Empowering Neurodiversity at Work: "We must celebrate neurodivergence, not just accept it".

In a world where diversity and inclusion have become essential elements for business success, we must move beyond mere acceptance of neurodivergent employees and toward a culture that celebrates differences. Originally published in HR Magazine, Cathy Donnelly, Texthelp's Chief People Officer, dives into the the increasing need to create neuroinclusive cultures that empower different thinkers and diverse cognitive profiles - such as those with ADHD, Autism, Dyslexia, Dyspraxia and more.

Neurodivergent individuals, including people with ADHD, autism, dyslexia, dyscalculia, dyspraxia and more, make up around 20% of the population. However, two thirds do not disclose this in the workplace. To achieve the full potential of our workforces, we must take a proactive approach to inclusion.

Acceptance vs celebration

Acceptance in the workplace often means recognising neurodivergent employees without fully meeting their needs and truly unleashing their talents into the organisational fabric. It allows them to be present, without feeling entirely comfortable or valued. In contrast, celebration involves recognising and valuing the unique contributions neurodivergent individuals bring to the table.

When we celebrate neurodivergence, we actively seek to understand and leverage the specific skills that neurodivergent individuals can offer, such as hyperfocus, adaptability, complex problem-solving, cognitive flexibility and pattern recognition, to name a few — these are all skills identified by the World Economic Forum as crucial for the future of work.

Moving beyond mere acceptance

Simply accepting neurodivergent employees can perpetuate stigma and isolation. At Texthelp, we surveyed 500 neurodivergent workers and found that 61% experienced stigma in the workplace. Acceptance without celebration can also result in tokenism, where neurodivergent employees are included in numbers but not in meaningful ways. They may be physically present but lack the support and accommodations necessary to contribute effectively. This can lead to frustration, disengagement, and ultimately, high turnover rates.

Celebrating neurodivergence: practical steps for HR

To move from acceptance to celebration, HR professionals must create an environment where neurodivergent employees feel comfortable disclosing their conditions and confident that they will be supported and valued.

  1. Inclusive recruitment Inclusivity starts before your employees do. Rethink recruitment processes to be more inclusive: from reviewing job descriptions to avoiding exclusionary language, offering a list of adjustments during the application process and ensuring that hiring practices are unbiased. Commission an external audit of hiring practices to identify areas for improvement, and be committed to implementing those changes.
  2. Proactive support Provide neuroinclusive support and solutions from day one. This means offering tools and resources that benefit all employees, not just those who disclose a diagnosis. For example, literacy support tools and software can be made available to all employees and job applicants, ensuring that everyone has access to the support they need from the outset.
  3. Training and awareness Implement mandatory neurodiversity training for all employees. This helps raise awareness, challenge stigma and foster a deeper understanding of neurodivergent conditions. A diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) council can be instrumental in offering training sessions around recruiting and managing people with autism, as well as broader disability inclusion workshops.
  4. Celebratory culture Cultivate a workplace culture that celebrates differences. Encourage employees to share their unique strengths, stories and perspectives, and recognise these contributions publicly. Encourage leaders to do the same, and share their vulnerabilities. This not only boosts morale but also sets a standard for inclusivity and innovation.

The future of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

Neuroinclusive cultures are the future of DEI and are crucial for maintaining a competitive edge in business. Research shows that companies championing neurodiversity and disability inclusion see a 28% increase in revenue and a 30% better profit. Inclusive teams make better decisions 87% of the time. By celebrating neurodivergence, we not only create a more inclusive and supportive environment for all employees but also unlock the full potential of our workforce.

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