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Neuroinclusivity for an Innovative Team

leadership transition Jun 25, 2024

- By Sophie Pinkoski

Diversity and inclusion have been front of mind for many organizations in recent years. While cultural and gender diversity have come to the forefront of DEI conversations, we still have a long way to go when it comes to exploring the true depth of diversity in the workplace. Many voices remain unheard in professional settings. For instance, 85% of autistic individuals in the US are either under, or unemployed.

The continued stigma surrounding neurodivergence means many organizations are missing out on an entire demographic of talent that aren’t reaching their attention.

This demographic falls under an underrepresented corner of DEI: diversity of thought. 

It is difficult to accommodate neurodiversity if you don’t first have a solid understanding of what neurodiversity and neurodivergence really mean. As Ellie Middleton of (un)Masked Community for Neurodivergence puts it, “neurodiversity refers to all of the unique and differing ways in which people can exist, think, process, feel, and act”. The assumption is often that neurodivergence exclusively refers to autistic individuals, when in fact, it covers a wide spectrum of conditions, including ADHD, dyslexia, and OCD. Individuals who fall under this spectrum don’t necessarily align with neurotypical social expectations of how to behave or think. However, their unique thought processes are incredibly valuable for creative thinking, problem solving, and innovation. In fact, organizations who embrace neurodiversity have seen a 30% increase in productivity.  

It’s important to start where your organization is at before implementing your own neuroinclusive practices. Here are ways to mindfully create a neuroinclusive environment for your team: 

Build awareness through bias and neuroinclusivity training—The most effective way to break down the stigma of neurodivergence in the workplace is to raise awareness toward unconscious biases. Certain stereotypes surround neurodivergence, but it is important for teams to understand that everyone experiences their neurodivergence differently. While many neurodivergent individuals thrive with specific skills such as visual thinking, pattern recognition, and repetitive tasks, this will not apply to everyone. Don’t assume every neurodivergent individual is driven by logic-based strengths best suited to science, technology, or math, for instance. Many artistic and creative individuals fall under the same spectrum and express themselves with a very different set of skills.

The more the conversation around neurodiversity can be normalized, the more willing people will be to explore their own diversity of thought.

In a 2018 survey, Deloitte, found that 15 to 20% of people identify as neurodivergent. However, the accuracy of these statistics is difficult to gauge, as many people are reluctant to disclose. On top of this, lack of general awareness means many people go either undiagnosed, or unaware of their neurodivergence entirely. Neuroinclusivity training can break some of these barriers and debunks harmful assumptions.

Create neuroinclusive spaces for everyone to use—Maslow's Hierarchy dictates that individuals require certain needs to be met to both function and stay motivated in their day to day lives. In the case of creating a neuroinclusive space, teams need to feel secure in their sense of safety, belonging, connection, and contribution. Both physical and psychological safety are imperative for such a neuroinclusive space.

It is possible to build a neuroinclusive environment without requiring individuals to disclose their neurodivergence.

Often neurodivergent individuals struggle with overstimulation in their workday. For this reason, adapting to a wide range of sensory needs is key, with accommodations as simple as noise cancelling headphones, or screens with a dark mode setting, or colour filters. Working with the space one already has, a calming de-escalation room can be created that gives everyone the opportunity to recharge when they need a break. A busy office can also be a major distraction for many individuals. In this case, flexibility is key for different work styles that work best for each team member, whether it’s in-office, or working remotely. 

Communicate clearly and concisely—Effective communication is vital in a neuroinclusive workspace. Because interpreting context clues is often a challenge for neurodivergent individuals, providing key information up front is crucial. Avoid vague language and business jargon when directing the team.

Be as clear as possible in a way everyone can understand to avoid misunderstandings.

For example, specify a task’s exact level of importance, only labelling something as “urgent” when absolutely necessary. Transparency about available resources and accommodations also helps to ease individuals into asking for assistance when they need it. 

Offer job interview alternatives—A significant barrier for neurodivergent individuals when entering the workforce is navigating the recruitment process. The traditional candidate selection process often excludes neurodivergent individuals entirely. Starting with the job description, ensure specifics are properly defined between your “must haves” and “nice to haves”, as many individuals are often discouraged from applying if they feel they don’t have every quality listed. Once they have applied for the job, automated algorithms regularly filter out neurodivergent individuals, preventing them from reaching the interview stage. Those that do make it to the interview stage may suffer from social anxiety, or struggle to anticipate the answers interviewers are looking for.

Organizations lose out on valuable talents by unintentionally screening out these individuals before they have the opportunity to prove their capacities.

In order to assess their skills more effectively, it may be prudent to give them alternative options to make them as comfortable as possible within the interview process. Questions can be provided in advance so they can prepare their answers in a more articulate way. The more opportunities they have to showcase their talents, the more likely you will be able to see what they have to offer when they’re at their best.  

Embracing neurodiversity in the workplace is not just a moral imperative, but a strategic advantage. Creating an inclusive environment gets an organization that much closer to unlocking the full potential of its team. Clear communication, tailored accommodations, and equitable hiring practices ensure that each team member can bring their authentic selves into work every day. Once neurodiversity is normalized in the office, organizations can look outside the box and leverage neurodivergent individuals’ unique talents to its benefit. 

Further Reading: 

Neurodiversity And The Workplace, Forbes 

The Power of Mind-Friendly Communities, Rick Hansen Foundation

Neurodiversity in the Workplace: An Untapped Superpower, Korn Ferry 

What Workplaces Misunderstand About Neurodiversity, Time 

Employers Now See Neurodiversity as a Strength in the Workplace. Here's Why, World Economic Forum 

Why It's Important To Embrace Neurodiversity In The Workplace (And How To Do It Effectively), Forbes 

Neuroinclusion At Work, CIPD 

A Rising Tide Lifts All boats: Creating a Better Work Environment for All by Embracing Neurodiversity, Deloitte 


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