Neurodiversity Inclusion: Industry leaders reveal their secrets to success at Texthelp's new Boston forum
Texthelp recently hosted its first Boston Forum on Neurodiversity Inclusion, where industry leaders gathered to explore actionable steps toward a more neuro-inclusive future. Featuring speakers from EY, Takeda and Texthelp, as well as academic institutions such as Northeastern University, the forum heard a blend of personal narratives and professional insights that encouraged action from all attendees.
The event was opened by David Yozzi, SVP of Inclusive Workplaces at Texthelp, and Jane Steinmetz, Boston Managing Principal at EY. David explained the motivation behind the forum; to create a space for DEI professionals and people leaders to network, share and learn. Jane shared EY’s commitment to neuro-inclusion and introduced their Neurodiversity Centre of Excellence in Boston.
Erin Williams, a Senior Director at EY, with ADHD and mother to two neurodivergent children, delivered the first presentation, setting the tone for the morning with her enlightening and emotional and personal story. The event continued with a lively panel and audience discussion.
Join us as we unpack the key takeaways from this inspiring gathering.
1. Redefining contribution: The call for value over 'culture fit'
Jamell Mitchell, Global Neurodiverse Center of Excellence Ecosystem Leader at EY, encouraged a different approach to hiring and recruitment.
He stressed the search for ‘contributors’ rather than merely seeking a 'culture fit.' Jammell’s insights highlighted the transformative power of viewing individuals as potential contributors who can add significant value to an organization rather than people who are a ‘good fit’.
Jamell further explained that for businesses to foster sustainable growth in the 21st century, a commitment to innovation and identifying new talent sources is essential. Leading companies are recognizing that neurodivergent talent not only drives innovation but also possesses the exact skills they seek in their workforce.
2. Universal Design and advocacy for inclusive practices
Cheyenne Mason, Assistant Director of DEI at Northeastern University, advocated for the use of Universal Design to create an inclusive approach across all aspects of work and learning.
In education, Universal Design ensures an inclusive environment by considering various learning styles and providing supportive tools and resources. Similarly, in the workplace, Universal Design fosters inclusivity, enabling employees to excel regardless of abilities or working styles.
Cheyenne emphasises the need to follow these principles to create environments that celebrate diversity and maximize success.
3. The impact of COVID-19: technological advances and problem solving approach
Dominique Brewer, US Head of Culture & Engagement at Takeda, spoke on the impact of COVID-19 and the way in which this has prompted a reevaluation of problem-solving approaches and a technological evolution.
The pandemic has accelerated advancements in technology, making tools and software widely accessible and more necessary than ever. An important next step is empowering individuals to utilize these tools without stigma and without creating barriers, such as lengthy accommodation request processes.
4. A barrier-free approach to inclusion
Chris Grous, Business Development Director at Texthelp, talked about his own journey with ADHD and went on to focus on the necessity of a barrier-free approach to inclusion - ensuring that "all means all" in neurodiversity initiatives.
Recognizing that around 76% of employees may never fully disclose their neurodivergent conditions at work, he stressed the importance of providing initiatives, support, and technology without barriers.
This fosters an inclusive environment where everyone can benefit, aligning with Jamell's insight on EY’s approach. At EY, Texthelp's Read&Write software is available to all employees - eliminating the need for disclosure, complex IT requests or extensive paperwork.
5. Challenges and intersectionality: insights on cultural implications
Cheyenne from Northeastern University spoke about the complexity of neurodiversity inclusion, explaining that some individuals may hesitate to share their neurodivergent condition due to the fear of facing societal barriers - a concept known as intersectionality.
She emphasized that factors like race or gender can influence an individual's comfort in disclosing neurodivergence. This underscores the importance of fostering an inclusive environment that recognizes and supports diverse experiences, considering the intersectionality of identities.
6. Cost of Inaction: a perspective on embracing action
Jamell further explained the Return on Investment (ROI) of neurodiversity inclusion, citing EY's extensive research and data that support significant business benefits linked to fostering neurodiversity and cultivating a diverse workforce.
However, he raised an even more crucial concept - the "Cost of Inaction" (COI). When it comes to creating a neurodiversity program or strategy, opting for inaction may seem like the easiest and most risk free option. However, this choice can lead to significantly greater costs in the long run.
Choosing the path of inaction raises the risk of lower productivity levels, losing talented employees, and facing lawsuits because of compliance related issues.
As the discussion came to a close, the call for businesses to take immediate action in advancing neurodiversity inclusion became clear for success. Current research shows that 1 in 5 people are neurodivergent. However, we are seeing a significant shift with over 50% of Gen Z identifying as neurodivergent which presents an exceptional pool of talent who will shape our workplaces.
In preparation for this, companies must proactively incorporate neurodivergent individuals into their strategies to future-proof their business. They need to recognize that embracing neurodiversity is not only a moral obligation but a strategic investment in unlocking innovation, creativity, and success.
On that note, Texthelp and EY reveal new plans to establish a Boston Neurodiversity Community Accelerator. This initiative aims to create a network of local businesses, government entities, academic institutions, and providers, all united by a shared commitment to meaningful inclusion accelerated by neurodiversity.