In today's ever-evolving corporate landscape, diversity and inclusion have become integral to the success and sustainability of any organization. One facet of this diversity is neurodiversity, which encompasses individuals with a range of differences such as autism, ADHD, sensory processing disorders, dyslexia (as well as dyspraxia, dyscalculia, and dysgraphia), and more.
Driven by both genetic and environmental factors, an estimated 15-20% of the world's population exhibits some form of neurodivergence. Notably, neurodivergent conditions are overrepresented in STEM fields. This is because neurodiverse individuals tend to have a greater aptitude for “systemizing” the world around them, which translates into skillsets that are necessary to perform successfully in many STEM fields.
In fact, people with neurological differences often possess many unique strengths that make them a valuable asset to employers. Because neurodiverse people are “wired” differently, they may offer new perspectives and ideas — including ways to improve products or processes.
For example, one article described how a neurodiverse software tester observed that a client’s project always seemed to go into crisis mode before a launch. Intolerant of disorder, they questioned the company’s apparent acceptance of the chaos, which ultimately led their team to successfully redesign the launch process.
Despite their strengths, neurodiverse individuals can find it challenging to work in traditional work settings. According to the University of Connecticut, unemployment for neurodivergent adults runs at least as high as 30% - 40%, which is three times the rate for people with disability, and eight times the rate for people without disability.
Neurodiverse employees may also struggle to feel accepted in the workplace. In fact, one of the biggest challenges that these individuals experience at work is bias and prejudice, which can lead to discrimination. That’s why companies that are committed to fostering an inclusive workplace must take proactive steps to support neurodiverse employees.
However, in a new study from isolved, nearly 1 out of 5 neurodiverse employees said they don’t feel adequately supported by their organization. Fortunately, many employers — including Google, Microsoft, and Wells Fargo — are focusing on turning this around. For example, there’s the Neurodiversity @ Work Employer Roundtable, a group of nearly 50 companies with neurodiversity hiring programs and support systems in place for new employees.
In today’s article, I’ll explore 5 strategies that companies can employ to create an environment where neurodiverse individuals can thrive. Let’s take a look.
1. Promote Education and Awareness
According to isolved, the top 2 things neurodiverse would like their companies to do is create more awareness and provide more resources. Undoubtedly, the journey to inclusivity begins with education — and companies should invest in educating all employees about neurodiversity. By promoting awareness and understanding, organizations can break down stereotypes and reduce stigmas, creating a more supportive atmosphere.
Companies also need to invest in training programs to help all employees work effectively with neurodiverse colleagues. These programs should focus on empathy, understanding, and effective communication, promoting a harmonious workplace. And don’t forget to include your HR teams and leaders in any training initiatives — according to one study, only a third of HR professionals and 29% of senior leaders have had specific training related to neurodiversity.
2. Offer Neurodiversity ERGs
Isolved’s research also highlights that many neurodiverse workers would like their employers to offer support groups. Encouraging the formation of Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) dedicated to neurodiversity can provide a sense of community and support for these employees. ERGs offer a platform for sharing experiences and insights to improve the workplace.
At Ubisoft, for example, the company’s Neurodiversity ERG offers a wide range of programs, communication channels, and events. The ERG also works hand-in-hand with company leadership to ensure they know what their neurodiverse team members need or would benefit from. This level of support also helps the company recruit and retain neurodiverse individuals, since they know their voices will be heard.
3. Create Sensory-Friendly Workspaces
Creating a comfortable and accommodating work environment is crucial, since neurodiverse individuals can be hypersensitive to visual stimuli, audio stimuli or light. Employers can provide sensory-friendly workspaces that minimize triggers like harsh lighting, bright colors, loud noises, or strong odors. They should also create quiet areas where neurodiverse employees can work without distractions.
If adjusting the workplace isn’t possible, companies should consider offering resources such as noise-canceling headphones or earplugs, fidget tools, or ergonomic/adjustable workstations to help employees manage sensory challenges. Other suggestions include relocating an employee’s office, desk, or workspace to an area with less traffic, rotating an employee’s desk away from any distractions, and providing alternative lighting.
4. Allow Tailored Accommodations
Each neurodiverse employee is different, and their needs will vary. Companies should work with individuals to identify specific accommodations, which may include alternative communication methods such as written instructions and visual aids. In addition, employers may need to allow employees additional time for tasks. They should also ensure they offer assistive technology, for example, screen readers or speech-to-text software, to aid with job tasks.
Neurodiverse employees may also benefit from flexible work arrangements. Offering options such as flexible hours, part-time schedules, job-sharing, or permitting more frequent breaks allows individuals to tailor their work to suit their unique needs. Allowing remote work can be especially helpful to reduce sensory overload and facilitate a more comfortable environment.
5. Improve the Hiring Process
There are a variety of ways companies can tailor the hiring process to accommodate neurodiverse individuals. First, it’s important to craft job descriptions that are clear, concise, and free from jargon. Companies should also provide alternative application methods for neurodiverse candidates, such as video submissions or skills assessments, in addition to traditional application processes.
Regarding interviews, employers should provide training to recruiters and interviewers on neurodiversity, the specific needs and strengths of neurodiverse individuals, and inclusive interview techniques. It’s also a good idea to offer a quiet and sensory-friendly interview space for neurodiverse candidates, and allow for extended interview times to accommodate potential challenges they may face in processing questions or responses.
Microsoft is one employer leading the way with inclusive hiring practices for neurodiverse individuals. Through their Neurodiversity Hiring Program, applicants engage in an extended interview process that focuses on workability, interview preparation, and skill assessment.
A better path forward
Companies that actively support neurodiverse employees not only adhere to principles of social responsibility but also stand to gain from the diverse talents and perspectives that these individuals bring to the workplace. By adopting inclusive practices, promoting understanding, and offering tailored accommodations, organizations can create an environment where neurodiverse employees can excel and contribute to the company's success. Fostering inclusion is not just a corporate responsibility; it is a powerful catalyst for innovation and growth.
Thanks for reading — be sure to join the conversation on LinkedIn and let me know your thoughts on this topic!