Neurodivergent employees- including those who are autistic, dyslexic, or have ADHD – have much to offer the professional world. Because our brains work differently, we are able to provide unique perspectives, out-of-the-box thinking, and valuable insights on work organization and well-being. Unfortunately, many organizations lack emotional inclusion and flexibility. An estimated 30 to 40% of neurodivergent people are unemployed, and those who are employed often face a “leadership ceiling,” which bars access to professional opportunities.
We know that a neurodiverse workforce is critical when it comes to innovation, so as you begin a job search and seek to grow your career, it’s even more important to put your unique gifts on display. When you commit to sharing your authentic self, the things that make you special (and that benefit your organization) are more apparent, bringing you more opportunities for professional success.
(To learn more about this topic, check out the Fast Company article this newsletter edition is based on, which I co-wrote with Ludmila Praslova, Ph.D., SHRM-SCP, Âû and Caroline Stokes, CEC, PCC.)
Seek out those who embrace neurodiversity
Not all jobs are created equal. While many organizations lag behind when it comes to neurodiversity, there are others who actively welcome and recruit a neurodiverse workforce. Some companies will list a commitment to neurodiversity in the company’s DEI mission, but others go further. Companies like Microsoft and Chevron have their own neurodiversity hiring programs and some organizations like Auticon and Specialisterne are implementing hiring pipelines for neurodivergent people. Students at the University of Connecticut benefit from its nationwide employment pipeline that includes opportunities with organizations like KPMG, Travelers, and Wells Fargo. With opportunities like this, you have more freedom to drop the mask and share your true self with the hiring managers, as the odds are greater that they will be more open to what a neurodivergent person can offer.
Even if the company has an explicit commitment to neurodiversity, it’s still important to do your research about what it’s really like to work there. Reach out to any contacts you have to get an insider’s view and consult anonymous review sites like Glassdoor for unfiltered insight into company culture and employee experience. For access to more opportunities, you can create your own pathway by networking with other neurodivergent people that share your interests. LinkedIn is a great place to start, with groups for autistic professionals, neurodivergent creatives, and neurodivergent (non)networking.
Create your own career path
While it may help you to seek out neurodivergent-friendly workplaces, don’t feel like you have to limit your search. Many neurodivergent professionals thrive in the “mainstream” workplace, and workplace experience in the same organization can vary dramatically between units and teams. If your interests lie outside of neurodiversity hiring programs, you can (and should) still pursue your passion!
Neurodiversity employment within organizations
If you find yourself in a mainstream workplace, you may be able to develop your position at work by matching your strengths to the organization’s growth needs. Because neurodivergent people offer a unique perspective and innovative thinking, you may be able to craft a position that greatly benefits your employer and is fulfilling to you. You’re more likely to find career success if you authentically communicate your needs and emphasize the value you can bring to the company. Not every organization is strategically ready for this creative approach, but keep searching for a work environment that welcomes what you can bring.
Neurodiversity employment outside organizations
Many neurodivergent people also thrive as entrepreneurs. Adults with ADHD are three times more likely to start their own business, and 35% of entrepreneurs are dyslexic (compared to 20% of the corporate workforce). As an entrepreneur, you have the opportunity to build systems that allow you to focus on your strengths and minimize your weaknesses. This means being honest and open with yourself; what would help you succeed in your business? What unique services or insights can you offer? One word of caution: if you decide to pursue this route, remember that self-employment has its own unique challenges, including income instability and the lack of organization-supported benefits.
You don’t have to do it alone
It’s important for all people – neurodivergent or not – to have some kind of a support system. Most neurodivergent people feel the need to mask on occasion, but it is vital to have people in your life who understand you and accept you for who you are. Because neurodivergence is a unique experience, it is important to select your mentors, therapists, coaches, and friends wisely. While of course neurodivergent people should have neurotypical friends, it can be very helpful to find a community of fellow neurodivergent people. Finding those who understand your experience can go a long way toward discerning the best path forward, both personally and professionally.
If you don’t know any neurodivergent people, you can find them through organizations such as ADDA for ADHD individuals, ASAN, or AANE for autistic individuals. In the United States, people who received a neurodivergent diagnosis before the age of 26 have access to local and federal resources that support the employment and life skill-building process after high school and/or college. For those without the privilege of a childhood diagnosis, local and private organizations may have resources, and institutions like AWN and university resources are often more inclusive.
Therapists and coaches can be helpful, but make sure to vet them in the same way you would a job opportunity. Neurodivergent people often leave counseling and coaching because they feel that their lived experience is gaslit, denied, or otherwise misunderstood. If possible, try to find a coach or a therapist with lived neurodivergent experience, who may be better equipped to help you to process challenging circumstances and navigate change. When meeting with a new coach or therapist – neurodivergent or not – it’s important to avoid masking and to bring your full self to any sessions you have with them. If you want them to be truly helpful, they need to know the real you.
Entering the workforce as a neurodivergent young professional can feel intimidating, but you aren’t alone. Thousands of people like you successfully create the careers and lives of their dreams every day, and you can too. Embrace your identity and your purpose, let your authentic self shine through, and you will find the network and community that will allow you to thrive in your professional life. .