Neurodiversity in the Workplace: How Employers Can Provide for the 1 in 5 With a Learning or Thinking Difference

May 16, 2022 | Features, Recent Stories

DEI in the workplace often leaves out neurodiversity and the explicit support of neurodivergent individuals. Organizations must take action to support neurodivergent individuals at work in order to attract and retain talent, reduce the stigma around neurodiversity, and create a workplace and culture where everyone can thrive.

By Yvonne Cowser Yancy

The notion of prioritizing diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace has not only become a more explicit focus for companies in recent years, but also essential elements for retention and recruitment. Often, applicants will voice that working with a diverse range of colleagues and at a company that authentically integrates inclusion into their culture are key factors in their search. Benchmarking the DEI progress (or lack thereof) that companies are making in various ways is therefore critical.

It is also important to acknowledge that the notion of “diversity” is not fixed but evolving and with ample room for more depth. However, with this in mind, DEI in the workplace often leaves out neurodiversity and the explicit support of neurodivergent individuals. Organizations must take action to support neurodivergent individuals at work in order to attract and retain talent, reduce the stigma around neurodiversity, and create a workplace and culture where everyone can thrive.

According to Understood’s “Employee DEI Experience” research, 64% of the surveyed American employees feel their place of work values diversity and shows it in their actions, but only 47% of them saw neurodiversity as an identity trait that was supported by their employer. True, many companies have made notable efforts to better their DEI efforts in recent years. But 1 in 5 employees in the United States has a learning or thinking difference, and workplaces often aren’t shaped for them. In fact, the study found that a concerning 28% of employees indicated not having the right office setup, technology, or tools needed to do their job properly.

Examining this issue more closely, not having the resources needed to perform is, in part, a product of not having a platform where a conversation about these needs is available. This presents a massive challenge for neurodivergent individuals, in particular, as simple support and accommodations – like Zoom meeting transcriptions or a quiet place to work – can help them do their best work.

Without active assistance from human resource departments, hiring managers, and business leaders at the top, companies not only fail to acknowledge or support their neurodivergent employees, but are also likely missing out on hiring neurodivergent employees that are highly qualified for roles they need filled.

There are several simple things employers can do to create true impact and inclusivity for people who learn and think differently:

  • Recognize and address that neurodiversity is likely only one piece of an employee’s intersectional identity. Failing to consider neurodiversity as a factor worth supporting in the workplace, especially considering the stigma neurodivergent thinkers often experience, is often where companies’ DEI efforts fall flat. For example, according to the study, nearly 20% of employees are not aware they can request an accommodation at work should they need one. But of those who have requested one, employed men were roughly 20% more likely to have had the request granted. And on the other hand, Hispanic and Black employees who have asked for an accommodation were denied much more often than their white peers.
  • Create an employee resource group. As a part of your culture efforts consider developing an internal community for your employees, through the creation of an employee resource group or an employee driven space that provides support for employees with a learning and thinking difference. Providing safe spaces for employees to celebrate their wins, discuss their challenges, and share their personal experience can create improved retention and engagement.
  • Continue to address pandemic related disclosures and accommodations. As employees go back to the office, the disclosures many employees made of their learning and thinking difference made during the pandemic cannot be unheard. Recorded video calls, using closed captioning, offering text-to-speech software — these are all accommodations have helped employees working from home, and should continue to be offered in the workplace to support disclosures. As it relates to neurodiversity, these should also include but are not limited to flexible work schedules, additional training time, pre-reads before meetings, and dual written and verbal content.

Fully understanding learning and thinking differences, and how to properly support neurodivergent employees can seem like a daunting task for any employer that wants to get it right. Understood has recently launched its comprehensive DEI workplace program to help employers invest in building inclusive workplaces.

Credit MoMo Production

By breaking down stigma and misconceptions, educating staff, and enhancing the capabilities to implement disability inclusion, this new offering supports Understood long-standing commitment to making workplaces more equitable, supportive, and productive for all. Featuring a self-paced, scalable online training with an evidence-based curriculum, virtual live trainings led by disability inclusion experts, and/or a workplace assessment and action plan support, this program can help any organization fully understand and support invisible disabilities like learning and thinking differences. In fact, nonprofits like the 4A’s (American Association of Advertising Agencies) and Save the Children have already signed on to the program.

If you are an organization structuring or revamping your DEI systems of support, consider how neurodiversity should be better integrated into your efforts. From workplace training programs, to providing platforms that explicitly support neurodivergent employees, everyone will benefit from being more completely understood.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Yvonne leads people, finance, legal, administration teams, as well as Understood’s Workplace program. She brings more than 20 years of experience supporting diverse professionals across multiple industries to her role as CAO and Head of Workplace.

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