We as business leaders spend a lot of time considering how we can provide robust employment experiences to all employees, no matter their skin color, gender identity, sexual orientation or ability. It’s our duty to do so, and an effort many of us are set on improving.
But we don’t often discuss how our workplaces impact people with neurodevelopmental differences. I’d like to take a moment to do that today, to shed light on a topic integral to the DEI discussion and consider how we as employers can do better.
What is neurodiversity?
I’d like to think I can do justice to the term “neurodiversity,” but perhaps we should call in a couple of experts.
In an article for Harvard Health Publishing, Dr. Nicole Baumer and Dr. Julia Fresh hashed out the meaning of the term. “Neurodiversity 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.”
John Elder Robison, the Neurodiversity Scholar in Residence at the College of William & Mary, described his perception of neurodiversity as an autistic adult in an article for Psychology Today.
“To me, neurodiversity is the idea that neurological differences like autism and ADHD are the result of normal, natural variation in the human genome,” Robison wrote. “This represents a new and fundamentally different way of looking at conditions that were traditionally pathologized; it’s a viewpoint that is not universally accepted, although it is increasingly supported by science.”
Better workplaces, better work
How does the concept of neurodiversity translate to the workplace? A few high-profile businesses have committed to increasing neurodiversity among their ranks, experimenting with the best ways to provide neurodivergent folks — a community that encapsulates many — a great employment experience.
One of the best and most visible examples of such employers is SAP, a German IT and software company that pioneered Autism at Work. The program, launched in 2013, is designed to embrace neurodivergent workers by championing the unique gifts and skills they bring to the table.
“At SAP, we don’t ask our employees to change what makes them unique, we embrace it,” the company says on its website. “We want our employees to know they can be themselves at work and that we value their authentic identities. We encourage all of our employees to bring everything they are and become everything they want every day.”
The strategy has appeared to pay off in more ways than one. The corporation told the Wall Street Journal that its Autism at Work program boasts a 90% retention rate among employees on the autism spectrum. Take that, Great Resignation.
Nix rigidity and make change happen
Employers may not need to launch a global program to grow in diversity and inclusion of the neurodivergent community. In fact, we can start by stepping away from rigid practices that may eliminate neurodivergent applicants from our candidate pools.
For instance: Your company may want a candidate to charm her way to a job offer in an interview. But a candidate with autism may have trouble, for example, looking you in the eye while she explains her strengths and weaknesses. The same candidate, however, could wow you with her coding abilities and huge capacity for information retention.
The point is simple. Don’t throw out excellent candidates because they don’t fit the corporate norm. Instead of hunting for candidates who conform to accepted social standards, assess candidates for skills that are important to the role you’re hiring for. My point is this: We need to celebrate people for who they are by assessing them for their strengths and matching them with roles that cater to their capabilities.
To find out how PeopleBest can help your team embrace neurodiversity, book a demo and set up a time to chat with one of our specialists.
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