In a nice win-win situation in a year full of lose-lose ones, all sorts of diversity improvements in the workplace not only help employees feel more empowered and included, but it also adds to employee retention and a bigger bottom line, in almost all cases. Cultural diversity, age diversity, and diversity in workplace habits are all things that should be discussed and cherished in the workplace, and another form of diversity that can lead to a stronger company is neurodiversity. Recognition of the importance of neurodiversity in the workplace is rising.
Neurodiversity is recognition and acceptance of the variation and differences in neurological structures and function that exist in humans. A large part of improving this kind of diversity’s general acceptance is an understanding that there is no “normal” when it comes to thought processes, and that is okay!
Everyone learns differently, everyone teaches differently, and everyone retains information for different periods of time. When any group starts to view these differing strategies as right or wrong, the group, as a whole, becomes less empowered, less motivated, and ultimately less productive. Here are a few ways to ensure neurodiversity in your workplace is strong and recognized.
Share the Benefits
As far as diversity in the workplace goes, neurodiversity is certainly one of the less talked about. A neurodiverse workplace doesn’t just show a more open and morally sound company culture to those people who work within it, but it also shows that to the outside world, including potential customers. Being able to work with a variety of people within the confines of work, means being able to market to a variety of people successfully, outside those confines (i.e. your customer base).
Michael Kiener, PhD, a professor of rehabilitation counselling and the director of the rehabilitation counselling program at Maryville University states, “People who have autism, Tourette’s syndrome, dyslexia, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder are examples of neurodiverse individuals. Neurodiverse individuals have a skill set in work tasks that require concentration, attention to detail, mathematics, and inferential reasoning.”
A strong company belief that everyone brings something to the table will have an effect on everyone’s overall view, and in most cases that result in a higher work ethic and better performance. Kiener adds, “A neurodiversity perspective views disability as a valued difference rather than a deficit to be cured. Having a neurodiverse workforce has multiple benefits including increased financial independence (for the individuals hired), access to an untapped talent pool, increased workforce diversity, and higher job retention rates than non-disabled employees.”
Putting your money where your mouth is, is also very important when trying to usher in a new level of acceptance for a given sector of diversity. Though some smaller companies simply cannot field these positions, many large companies can offer jobs to those with cognitive disabilities, truly showing acceptance and appreciation across the breadth of neurological capabilities. Hearing input from these employees and offering the same respects that everyone else receives shows both the coworkers and customers that you mean business when discussing neurodiversity.
Accommodations can also stem to physical access needs, and empowering your employees should always be point number one when considering diversity.
Like any diversity initiative, training, and a steady frequency of training, are important to make sure everyone “gets on board” with whatever a new initiative may be. Regarding neurodiversity, training should begin with recognition of different levels of neurodiversity, appreciation of those levels, and positive feedback about people at any level. Empowering employees to speak up about any neurological differences they may have with one another is a great way to start to live the diversity in neurology that you are preaching with the training.
Training can also extend to personalized sessions, and if your company has a large enough HR department, regularly scheduled meetings with individuals who may be nervous about their neurological diversities can share and build their confidence in these private meetings so they can eventually feel comfortable sharing with the entire team.
No diversity training programs should be one-and-done situations. Whether racial, cultural, neuro or otherwise, these initiatives have to be genuine and repeated. Resources must exist for further education, and management must show a real commitment to the initiatives to be successful. When these initiatives are successful, the business improves!
Andrew Deen has been a consultant for startups in almost every industry from retail to medical devices and everything in between. He is currently writing a book about scaling up business and his experience implementing lean methodology.