population. It relates to ADHD, autism, dyslexia syndromes. Neurodiversity is also a categorization of identity, overlooked in the workplace, which can’t be found in the routine working environment of majority of companies, made of noisy group work, close eye contacts and overstimulating settings. All this is possible to overcome onlly by «neurotypical» people.

But when a person has some trouble with social interaction with unfamiliar people, especially while going through an interview, he or she is pressed to answer questions honestly to the extent, when it is hard to understand where a degree of honesty is. For example, there are several tips of how to make a neurodivergent feel comfortable at work, that can be found on the official website of National Autistic Society.

All these feelings every neurodivergent meets are vividly illustrated by the National Autistic Society’s film, which shows an autistic man undergo a number of job interviews, where HR-managers don’t empathy about the challenges he or wider – all neurodivergents are facing. According to The Guardian, only «16% of autistic adults are in full-time paid work, and only 32% are in some kind of paid work».

But let’s try to understand how people, relating to this special group, can apply their unique treats in contributing collaborative work.

A Benefit, Not A Soft Spot

People, who have autism, Asperger’s, dyspraxia and dyslexia, may struggle with certain social interactions, but increasing numbers of companies admit they have unique skills and abilities as a workforce. Consider GCHQ’s (the Government Communications Headquarters) neurodiversity programme as an example.

Nurturing more than 300 neurodivergent employees, it strongly believes that these individuals «might have qualities that are deemed a strength rather than a condition». And this strength can be anything: phenomenal logic or maths skills,  photographic memory or the ability to make problem-solving an easy and efficient process. As Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett from The Guardian confesses: «While it’s important not to get too preoccupied with what you might call Rain Man syndrome – the belief that all people with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) have some kind of savant quality; this is a stereotype that, as the sister of a severely autistic brother, I find intensely frustrating – it is heartening to see workplaces adopting a nuanced approach to autism».

Neurodivergent Workforce As A Business Case

Not many companies invite neurodivergent individuals to work. For example in the beginning of May Yahoo announced its new Neurodiversity Employee Resource Group (ERG), established to help this special social group be sincere about what they are good at and what their main challenges are. Based on this feedback, Yahoo chose the best working place to fit their special needs. The ERG was spearheaded by Margaux Joffe, Yahoo’s head of production, who has ADHD and founded an empowering community for women with ADHD named The Kaleidoscope Society.

«This goes way beyond the personal, and there is absolutely a business case for embracing neurodiversity at work», – Joffe tells Fast Company. She comments what does it mean to implement neurodiversity at such a large company, that haven’t had such an experience before. «It took me one year to disclose my condition, as I wanted to be able to prove myself free of any additional bias. Once I came out to my boss [about having ADHD] and told him I wanted to launch an employee resource group for neurodiversity, he supported it 100%. Many times, the only thing holding us back is thinking we need to work like others. Build on your strengths and be fearless. This goes for everyone».

Another example of a person, who is committed to embracing differences at work, is Bay Area autistic aikido entrepreneur, author, educator speaker, transdisciplinary scholar Nick Walker. In his blog ‘Neurocosmopolitanism’ he writes: «The greater the diversity of the pool of available minds, the greater the diversity of perspectives, talents, and ways of thinking–and thus the greater the probability of generating an original insight, solution, or creative contribution».

BBC is another example of a workplace, open for neurodiversity. There Leena Haque and Sean Gilroy set up Project Cape (Creating a Positive Environment), aimed to improve the support given to neurodivergent employees, as well as highlighting their skills and talents. Below you can see Project Cape’s immersive film.

Haque has autism and because of that she found it really hard to find employment, even with the help of her prestige high education – she owns degrees from Durham University and the LSE. «It was hard to get into work and then to find the right level of support and understanding once in work. Line managers and colleagues may have heard of autism, but the level of understanding and empathy with what this actually means for me is often what was missing», – she says.

Anyhow, the situation’s changed, when she joined the BBC. She admits: «The training scheme I joined had made appropriate allowances and adjustments to the recruitment process, although it was still challenging for me. The training scheme also provided additional support for me once I started and I was able to disclose my condition, but I could see there was room for improvement, particularly for people who had neurodivergent conditions».

Because of the significant help Haque received when she entered the company, she decided to promote such an initiative, via launching a special project. With her colleagues, she’s made BBC a warm place for neurodivergent individuals. The project also improved accessibility at BBC MediaCityUK Salford, and run special workshops, as well as takes part in the Design Manchester festival, where people explore the ideas how to help neurodiverse people.

More Than Altruism

The thing is that this whole idea is not about an altruistic duty to hire neurodivergent people, that can be treated as a part of a corporate social responsibility. But it is about the ability to value minds of all types. As it is written in the book of American writer Steve Silberman, Neurotribes, which suggests a broader model for acceptance, understanding, and full participation in society for people who think differently.

There are some practical suggestions how to implement the neurodiversity paradigm at work:

  • Introduce the term “neurodiversity” for HR-managers, in order to make neurodivergent individuals feel comfortable when they enter your office for an interview;
  • Give them a choice: to work in an open space or a quite private place;
  • Discover the roles, which rely less on linear thinking, and introduce them to your new employee;
  • Make mental health challenges less taboo by establishing regular support circles on burnout, self-esteem, sleep, boundaries, and communication;
  • Encourage nature walks at lunch time.

Providing logistical support is also very encouraging. For example, you can make free food and transport. As Joffe from Yahoo says: «My advice to neurodivergent employees is to learn as much as you can about how your mind works in order to design your daily life accordingly and be able to effectively communicate what you need at work and at home. I lived with undiagnosed ADHD for 29 years, so the diagnosis alone has helped me tremendously in my career. Simply understanding how my mind works differently, I’ve been able to let go of how I thought I should do things and accept myself for who I am».

It’s also necessary not to be afraid of speaking out about the whole range of neurodivergence characteristics and manifestation. For example, such phenomena as autism and ADHD are quite common for the public and in popular culture, but such traits as bipolar disorder, severe anxiety, dyspraxia, or highly sensitive personality (HSP) are less known.

So just as companies have come around to embrace identity along a spectrum of gender and sexuality, the neurodiversity initiative seems to become such an important experience to implement at any workplace. What Yahoo, BBC and other companies are doing in this sense should most likely be considered as a promising start and inspiring example for other companies.

As Madelaine Sayko, president and co-founder of Cognitive Compass, states: «Inclusion for people who are neuro-divergent, or have cognitive disabilities, includes management approaches that address human interaction, technology, culture, and environment. It is not about fixing anyone, its a way of doing business, of empowering the person and the business organization to be successful».

What really does matter in the end of this idea is making people known as neurodivergents feel secure and confident in having a suitable workplace that totally accepts them, promotes their uniqueness and allows them to prosper.

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