5 ways to become more consciously inclusive of your neurodivergent colleagues
Did you know that over 1 in 3 people show unconscious bias against people with disabilities including neurodivergences? This is higher than the levels of bias on the basis of gender or race, and can affect the productivity, engagement and wellbeing of your staff.
Unconscious bias. A process that occurs outside of our conscious awareness. It’s rooted in our brain’s automatic processing system. A gut instinct that allows us to make quick decisions. But are we really making informed choices?
When you read the next paragraph, what do you see?
Hello, my name is Alex. I’m a Chief Executive. I’m married. Have two beautiful children. A dog. And a big house in the country.
If we’re honest, many of us visualised a middle-aged, able-bodied, neurotypical, heterosexual white man. But today, we have hundreds of CEOs who don’t fit that mold. Caroline Casey, Valuable 500 (registered blind, female). Sir Richard Branson, Virgin Group (dyslexic). Tim Cook, Apple (LGBTQ+). Rosalind Brewer, Walgreens Boots Alliance (black female). And Nick Vujicic, Life Without Limbs (tetra-amelia syndrome), to name a few.
Our world is rapidly changing. In our modern world, not all biases serve to benefit us and those around us. In the workplace, biases can negatively affect recruitment, retention and promotion of staff. It can lead to poor decision-making and sub-optimal working environments.
Disabled and neurodivergent people, for example, are almost twice as likely to be unemployed as non-disabled or neurotypical people.
Over a third of people tend to think of disabled people as not as productive as everyone else.
A recent report from Deloitte outlined that inclusive cultures are:
- Twice as likely to meet or exceed financial targets
- Three times as likely to be high-performing
- Six times more likely to be innovative and agile
- And, eight times more likely to achieve better business outcomes.
An inclusive culture is where employees feel included. Where they are treated equitably and with respect. Where their unique and authentic self is valued by others. And, they have a sense of connectedness or belonging to a group. It’s where staff feel safe to speak up and are empowered to do their best work.
Since the pandemic, organisations are re-examining the way they do things. They’re more eager than ever to create inclusive work environments where all employees are valued and can achieve their full potential. But, this cultural shift won’t happen overnight. It requires commitment and dedication from everyone in the organisation - from the top down.
How you can create change now?
Here we have identified 5 ways you can become more consciously inclusive of your neurodivergent colleagues.
- Recognise bias exists
"You cannot trace how you came to the belief that there is a lamp on the desk in front of you, or how you detected a trace of irritation in your spouse’s voice on the telephone, or how you managed to avoid a threat on the road before you became consciously aware of it. The mental work that produces impressions, intuitions, and many decisions goes on in silence in our minds." - From the introduction to Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
Having bias doesn’t make you a bad person. Not every bias is negative or hurtful. But, it becomes problematic when we start treating groups of people less favourably than others. Or when we make bad decisions based on our assumptions, our experiences, preferences, education or upbringing.
Bringing awareness to our own biases means questioning our own beliefs and decisions. Even when they ‘feel’ right.
- Learn how to pause
As adults, it is estimated that we make about 35,000 decisions per day. We consciously process around 40 things per second. And, unconsciously process a whopping 11 million things per second. It’s mind boggling! This is exactly why our brains cut corners, Make assumptions and jump to conclusions.
By learning how to pause and take a breath, we give ourselves the chance to assess a situation. Allowing us to tune in to our higher-order thinking before making a decision. Being more responsive and less reactive ultimately helps us make better decisions.
- Increase your awareness
How well do you know yourself? I’m not just talking about what you like, what you don’t like, what you’re good at. I want to know about your thoughts and behaviours. And, how they affect your life and those around you. Self awareness is deep! And, it’s a life-long journey. But, it’s the first step to understanding who you really are and how other people perceive you.
One of the best ways to boost self awareness is to try new things. Step outside of your comfort zone. Give yourself the chance to learn how you act, think and feel in unfamiliar situations. These experiences will help you to gain a new perspective on yourself.
Equally, you could ask people for feedback about yourself. Speak to friends, colleagues, and close companions. Ask them to share their perspective on your attitudes, traits, or behaviours. Sometimes an outside perspective can help you spot negative traits that you weren’t aware of.
- Keep an open mind
"Let yourself be open and life will be easier. A spoon of salt in a glass of water makes the water undrinkable. A spoon of salt in a lake is almost unnoticed." - Buddha Siddhartha.
Our workplaces are more diverse now than ever. We’re all from different backgrounds. Have different lived experiences. Think differently from one another. And, that’s what makes our workplaces so rich with innovative ideas that can be transformative.
By keeping an open mind and practicing empathy we can connect better with the people around us. We can do this by paying close attention to the words people use when interacting with us. Their body language. The feelings that arise within us when we interact with them. Over time, we’ll develop the capacity to accurately sense other people’s emotional experience.
- Don’t be afraid
If you see bias at work, don’t be afraid to speak up. This takes courage. But, unchecked bias and offensive behaviour in the workplace is damaging. It gives the impression that this sort of behaviour is acceptable. It can lead to an unhappy and disengaged workforce. And, when that happens, collaboration and productivity take a dive.
You have the power to encourage positive change. There are different ways to speak up. And different approaches you can take. But, try your best to stay calm and not let your emotions drive your reaction. Take a pause and create an opportunity for dialogue and learning.
When you build these conscious choices into your daily routine, you will become more present in the moment. Giving you more clarity on your attention (your focused awareness) and your intention (your purpose behind what you want). The space, to check for bias and make a different choice. With practice, you will have greater concentration and focus. Improved listening and memory skills. Better conflict resolution. Overall, you will make better decisions.