What is Neurodiversity? While this term may be new to you, neurodiversity has significantly shaped our world. Neurodiversity is a scientific concept that initially arose from brain imaging research in the 1990s. A publication from Harvard Health describes it as “the idea that people experience and interact with the world around them in many different ways; there is no one ‘right’ way of thinking, learning, and behaving, and differences are not viewed as deficits.” This concept was first brought into the public view in the discussion of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). However, the definition has evolved in recent decades to encapsulate the vast complexities and variations in the ways people think, learn, and process information. Now, we understand neurodiversity as an enabling concept that de-stigmatizes the challenges faced by those who are differently abled and promotes cultural values that highlight individuals’ strengths and cultivate improved self-esteem for neurodivergent individuals. To learn more about this topic, we talked with Kimberly Nuss, a neurodivergent Industrial-Organizational Psychologist and founder of Divergent Works Community, about neurodiversity in the workplace, why it is essential, and how organizations can and should embrace it.
1. Why is neurodiversity important in the workplace?
Kim: As I-O (Industrial Organizational) practitioners, there is this notion that we must solve every problem, but sometimes we do not have the answers. It is important to create the space for inclusive conversations to learn from one another and find the best way to move forward. By providing space to ask questions and listen to the voices of others in these needed conversations, we develop empathy, open-mindedness, and understanding. People need to understand neurodiversity and how it impacts so many of us. Approximately 15-20 percent of people are neurodivergent, and that number is only based on those of us who have been diagnosed, so in reality the percentage could be higher. So, it is likely that neurodivergent individuals could be family members, close friends, and coworkers. Thus, we must understand that every neurodivergent has a different path, but more importantly, we must embrace their stories and uniqueness.
People and organizations, in general, should understand that not every neurodivergent is alike, nor do we have the same experiences. By understanding neurodiversity, organizations can better practice inclusion and accessibility. It is essential to acknowledge that neurodivergent people are equally capable but sometimes think differently. This is a superpower and, when harnessed correctly, can be a competitive advantage. Because neurodivergent individuals are hardwired differently, they think outside the box, and often have creative and unique solutions and ideas. In many ways, everyone is differently abled, as our unique experiences shape how we think. Neurodivergent individuals are an untapped talent pool that organizations should embrace and explore.
2. Have you noticed any trends or changes over time in the way organizations approach neurodiversity?
Kim: Quite a bit of progress has been made, especially as organizations have learned to harness the benefits of using technology to accommodate a productive working environment. Larger organizations have been able to take advantage of a variety of advancements in technology to support a more neurodiverse workforce. For example, there are several products and apps that help minimize distractions, which is amazing for people who have ADHD (attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder)! Some organizations have recognized and implemented tools to help employees that experience hyperfocus and/or hypofocus. Other organizations who may not be able to provide the same tools have also implemented effective strategies to support neurodiversity, such as adjusting their hiring practices and offering flexible schedules.
3. How can organizations and leaders be more inclusive of neurodivergent people?
Kim: Currently, the job market is experiencing massive staff shortages, and organizations are struggling to fill open positions. Hiring neurodivergent individuals can help fill positions while creating an inclusive and diverse workplace. About 70-80% of neurodivergent individuals are unemployed. The impact of hiring individuals from this community could have a ripple effect. Something must be done, as so many different minds and individuals want and need work. In a globalized world, organizations need to think differently. Organizations must become receptive to diverse ways of working.
Allowing neurodivergent individuals to express what works for them, what does not, and what they would like to try provides collaboration and potential solutions. My new podcast aims to equip neurodivergent individuals and allies with information and support leadership in understanding how they can best learn and support their workforce. Sometimes, the mind with the problem is typically the best mind for the solution, and if we (neurodivergent individuals) want help and change, we must speak up. Currently many neurodivergent individuals do not have work and there are no systems in place to obtain work. While support cannot rest solely on our shoulders, we can create an allyship with neurotypicals and build a community with those willing to learn and listen.
Resources to Learn More:
For more information on Neurodiversity and the topics discussed, check out these resources:
- Neurodiversity | Divergent Works Community
- Disability: Part of the Equity Equation
- Neurodiversity in the Workplace
Summer Sconyers is a Human Capital Consultant at FMP. She earned her M.S. in Industrial-Organizational Psychology from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. Some of her favorite research areas include organizational change, training and development, employee engagement, and occupational health. In her free time, you will find Summer spending time in nature, listening to music, and volunteering with local animal rescues!
Jamal Cottman joined FMP in January 2022 and is obtaining his M.P.S. in Industrial-Organizational Psychology from George Mason University. Currently, Jamal is working on Barrier and Cultural Analysis projects and DEIA internal initiatives and client projects at FMP. Jamal is from Woodbury, New Jersey and enjoys experiencing culture through food, playing tennis, visiting theme parks, and binge-watching Netflix series.