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  • Writer's pictureRohit Sharma

Neurodiversity: Celebrating Natural Variations in the Workplace

Updated: Mar 21

Written by Neeli Clute, FitPro Wellbeing Speaker

One of the most powerful attributes of our mind is its uniqueness paired with the innate ability to specialize.

Neurodiversity is a concept that celebrates the natural variations in the human brain. Based on the idea of biodiversity, it is recognized that we need diversity in our culture to not only survive, but to thrive. 

“At its most fundamental level, neurodiversity refers to the diversity in cognition, emotion and sensory perception that we in Psychology would normally term ‘individual differences.” -Nancy Doyle, professor and  co-director for the Centre for Neurodiversity at Work at Birkbeck, University of London

In all honesty, we all are neurodiverse in some way.

We think, feel, and experience the world in different ways.  The term “neurodiverse,” however, has been adopted by advocates to recognize the inherent strengths of individual differences rather than the disability associated with the term used in medical settings of “intellectual disability.”  

Neurodiversity encompasses a range of conditions such as autism, ADHD, dyslexia, and more. At its core, It's about understanding and appreciating that differences in brain function are a natural part of human diversity, much like differences in gender, race, or culture.

What is being discovered is that people with neurological differences historically labeled as “disabled”, actually have extraordinary skills, including pattern recognition, memory, and mathematics. Yet they often struggle to fit the profiles sought by employers.  While they have specialized skills in particular areas, the hiring process often excludes these individuals because of antiquated industrial revolution era practices.  

Overlapping Skills and Strengths of Neurodiversity created by Nancy Doyle (based on work by Mary Colley)

A growing number of companies have reformed their HR processes in order to access neurodiverse talent—and are seeing productivity gains, quality improvement, boosts in innovative capabilities, and increased employee engagement as a result.

The company most recognized as the pioneer in this field is SAP, a global tech giant that implemented a talent acquisition program in 2007 called “Autism at work.”  Other companies such as Virgin, Ford,  and Microsoft followed suit, recognizing neurodiversity as an untapped talent pool where as many as 80% of individuals are unemployed.   Nick Wilson, a managing director at Hewlett Packard, has been quoted as saying that no other initiative has produced more benefits at so many levels.

As word spreads, recruiting neurodiverse talent is increasingly seen as a competitive advantage and rapidly growing in popularity throughout innovative technology, finance and defense industries.

It’s likely that someone you have worked with is Neurodiverse

One in five individuals in our population have been diagnosed and 90% of these diversities are not visible.  The actual number is likely much higher, but difficult to estimate because of nondisclosure.   Fear of ableist attitudes often keeps them from sharing their diagnoses to avoid the stigma. Ableism is discrimination in favor of non-disabled and neurotypical people.

It is also likely that many are unaware they are neurodiverse, but simply feel the way they move through the world is different.  Highly capable people are often undiagnosed as children and do not recognize the source of their differences until they are in their 20’s, 30’s, or older.   As public awareness is raised by neurodivergent social media influencers, many have come to understand that their brain simply works differently than the norm.  These differences are often skills that are extremely valuable in a team that incorporates their specialist thinking skills with more general neurotypical skills.

Extreme genius almost inevitably comes with some extreme weakness, but since SAP started their program it has become clear that if traditional hiring practices are shifted away from things such as interviews and work sample testing is used instead, these individuals thrive in their role.  They simply need a different type of doorway to the job.

The barriers are real

Overall, employers have limited understanding of neurodivergence, have received limited training, and many are unlikely to want to employ neuro-minorities. Up to 50% of managers admit they would be uncomfortable hiring a neurodivergent person according to a report by the Institute of Leadership & Management.  

That reticence comes at a great loss to the workplace

“It is worth remembering that neurodivergent thinkers typically express creativity, problem-solving skills and innovation in greater quantity to neurotypicals (Boot et al., 2020; Carlotta Zanaboni Dina et al., 2017). Such abilities are noted in the World Economic Forum’s ‘Skills for the 21st Century’ report (World Economic Forum, 2020) as lacking across the workforce. So understanding how to personalize working conditions and create cultures in which a wider range of neurotypes can thrive is a key mission for employers.” -Nancy Doyle

As we move into an era that is paying more attention to DEI and the benefits that minority groups offer to progress, it is well worth the time to increase understanding of neurodiversity in the workplace as well as other marginalized groups and implement a more inclusive culture. 

Work culture is pivotal in recruiting and retaining talent

Even if a neurodivergent individual navigates successfully through the barriers of hiring, working in an environment that was not designed with flexibility for different minds is exhausting. Many "mask" which is defined as actions or coping strategies that individuals use to conceal their genuine thoughts, emotions, or challenges. Feeling like a fish out of water, many simply leave the corporate world.

Those like Richard Branson, the founder of Virgin, credit their incredible success to their neurodiversity. Branson believes his dyslexia, which gives him the ability to think creatively and approach problems differently was the source of his success. The Virgin Group now consists of more than 40 companies across five business sectors and five continents.

Being an employee at a company who wins awards as the best place to work, is an individual that thrives.  An individual that thrives also propels the company they work for toward success. Not only does both the company and the employees benefit from the creativity of new ideas, but they also benefit financially and culturally. 

Rather than seeing inclusive work environments as special treatment for the few, designing them as safe, flexible, and supportive spaces for everyone benefits all.


This article originally appeared on Brain Boss Suite's blog on February 27, 2024 written by Neeli Clute.

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