The business focus on diversity and inclusion is leading to a powerful new concept: Neurodiversity. This strategy is emerging as a business imperative for organizations to create more inclusive workplaces, engage new sources of talent in a tight labor market, and enhance performance in today’s challenging macroeconomic environment.
In 1987, President Reagan recognized March as Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month and since that time companies have made great strides to support neurodivergent employees. Neurodivergence represents the spectrum of variation in cognitive functioning. It is defined as a range of developmental, learning, and mental health conditions, including dyslexia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and autism spectrum disorder (ASD). People with these experiences have unique skills and perspective, yet they are too often excluded from the workforce or underemployed.
Elevating neurodiversity can engage this talent to help companies achieve important benefits. Research suggests that teams with neurodivergent professionals in some roles can be 30% more productive than those without them. Effective inclusion of neurodiversity can improve client trust, engagement, and employee productivity according to a Bank of America Report. And it’s especially critical at a time when nearly 70 percent of employers globally report difficulty in filling open positions.
Action on inclusive workplaces also strengthens company Environmental, Social, Governance (ESG) positioning. ESG goals encompass the social, supporting the workforce and building relationships with the community. Mental health and company diversity are key metrics investors use when measuring the strength of a company’s ESG commitments. Leading companies have implemented targeted strategies to hire, support, retain, and empower neurodivergent employees.
So how do employers better foster workplaces that enable neurodiverse employees to thrive?
The 2022 CHRO Insights series report, conducted by One Mind at Work, interviewed a coalition of Chief Human Resource Officers (CHRO), academics, and DEI consultants across industries to create a resource for leaders to leverage neurodiversity strategy in their organizations.
Evolve hiring processes for neurodiversity. Experts recommend involving existing neurodiverse employees in the hiring process from the start. Intentional hiring practices can open jobs up to neurodiverse individuals for whom traditional interview processes are an obstacle. Skills-based interviews, rather than conventional interviews, can better connect people with the right role. This approach should also be described in clear language in the description of the role and the hiring process. Finally, it’s important to educate recruiters and hiring managers.
Utilize accommodations for neurodivergent people. Accommodations can better support employees with differing needs including differing sensory needs, communication needs, processing differences and social environments. Neurodivergent people often benefit from flexible or hybrid work, in-office accommodations, and agency over their work environment. Once these are in place, highlighting neurodivergent employees can normalize the use of programs and services.
Engage organizational leadership to foster buy-in. Clear communications from leaders can also significantly impact the creation of accessible workspaces. Managers can model transparency around mistakes, share experiences with neurodiversity, and demonstrate commitment to action on inclusive neurodiverse workspaces. Leaders can also build awareness of neurodiversity at all levels and share the work externally in business forums.
Access external resources to effectively engage impacted communities. Companies may need guidance from external experts to design and implement an effective neurodiversity strategy. They can draw on a growing ecosystem of specialist consultations, specialized workplace designs, publications and case studies.
Measure impact to make meaningful progress. Tracking the impact of a neurodiversity strategy is central to aligning the work with organizational goals. Experts recommend conducting internal assessments and engagement surveys to solicit feedback and consider organizational needs to ensure progress over time. What’s more, there is growing support, across leading employers, to include mental health and neurodiversity in ESG metrics. Defining these metrics will hold businesses accountable and promote a happier and healthier workforce. To better support measurement and improvement of workplace initiatives, including neurodiversity, One Mind at Work recently launched the Mental Health at Work Index, in partnership with Colombia University and Ethisphere.
The business environment has changed. With more neurodivergent employees and a renewed focus on mental health, reshaping organizations to be inclusive can be a challenge. But with industry best practices available, companies have the framework to take action. Developing pathways for mental health promotion that centers neurodiversity will create better workplaces and better business.