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4 Min Read

Why Neurodiversity Should Be Part of Your DEIB Program

Nicole Klemp

While the topic of neurodiversity in the workforce is becoming more widely discussed, it’s still a relatively new concept for many DEI and HR practitioners. 

In honor of April being Autism Acceptance Month, the 15Five team hosted a webinar for our HR Superstars Community called “Demystifying Neurodiversity.” 

The talk was hosted by 15Five’s Sr. VP of Community, Adam Weber, and featured an all-star panel that included Cara Pelletier, 15Five Sr. Director, Diversity, Equity, Inclusion & Belonging; Dr. Josh Hammonds, Expert Facilitator and Product Insights Specialist; and 15Five Recruiter, Amanda Suter (aka “Suter the Recruiter”). 

All three panelists identify as neurodivergent and openly shared their own strengths and struggles, along with helpful insights into how employers can support neurodiversity. 

What is neurodiversity?

The term neurodiversity was coined by Australian Sociologist Judy Singer, and refers to the natural variation in the function of the human brain. The neurodiversity paradigm embraces the idea that it’s normal and acceptable for people to have brains that function differently from one another — that there is no single “normal” or “right” way for our brains to work.

Neurological variations can include autism, ADHD, dyslexia, dyspraxia, dyscalculia, dysgraphia, and tics. (Though, Singer proposes that all people are neurodiverse, as no two human brains are exactly the same.)

In the workplace, embracing neurodiversity means being inclusive of neurological differences, including hiring and retaining employees with neuro-variations. 

Helpful terminology

On the webinar, Cara shared a list of the appropriate terms to use when discussing the topic of neurodiversity and neurodivergent individuals. 

These terms include:

  • Neurotypical. Having a style of neurocognitive functioning that falls within the dominant societal standards of “normal.”
  • Neurodivergent. When individuals diverge from societal standards of “normal” neurocognitive functioning, they don’t “have neurodiversity”; they’re neurodivergent or have a neuro difference.
  • Neurominority. A neurominority is a population of neurodivergent people about whom all of the following are true:
    • They all share a similar form of neurodivergence.
    • The form of neurodivergence they share is largely innate and inseparable from who they are.
    • The form of neurodivergence they share is one to which the neurotypical majority tends to respond with some degree of prejudice, misunderstanding, or oppression.
  • Social vs. Medical Model of Disability. 
    • The medical model of disability views disability as a defect that the field of medicine and healthcare professionals must fix. This implies that disabled people have something wrong with them and that disabilities can and should be “cured” by medicine. 
    • The social model of disability frames disability in an environmental context. It’s the belief that individual limitations and differences are not disabilities. Rather, disability is caused by society’s failure to provide appropriate services and adequately meet the needs of disabled people.

Neurodiversity as a competitive advantage

Because neurodivergent people are wired differently from their neurotypical colleagues, they can often bring new perspectives and exceptional skills to an organization. 

Neurodivergent people may display excellence in:

  • Creativity
  • Innovation
  • Hyper-focus
  • Big picture thinking
  • Visual, spatial, and lateral thinking
  • High levels of stamina and productivity 

According to an article in the Harvard Business Review, a growing number of prominent companies have reformed their HR processes to access neurodiverse talent. One of those companies is SAP. 

SAP’s Autism at Work program has reportedly resulted in:

  • Productivity gains
  • Quality improvement
  • Boosts in innovative capabilities
  • Broad increases in employee engagement

SAP’s success is just one example of many companies realizing the benefits of a neurodiverse workforce. A program implemented by JPMorganChase demonstrated 48% higher productivity from a neurodiverse team when compared to a neurotypical team. 

What can HR leaders and managers do to create an inclusive space for neurodiversity?

The neurodiverse population remains a largely untapped talent pool, with an unemployment rate as high as 80%. Even when highly-capable neurodiverse people are working, they are often underemployed. 

An essential point for HR practitioners to understand is that the behaviors of many neurodiverse people run counter to common notions of what makes a good employee (e.g., good communication skills, emotional intelligence, being a “team player,” etc.). Because these criteria are based on neurotypical traits, they systematically exclude neurodiverse people.

The neurodiversity movement aims to replace deficit-based stereotypes of neurominorities with a more balanced valuation of their gifts and needs. For HR and business leaders, Cara recommends:

  • Talking about disability more broadly as part of your DEIB program
  • Teaching your managers how to respond when someone discloses a disability, so they are seen, heard, and valued (Ask them: “How can I support you?”)
  • Ask employees what they need to be successful at work — and believe them.

Get employer resources on the Neurodiversity Hub 

The Neurodiversity Hub offers helpful resources to help you learn and support your efforts to create a more accommodating working environment and inclusive workforce. 

Visit the Hub >