Neurodiversity Inclusion: Leaders share how to Unlock Potential & Maximize Success

Texthelp’s second annual workplace inclusion forum came to a close on May 7th in New York City with an inspiring discussion on neurodiversity inclusion to “Unlock Potential & Maximize Success”. We heard from a diverse panel and speakers from Columbia Business School, Texthelp, SAP, Spotify, EY, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, Unilever, and Be My Eyes.

Taking place at the Ritz Carlton NoMad, the exclusive event brought together inclusion leaders and senior DE&I and HR professionals passionate about creating an inclusive workplace. With a mix of both personal and professional opinions on neurodiversity best practices, attendees were left inspired to continue the pledge to inclusion.

Want to catch up on the full insights? Watch the event recording here! In the meantime, we've gathered some key takeaways below:

The evolving neurodiverse workforce

Evelyn Espinal, Unilever’s former Global Head of DEI, shared her experience navigating the professional world with ADHD and Dyslexia and highlighted the prevalence of undiagnosed individuals. Currently, 15-20% of people are neurodivergent, yet a staggering 76% of workers choose not to disclose this at work. While workplaces are advancing in fostering neurodiversity-accepting cultures, many individuals still lack an official diagnosis to receive support and additional accommodations. This raises the question: How can workplaces ensure comprehensive support for all employees?

Martin McKay, Texthelp's CEO & Founder, noted that although 53% of Gen Z now identify as neurodiverse, the disclosure gap is still significant in the workplace, with many hesitant to share this information due to fear of career limitations and stigma. In order to reduce the risk of missing out on supporting those who need it most, the solution is to implement neuroinclusive accommodations as standard practice from the outset.

This was echoed by Evelyn’s insights into onboarding processes that remove the need for an official diagnosis. Transparency about available accommodations and responding to support requests with empathy, rather than skepticism, are vital. This prompts reflection on the inclusivity of onboarding procedures and support for neurodivergent individuals in the workplace.

Moran Cerf, Professor of neuroscience and business at Columbia University, further contributed by highlighting that Gen Z and millennials make up 38% of the current workforce, which is predicted to rise to 58% within the next five years. This reflects the need to adapt to the evolving needs of today and tomorrow's neurodiverse workers. Elizabeth Nieto, Spotify's former Global Head of Equity and Impact, shared their effective approach to retaining Gen Z talent, emphasizing a leadership style rooted in openness, honesty, and prioritizing wellbeing.

Specialized neurodiversity programs

With statistics indicating that 53% of Gen Z now identify as neurodiverse, Hiren Shukla, EY's Global Neurodiversity Leader, predicted that this trend will likely continue with the next generation, Gen Alpha, potentially reaching 70% or more. To address this, initiatives like EY’s Neurodiverse Center of Excellence and SAP’s Global Autism at Work Program aim to create supportive work environments from day one.

Sarah Loucks, SAP's Autism at Work Global Lead, elaborated on SAP’s program, explaining that it was inspired by research demonstrating how children with autism can thrive in inclusive environments with appropriate support and technology. This goes beyond corporate social responsibility (CSR), recognizing these programs and technologies as strategic necessities for ensuring future success.

Leveraging technology to unlock potential

Partnerships on the route to neuroinclusion were emphasized by Hiren, who highlighted EY’s collaboration with Texthelp and how they have provide tools like Read&Write to their entire workforce. Texthelp’s tools have helped over 250 million individuals work to their unique strengths, including CEO Martin, who spoke about his personal experience with Dyslexia. Martin emphasized the need for business leaders to understand the transformative power of assistive technology, which not only enhances visual acuity but also simplifies cognitive tasks, reduces cognitive load and streamlines productivity.

The panel agreed that while assistive technology is essential for some, it offers benefits for all employees. By making such support standard from the outset, the need for disclosure is minimized, bridging the gap for those who may not feel comfortable sharing their condition or have yet to receive a diagnosis. Theresa Torres, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York's Chief Diversity Officer, shared their decision to implement Texthelp’s Read&Write software company-wide, showcasing a commitment to inclusion that moves beyond disclosure.

Broader implications of technology in future-proofing businesses were highlighted by Evelyn, noting its benefits not only for neurodiverse individuals but also for those with physical disabilities. As 80% of disabilities are acquired between the ages of 18 and 64, assistive technology can prepare workplaces with support to protect their team today while future-proofing workplaces for the next generation.

Christian Erfurt, Co-Founnder of By My Eyes, highlighted the transformative impact of technology in enhancing accessibility for the blind and visually impaired. Through innovations like Be My AI, which provides detailed image descriptions, technology is making significant strides towards inclusivity. Christian emphasized that accessible design is simply good design, benefiting all users regardless of ability.

Neurodiversity inclusion for innovation

Harnessing the power of neurodiversity has emerged as a strategic imperative for many forward-thinking organizations. Texthelp’s David Yozzi, who shared his personal journey with Dyslexia, emphasized how embracing neurodivergent employees not only enriches cognitive diversity but also fosters a company culture of innovation and productivity. By tapping into their unique strengths and perspectives, companies can gain a competitive edge in today's dynamic business landscape.

SAP’s Chief Diversity Officer, Supriya Jha, challenged the prevailing misconception that neurodiverse talent is inferior. Instead, she urged a shift “from stigma to pride”, emphasizing the untapped potential of these individuals. By reframing neurodiversity as a source of innovation and creativity, organizations can unlock new pathways to success and cultivate a culture of inclusion and belonging. As Hiren explained: “Higher belonging teams are higher performing teams.”

Insights from SAP’s global Autism at Work program were shared by Sarah, which seeks to integrate neurodiverse talent into the workforce. By recognizing and harnessing the unique skills and perspectives of autistic individuals, SAP has not only addressed critical business needs but also contributed to broader societal goals. Through this program, SAP has demonstrated the tangible benefits of embracing neurodiversity, paving the way for other organizations to follow suit.

Hiren highlighted the success of EY’s neurodiversity models, which have generated over $1 billion in value globally. This remarkable achievement not only underscores the business case for inclusivity but also highlights the immense potential of neurodiverse talent. Hiren stressed that inclusivity isn’t just a moral imperative - it’s a business imperative. By fostering a sense of belonging and empowerment, organizations can unleash the full potential of their teams and drive sustainable growth in an increasingly competitive marketplace.

Neuroinclusive hiring & talent management

Theresa underscored the need to challenge conventional hiring practices by providing examples where candidates can be unfairly judged, such as spelling errors on resumes or communication styles in interviews. She raised the importance of providing candidates with interview preparation resources to level the playing field, guiding them on the types of questions they can expect and offering insight into the interview framework to empower them to showcase their abilities effectively.

Elizabeth shared her experiences from the financial services and tech sectors, highlighting the contrasting approaches to talent evaluation. She echoed the need to remove irrelevant social assessments from interview processes, such as eye contact during interviews, emphasizing the need to prioritize specific skill sets over superficial attributes. Citing examples from her tenure at tech companies like Amazon and Spotify, she emphasized the value of diverse skill sets, leading to a more inclusive work environment.

Evelyn explained the critical role of managers in creating neuroinclusive workplaces. She stressed the importance of situational leadership where managers adapt their approach to meet the diverse needs of their teams, guided by specialist training. Examples include recognizing different communication styles and providing flexibility in work arrangements. 

Sarah shared SAP’s comprehensive approach to neurodiversity inclusion, both internally and externally. Highlighting initiatives like the SAP Autism Inclusion Pledge, which aims to create a supportive environment for neurodivergent individuals, she emphasized the power of employee storytelling in raising awareness and fostering a culture that celebrates differences. Citing examples of neurodivergent employees sharing their experiences, she demonstrated how this has helped create a sense of belonging and understanding company-wide.

Cultivating a culture of community 

In nurturing a culture of community, Theresa emphasized the integral role of Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) in advancing the organization's people strategy. She outlined a structured framework guiding ERG initiatives, aligning them with broader organizational goals and highlighting the concerted efforts made to elevate the visibility of ERGs. This included facilitating direct engagement with senior leadership and implementing recognition campaigns to honor their contributions. Integrating ERGs into the fabric of the DE&I team emphasizes their significance in shaping the organization's culture and encourages employee engagement in driving organizational change.

Expanding on this, Evelyn advocated for the recognition of ERG leaders as business leaders within the organization. She emphasized the need to integrate ERG responsibilities into career progression frameworks, linking their contributions to strategic business objectives. Additionally, Evelyn raised the importance of allocating financial resources to ERGs, enabling them to execute impactful initiatives aligned with organizational priorities. By providing ERG leaders with both recognition and resources, Evelyn shed light on their potential to drive meaningful change and foster a culture of inclusion within the organization.

Statistics shared at the event: 

  • 15-20% of the global population is neurodivergent (1 in 5).
  • 76% of neurodivergent employees do not disclose their condition at work.
  • 53% of Gen Z identify as neurodiverse - the next generation
  • Gen Z and millennials currently make up approximately 38% of the global workforce, and this percentage is also expected to rise to 58% by 2030.
  • 80% of disabilities are acquired between the ages of 18 and 64.
  • EY has secured $1 billion+ ROI from solutions and saved 3.5 million+ hours with neurodivergent talent.
  • Texthelp’s tools have supported over 250 million people to work on their unique strengths.
  • 80% of people on the autism spectrum are unemployed.

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