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Supporting and Promoting Neurodiversity in the Workplace 

The corporate world has only recently begun to recognize the importance of considering neurodiversity as an expansion of standard Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility (DEIA) policies, but these changes are rapidly becoming more common. Neurodiversity initiatives have been spearheaded by prominent corporations such as SAP, Microsoft, JPMorgan Chase, and others, who have updated their internal policies in order to recruit and retain more neurodiverse talent. Many companies who have successfully implemented neurodiversity policies have seen increases in employee engagement, as well as gains in revenue, productivity, and innovation. Broadly speaking, neurodiversity policies are intended to strategically modify recruiting, hiring, and evaluation processes to reduce internal bias and increase corporate inclusivity. Successful neurodiversity policies can help recruiters and managers learn to critically consider and appreciate the talents and skills of all employees, resulting in more equitable hiring, retention, and promotion. However, there are important considerations to bear in mind when designing corporate content and policies aimed at promoting and supporting workplace neurodiversity.  

What is Neurodiversity?

The term neurodiversity refers to the idea that natural genetic variability drives neurological and cognitive differences across individuals, including differences in personality and cognitive functioning, as well as conditions such as ADHD, Dyslexia, Tourette’s Syndrome, and autism spectrum disorders. Neurodiversity provides a biological explanation for interpersonal differences we observe in our daily lives; some of us are creative and some are more structured and analytical, and some of us prefer to focus on one task at a time while others enjoy managing multiple ongoing projects.  

Promoting and Supporting Workplace Neurodiversity 

1. Use precise and accurate language in corporate content, including job postings and requirements   

Consider the typical job application process and the candidates who are most likely to be considered traditionally “successful” applicants. Does this group include candidates with a wide range of cognitive skills and abilities? Various implicit barriers in job applications may hinder neurodiverse candidates from applying, or from being considered for positions if they do apply. Generic blanket statements in job descriptions and other corporate forms may confuse otherwise straightforward instructions, making requirements unclear. For example, many job postings include a basic requirement of “excellent verbal and written communication skills,” as it is often assumed that most applicants will possess this trait. However, this is not always the case for neurodiverse individuals, some of whom may struggle to speak, write, or maintain eye contact.  

The requirement for excellent communication skills may be most relevant to customer-facing roles, and in some cases could be removed or re-prioritized for certain jobs with less client interaction. Differences in communication styles can also significantly impact the perceived performance of job candidates. In interviews, social behaviors such as eye contact, making small talk, and speaking clearly and confidently can be pivotal to success. Educate your employees about neurodiversity and inclusive workplace practices. Unconscious bias trainings can also help reduce workplace stigma and remove implicit barriers in corporate practices, including hiring and content creation.  

2. Reframe the problem from individual to environmental  

Create a work environment that is accessible and supportive to all. Rather than trying to hire neurodiverse talent to improve organizational diversity metrics or meet an arbitrary quota, consider potential workplace barriers that can be removed to help all employees thrive. Improving application requirements and interview practices can increase accessibility and equality in hiring. Designing tailored career journeys for individuals of all skillsets and ability levels will promote equitable employee retention across all levels of your organization.   

3. Engage with the community, employees, and experts 

Implementing a workplace neurodiversity policy means making a change to your organization’s culture. Research disability inclusion to learn about empirically supported measures you can take to support neurodiverse individuals. Talk to your local community, including employees, to learn about their values and concerns. Furthermore, employers should also consider and reaching out to programs such as EARN (Employer Assistance and Resource Network on Disability Inclusion), and OAR (Organization for Autism Research) before implementing new neurodiversity policies. Collectively, these practices may help to encourage and support organizational neurodiversity without singling out individual employees.  

Adding Neurodiversity Policies to Your DE+I Strategy 

Neurodiversity is common, but often overlooked as an important element of a successful and healthy workforce. Research suggests that over 10% of the population is in some way neurodivergent, but the typical workplace often does not accommodate a broad range of neurological and cognitive abilities. 

Organizational workplace neurodiversity policies and trainings can help provide more equitable opportunities within your organization. Moreover, increasing neurodiversity within your workforce can be beneficial to revenue, productivity, and employee satisfaction. Small adjustments to the workplace may make significant differences in the experience of neurodivergent employees, allowing them to thrive in their careers and more effectively contribute to organizational success.  

If you’re looking for assistance in building inclusive policies at your organization, consider reaching out to our DE+I experts – we can help you prioritize organizational impact by focusing on awareness, intentional action, and accountability. 

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Contributions from Emily M. LaFrance, Ph.D, and Vishnu Avva 

Tags: Diversity + Inclusion, Organizational Effectiveness, Leadership