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How to Incorporate Neurodiversity in DEIB Programming

How to Incorporate Neurodiversity in DEIB Programming

Following an exhaustive DEIB blog series — which was tied to our popular eBook, Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging: A Playbook for Measuring DEIB and Action Planning — we have focused our writing on different perspectives in this space. One such investigation looked at holding space in DEIB programming for men’s perspectives — not a historically marginalized group, but one that is crucial for ensuring that organizational DEIB strategies succeed.

For this blog, we wanted to look at neurodiversity in DEIB programming. Neurodiversity refers to the different ways our brains are wired and process information. It describes alternative thinking styles such as dyslexia, dyspraxia, dyscalculia, autism, and ADHD. Approximately 15-20% of the population has a neurological difference, which means organizations need strategies in place to empower neurodiverse people to be their best selves at work. 

Given the size and importance of this population, we want to look at ways organizations can nurture and inspire neurodiverse people, thereby fostering neuroinclusivity across the entire employee lifecycle.

Defining Neurodiversity

Neurodiversity refers to the different ways people's brains process information. It's often used as an umbrella term to describe individuals that identify as dyslexic, dyspraxic, dyscalculic, ADHD, or autistic. However, it's not exclusive to those neurological differences. People with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), for example, might identify as being neurodiverse. Additionally, the neurodiversity movement is moving away from a purely medical model, meaning we’re trying to think about neurodiversity, not in terms of deficits and disorders, but rather as accepting neurodiversity and neurodivergent individuals as we would any other form of diversity such as race, gender, and sexual orientation.

The Importance of Recognizing Neurodiversity in the Workplace

Awareness and understanding of neurodiversity continue to grow. More people are talking about neurodiversity in 2023 than ever before, so there’s a greater comfort level with the term. Per new case statistics, 20% of the population is neurodivergent, so the prevalence is significant. If your organization is supporting neurodiversity, research shows that you're going to have increased levels of productivity, increased levels of well-being, and increased reputational standards. On top of that, in the United States, United Kingdom, and EU, there are legal requirements that must be met, as neurodiversity is covered by various pieces of disability and civil rights legislation in those regions. 

The Different Types of Neurodiversity

Some neurological differences that might be classified under the heading of neurodiversity include dyslexia, dyspraxia, dyscalculia, ADHD, and autism. Individuals can undergo assessments for these conditions and receive official diagnoses. However, some individuals might identify as any of those without necessarily receiving a formal diagnosis. As a best practice, it shouldn’t matter if someone has received a formal diagnosis or not. Organizations should make the extra effort to ensure these people can not only work without barriers but also thrive in the workplace.

Everyday Challenges in the Workplace

Across all neurological differences, individuals frequently report that their working memory is impacted. “Working memory” refers to how quickly an individual can process information and do something with it, like taking notes. Areas in which neurodiverse people might experience challenges include organization, scheduling, and literacy-based skills like reading and writing, including actually getting one’s thoughts down on a piece of paper. 

Significant differences in interpretation and communication may exist between neurodiverse and neurotypical individuals. Concentration and focus can also be affected, especially if someone has sensory sensitivities or deals with a concentration-impairing condition like ADHD. Filtering out external distractions, noise, light, and sound can be more challenging for many neurodiverse people. 

General Strategies for Managing Neurodiverse Individuals

When it comes to their neurodiverse employees, managers should begin by avoiding unhelpful assumptions. Although neurodiverse employees may share some common characteristics, everyone's experience is completely unique. Support comes in different forms and some employees may need more than others. It comes down to listening to what an individual employee is experiencing and then identifying actions to mitigate or reduce barriers. 

This could be as simple as following up a discussion with an email to ensure messages and resulting actions are clearly understood. It could also entail a 10-minute meeting at the beginning of the week to help  someone prioritize tasks to avoid challenges with time management and deadlines. Another helpful tactic might involve encouraging an employee whose performance is impaired by distracting stimuli to turn off their Slack or Teams notifications. In any event, support starts with listening to your people.

Helping Neurodiverse Employees

In addition to dealing with all these workplace challenges directly — by removing or minimizing distractions for affected individuals — organizations must pay attention to employee development and social skills since those are frequently impacted by conditions associated with neurodiversity. It’s important not to make assumptions based solely on a single diagnosis, as there is a good deal of co-occurrence. For example, someone diagnosed with autism might have traits of dyslexia as well. In order to develop and retain the “whole person,” organizations must use multiple channels to listen to that person and their experience. 

Different approaches to processing information will work for different people. Breaking tasks down into smaller subtasks can help neurodiverse individuals determine where to start with big projects. Some individuals can’t have any visual distractions whatsoever; anything that appears on screen is going to distract them. Noise-canceling headphones are good for blocking out external audio distractions. Modern phones and computers have built-in accessibility features, and this assistive technology can be a quick, easy way to help with reading a piece of text for comprehension or checking for errors when proofreading. Dictation tools can be used in lieu of keyboards or other cumbersome input devices. 

The Value of Neurodiverse Employees

Many organizations continue to struggle with skills gaps in their workforces, and neurodivergent people represent a largely untapped talent pool. Once an organization develops a neuroinclusive recruitment practice and begins assessing people based on skills, strengths, and what they need to do in the role, they will often find people who can fulfill that role. Microsoft, for example, is actively recruiting neurodivergent individuals as part of its larger diversity and inclusion efforts.

Collecting Data on Neurodiversity

Employee listening, like HR data collection more generally, benefits from gathering the most specific information available. However, lingering stigma may prevent some employees from identifying as neurodiverse on surveys. There is a sound basis for their concern, as some organizations still refer to neurodiversity as a disability, at least as far as data collection goes. Many neurodivergent individuals wouldn’t identify as a person with a disability. Much of this comes down to how organizations word the questions intended to elicit the data they are trying to collect. 

Being more inclusive of neurodiversity will encourage people to read survey prompts and perhaps self-identify. Many organizations talk about collecting data on neurodiversity in terms of disclosure, which may strike some respondents as a negative-sounding word. Avoid this by positioning your data collection as coming from a place of support, care, and psychological safety. 

Most organization data about neurodiversity is collected through the application process. Sometimes this data is collected through recruitment, but most individuals won’t share this information at the recruitment stage because they’re worried about discrimination and being passed over for the job. Onboarding could serve as another opportunity to remind people there’s considerable neuroinclusive support within the organization.

Neurodiversity and Leadership

Traditional views around leadership development don’t necessarily facilitate the training and promotion of neurodiverse leaders. Future organizational leaders are often the loudest people in the room or people who exude charisma, criteria which can exclude otherwise well-qualified neurodiverse people. However, research shows that neurodiverse people can excel in leadership roles. Neurodiverse leaders can demonstrate impressive levels of objectivity and critical distance, which enables them to move beyond merely conforming to what people want them to say — for the purposes of coming across as likable — in order to actually do the right things for the team and organization. 

Listening Can Accelerate DEIB Progress for All

A thoughtful employee listening and action plan, including finding more ways to listen to and amplify the voices of neurodiverse people, is just one component of a comprehensive DEIB journey. Perceptyx can help you develop and track the right metrics to understand how DEIB fits into your employee experience and drive continuous improvement over time. Schedule a meeting with a member of our team today to learn more.

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