NeurodiversityLet’s talk about diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility (DEIA) policies and programs in your workplace. If I asked you about the diversity part, and to name the types of differences that might be present within your organization, what would be your answers? I would guess they’d include race, nationality, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, age or socioeconomic background. But what about neurodiversity? 

As a Vida Aventura executive coach, team builder and training facilitator, my DEIA work with clients and organizations has dramatically increased over the last few years, but rarely has neurodiversity entered the conversations. Why do you think that is?


A Young Man Named Will

Two years ago, I had the pleasure of scheduling coaching sessions with a friend’s son—a young adult I’ll call Will—who is highly intelligent, talented, kind, caring, and with a generous spirit and sensitive soul. He was struggling with social skills, task management, procrastination and the lack of motivation. Or so my friend thought. After a tough transition to college last year—and with the help of a therapist—he was recently diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). He is “high-functioning,” which is an unofficial term used for people whose autism symptoms appear mild. 

In working with Will and having further conversations with his mom, I’ve learned so much about neurodiversity, including how many misconceptions there are about it, and just how valuable neurodivergent employees are. I am not alone in my growth. In fact, the number of companies that are ramping up their DEIA policies and programs to include neurodiversity is rapidly growing. 


The Competitive Advantage

In Harvard Business Review’s Neurodiversity as a Competitive Advantage, by Robert D. Austin and Gary P. Pisano, the authors explore how people with neurological conditions have extraordinary skills, including in pattern recognition, memory, and mathematics. Additional points from the article:


      • The incidence of autism in the United States is now 1 in 42 among boys and 1 in 189 among girls, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 
      • Although corporate programs have so far focused primarily on autistic people, it should be possible to extend them to people affected by dyspraxia (a neurologically based physical disorder), dyslexia, ADHD, social anxiety disorders, and other conditions.
      • Those affected often struggle to fit the profiles sought by prospective employers.

Earlier, I mentioned that I’m not alone in my increased awareness of neurodivergence. Here’s an example, as stated in the article:

A growing number of prominent companies have reformed their HR processes in order to access neurodiverse talent; among them are SAP, Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE), Microsoft, Willis Towers Watson, Ford, and EY. Many others, including Caterpillar, Dell Technologies, Deloitte, IBM, JPMorgan Chase, and UBS, have start-up or exploratory efforts under way. We have had extensive access to the neurodiversity programs at SAP, HPE, and Specialisterne (the Danish consulting company that originated such programs) and have also interacted with people at Microsoft, Willis Towers Watson, and EY.

As the authors summarize, “Everyone is to some extent differently abled (an expression favored by many neurodiverse people), because we are all born different and raised differently. Our ways of thinking result from both our inherent “machinery” and the experiences that have “programmed” us.” 

So, why aren’t companies (maybe like yours) tapping into neurodivergent talent? According to the article, there are many reasons, including the fact that many neurodiverse people don’t fit the common notions or assumptions of what makes a “good employee.” I would suspect another reason might be because they “don’t interview well,” or communicate in ways that are considered to be within the confines of typical “interview dos and don’ts.”


Knowledge Is Power

There is so much to learn. And I encourage you, no matter your role or position, to not only read this article, but explore more resources (see below) and how the presence of neurodiversity in any given setting is an advantage. As for my friend Will, he’s doing great. Because of the diagnosis, there are more campus programs and support systems available to him, and his confidence continues to grow. He is pushing new boundaries and stretching himself to be more active and appreciate his gifts and talents. As the saying goes, knowledge is power. And in this instance, it’s especially true … for Will and his family, his community, and people like you and me.

What ideas do you have for a framework for thinking through hiring, screening, and retention strategies for neurodiverse team members? Please share your comments below. 


More resources: 


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Feature image credit: Photo by Vanessa Bucceri on Unsplash


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