A growing number of organizations, including Hewlett-Packard Enterprise, Chevron, and Microsoft, have targeted neurodiverse talent, and are seeing major gains in innovation, productivity, and engagement. It’s heartening news for many neurodivergent people, but as with all inclusion efforts, there can be growing pains.
Scientific research and pop culture portrayals of neurodivergent individuals can help us to increase our understanding, but it can be a double-edged sword. Typecasting contradicts neurodiversity as diversity. Most of us can see the sexism in asking “which jobs are most suitable for women,” but are you seeing the ableism in asking “which jobs are most suitable for autistic people”?
Typecasting, no matter how well-meaning, isn’t good for any marginalized group. Here are three things to consider as you create a more inclusive environment where authenticity is celebrated.
Focus on the abilities of the individual
Remember, “neurodivergent” is an umbrella term that covers a wide range of people whose strengths and abilities can vary widely. Research suggests the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-5) continues to have a gender bias when diagnosing conditions like autism and ADHD, meaning that many women remain undiagnosed until adulthood. Due to the prejudice faced by neurodivergent people, many choose not to disclose, while others feel pressured to “mask” at work. All of this means that statistics about job “suitability” may not always be reliable.
While reading up on best practices and understanding the research is certainly beneficial, remember that neurodivergent people are individuals with unique needs and abilities. Allow people to be their most authentic selves, and the answers will come. There is no suitable substitute for lived experience, so don’t forget to do the most important thing you can do to create a more inclusive work environment: ask.
Explore job crafting
Job crafting is an essential tool when it comes to supporting neurodiversity inclusion. In job crafting, employees actively participate in shaping the task, relational, and cognitive components of their jobs, allowing for maximum fit, meaning, and engagement. For some neurodivergent people, job crafting could mean the difference between a fulfilling career and chronic unemployment.
With my graduate students at University of Pennsylvania, I would often use job crafting when talking about how to leverage the diversity within teams and the unique person underneath each job. When individuals engaged in job crafting, the experience was eye-opening and empowering. The act of job crafting is in and of itself an empowering exercise to fit your authentic self into a job you design. (Why try to squash your uniqueness into a box?) Furthermore, job crafting has been shown to improve employee well-being, productivity, and engagement.
Neurodiversity Inclusion in DEI efforts
The topic of neurodiversity is often missing from many DEI efforts. Because of the pressure to mask at work, neurodiversity is not always visible or well-represented in employee populations. However, neurodivergence is extremely common – an estimated 15-20% of the population is neurodivergent – and organizational practitioners can and should integrate neurodiversity as part of their DEI strategies, including support for leadership development and advancement.
True inclusion means being open to other ways of learning, collaborating, and being. Humans are complex, but we all have one thing in common: none of our brains work the same way. Neurodiversity inclusion is unique in that it benefits all members of an organization, neurodivergent or not.
Let’s create environments that encourage everyone to bring their most authentic self to work.
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