Last month we shared a post on LinkedIn with a link to a new guide on neurodiversity. It was, by far, our most widely shared and ‘liked’ post ever.
The guide was from Culture Amp, covering the benefits of hiring neurodiverse individuals and tips to build neuro-inclusion in the workplace.
Perhaps we struck a magical algorithm, but we think the post’s widespread sharing highlights two significant trends.
One is the importance of integrating neuro-inclusion into the strategic focus on diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I). This is part of the increasing intersectional approach to inclusion at work.
Secondly, we think the re-posting by hundreds of people shows the importance of validation and support for those of us (estimates vary between 15 to 30 per cent of the population) who identify as neurodivergent. We want to be understood and acknowledged in the workplace and in the community. We also have a growing awareness of neurodiversity through our relationships as family members, carers, friends, colleagues, and community members who acknowledge and value the diversity of our human brains and minds.
‘We want to be understood and acknowledged in the workplace and in the community.’
Some who re-posted started with this quote from the original report: ‘Only by normalizing the conversation around neurodiversity can we begin to change it.’ One wrote: As someone who has learned to embrace their ADHD and being on the spectrum, I truly, greatly, deeply appreciate this post’. Another said: ‘Being neurodiverse myself, I found this article to be uplifting.’
We know we’d struck a chord of promise when one shared: ‘I live in hope that the world is changing, and workplaces are seeing the benefits neurodiverse staff bring outweigh the perceived negatives.’
Australian sociologist Judy Singer coined the term neurodiversity in the late 1990s. The term ‘describes the idea that people experience and interact with the world around them in many different ways; there is no one “right” way of thinking, learning, and behaving, and differences are not viewed as deficits,’ according to Harvard Health.
There’s increasing evidence that, when embraced at work, neurodiverse individuals help drive creativity and innovation because they approach tasks differently. Deloitte recently cited research showing that ‘teams with neurodivergent professionals in some roles can be 30% more productive than those without them.’
Most workplace processes and norms advantage dominant majorities, including dominant neurotypes or neurotypical people. Our table below shows some actions employers can take to strengthen their neuro-affirming approach. These actions are part of creating a culture of psychological safety for everyone. When we develop diversity and inclusion strategies or provide education to leaders, we integrate these neuro-affirming practices to help achieve more inclusive workplaces.
‘When we develop diversity and inclusion strategies or provide education to leaders, we integrate these neuro-affirming practices to help achieve more inclusive workplaces.’
It’s essential to ask team members to share their individual working preferences, needs, and goals. This reduces a reliance on assumptions and unconscious biases.
Some companies go one step further and formalise this by creating an employee ‘user manual’. That’s where team members share their preferred way of working and communication preferences with their leader and colleagues through a ‘user manual’ (which might be as simple as a powerpoint slide in Atlassian’s Team Playbook). Deloitte’s 2023 Global Human Capital Trends highlights the importance of involving all workers in co-creating their own customised work experiences.
A user manual normalises providing specific instructions on how best to collaborate, problem solve and achieve team goals. It can help reduce the anxiety that some individuals feel regarding ‘adjustment’ requests. Shifting terminology from ‘adjustments’ to ‘performance enablers’ is another helpful step.
When we develop diversity and inclusion strategies or provide education to leaders, we integrate these neuro-affirming practices to help achieve more inclusive workplaces.
Actions employers can take to strengthen their neuro-affirming approach
(These ideas, drawing on a range of resources, are shared as a starting point for conversations, recognising that everyone has unique needs and experiences can differ significantly.)
- Provide education for leaders and all employees to build awareness and knowledge of neurodiversity and neuro-inclusion
- Review education programs and communication plans with team representatives who are neurodiverse to identify opportunities to strengthen experiences for neurodiverse employees / make more inclusive for diverse neurotypes
- Create guidance protocols to inform practices for the running of workplace forums, events, workshops, for example having a quiet zone/sensory space(s).
- Write jargon free job advertisements
- Focus the job description on non-negotiable skills, experiences and qualifications required
- Advertise widely (beyond your company’s traditional hiring sources)
- Prior to the interview, ask candidates if they have any specific needs during the interview
- Educate everyone involved in the interview process on accessible and inclusive recruitment practices
- Send out interview questions in advance and provide candidates an outline of what to expect on the day
- Provide the opportunity for candidates to bring a support person to the interview
- Prompt respectfully for further information during the interview
- Consider replacing formal interviews with a series of work-based assessments (as Telstra is doing through its neurodiverse recruitment program)
- Sit next to a candidate rather than in a traditional panel interview style of face-to-face (or ask the candidate where they would prefer to sit)
- Set up an Employee Resource Group (on a virtual platform or in person) which provides a safe space for neurodiverse employees to connect, support each other, and to inform and guide neuro-affirming practices in the workplace
- Provide examples of what supports, environments and options are available to enhance performance, such as flexible working hours, working from home, sensory rooms, noise cancelling headphones, extra movement breaks
- Review organisational policies to support neurodiversity
- Use creative and affirming names for workplace adjustments, such as ‘performance enablers’
- Try to give advance notice if plans are changing and provide a reason for the change
- Provide pre-reads and where possible, an agenda, in advance of meetings
- Follow up calls or virtual meetings with an email that reinforces the message, or send notes or a recording of the call
- Provide clear instruction on a task to be completed. Avoid idioms, metaphors and figurative language
- Avoid language that ‘others’ neurodivergent people, such as using ‘superpower’ terms to describe an area of strength. This minimises challenges faced and may infer they need to be exceptional.
- Encourage all employees to create ‘user manuals’
Deloitte: A Rising Tide lifts all boats: Creating a better work environment for all by embracing neurodiversity
If you’d like to read the original LinkedIn post, you can find it here.
Nature Careers Podcast: Neuroscientist Chantel Prat, ‘Understanding the difference between the mind and the brain’, Nature.com