By Mystie Johnson-Foote, MD, MBA

In our corporate environment, organizations that want to remain at the forefront of their industries are re-tooling their hiring practices to address Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) more effectively. Most often when we think of DEI, we consider things like race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, age, disability, religion, and more. Now, an increasing number of businesses are specifically addressing neurodiversity in their hiring practices as well.

What is neurodiversity in the workplace? It considers that neurological differences, such as autism, ADHD, dyslexia, and other conditions, should be recognized and respected as a natural variation of human neurology. However, incorporating neurodiverse individuals into a mainstream business culture is a complex endeavor that many are not ready to explore. So, the question is, are organizations missing out when they pass on a neurodiverse individual? That’s a big question and the answer is complicated.  

This topic is personal to me because my stepson, Michael, is 21 years old and is neurodiverse. Specifically, he has been diagnosed with autism, ADHD, and anxiety. It sounds like a big load, but it’s important to realize that not everything shows up all at once. He enjoys, sometimes obsesses over, video games and collecting different gaming consoles. Michael is motivated to earn money for completing household chores so he can get another game. He can self-manage for a few hours on his own as long as everything is routine. He doesn’t respond well to stress and reacts when something goes out of routine. For instance, once the dog threw up in the house while we were out running errands and Michael’s anxiety kicked in. Over the next 10-minute period Michael peppered us with a dozen text messages and phone calls. Does this sound like your next hire? Most businesses, even entry-level, say no. However, given an opportunity and the right environment, Michael is responsive to direction and demonstrates exceptional attention to detail.  Once he is shown how to complete a task, he will do it over and over again without compromising the quality. Michael simply needs clear and concise directions and someone who is immediately available if something doesn’t go according to plan. 

While embracing neurodiversity can lead to increased innovation, creativity, and problem-solving abilities of teams, each neurodiverse individual has different needs, so they must be considered based on their unique abilities and how those abilities fit the organization’s goals. 

Deepening both self and social awareness is critical to effectively lead a neurodiverse organization. The neurodiverse individual likely won’t see the world the same way as their leader. Recognizing individual communication styles requires the leader to be self-aware and to be able to self-manage.

Here are some practices that can help to successfully incorporate neurodiversity in the workplace:

  • Customized onboarding and training for neurodiverse employees, considering their individual needs and preferences.
  • Mentoring or peer support programs to help neurodiverse employees integrate into the workplace and develop their skills.
  • Reasonable workplace accommodations to meet the specific needs of neurodiverse employees, such as sensory-friendly workspaces, noise-canceling headphones, flexible work hours, assistive technology, or communication aids.
  • Awareness programs for all employees to foster understanding and acceptance of neurodiversity. Encouraging open communication between neurodiverse employees and their colleagues to promote a culture of respect and empathy.
  • Individualized development plans that focus on their strengths, set clear goals and provide regular feedback to help employees grow and succeed.
  • Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) that provide a support network, shared experiences, and offer input on company policies and practices. 

Additionally, you may just find that offering neurodiverse individuals a chance brings unexpected results for your organization and community as well. For instance:

  • Employees and customers increasingly expect companies to be inclusive and demonstrate a commitment to diversity. Businesses that are perceived as inclusive are more likely to attract and retain both employees and customers.
  • As more companies successfully integrate neurodiverse employees into their workforce, their success stories encourage additional businesses to follow suit.
  • Inclusive hiring practices can lead to higher job satisfaction among all employees, as they see their workplaces as fair and accommodating. This, in turn, can boost productivity and reduce turnover.
  • Organizations can receive support and guidance from advocacy groups, nonprofits, and government agencies that can help businesses navigate the process of accommodating neurodiverse employees.

The bottom line?

Companies that are proactive in embracing neurodiversity in the workplace can benefit from a more diverse and talented workforce, improved innovation and problem-solving capabilities, and a positive public image that contributes to their overall success and growth. The key is to prepare in advance for the new challenges they will experience as a result.  

Neurodiversity shows up in many ways. While it will look different in every organization, and Michael may not be your next ideal hire, your organization will no doubt benefit by considering how you support all employees to be at their best every day.

If you feel you could benefit from additional HR or Talent expertise to address your DEI challenges, we’d love to talk. Contact us for a no-obligation, free consultation by clicking this link: Innovative Connections or calling us at 970-279-3330.

Our mission is to give voice and action to an emerging future. As a partner in your success, we would love to help you find your voice, see your vision, and imagine what the right action could be for you, your team, and your organization.