Neurodiversity exists in our workplaces today. Creating inclusive workplace cultures, embracing the range of neurodiversity, and holding space for neurodivergent individuals are challenges faced by all organizations.

Forward-thinking companies are shaping their organizations into more empathetic, inclusive, and actively engaging places to work. The key to delivering exceptional employee experiences is understanding how communication, perception, processing, and social interactions impact the ways people teams collaborate.

With the right mindset and an inclusive culture benefits platform, a purposefully rich culture of community, inclusivity, and belonging can be achieved.

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What is neurodiversity?

Neurodiversity describes naturally occurring variations in brain functioning that impact how someone interacts with the world around them. These differences can be strengths or challenges.

No two brains function exactly alike. We all traverse divergent pathways toward innovative thinking, effective problem-solving, and collaboration. Neurodiversity seeks to define this range of brain functioning.

Empathetic leaders realize that every brain is different by nature, but none are deficient. Appreciate and empower individual strengths and capabilities already present on your teams. And move beyond tolerating neurodiversity toward celebrating it.

Neurotypical vs. neurodivergent

The difference between “neurotypical” and “neurodivergent” comes down to how a person thinks, feels, and behaves.

Neurotypical refers to individuals whose thinking, feeling, and behavior are generally considered to be consistent with societal norms. Neurotypical brains function similarly to others their age within their culture.

Neurodivergent, on the other hand, is an umbrella term used to describe individuals whose brains work differently from neurotypical people and outside of the typical range. Neurodivergent individuals have different ways of perceiving the world and doing things that are not always understood by neurotypical individuals.

The differences between neurotypical and neurodivergent individuals may present in these areas:

  • Social preferences
  • Learning styles
  • Modes of communicating
  • Ways of perceiving the environment

Neurodivergent individuals have unique qualities and profiles, such as autism spectrum, dyslexia, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), social anxiety, or Tourette syndrome.

Neurotypical and neurodivergent individuals approach tasks in different ways and have different strengths and weaknesses. It is important to recognize and accept the differences between these two groups in order to foster an inclusive and supportive environment.

Neurodivergence is an asset

Neurodivergence is not a barrier to achievement. It is a decided strength.

Our biological diversity, according to Dr. Helen Taylor of Cambridge University, is a significant evolutionary change in which nature selects a minority of us to have specialist thinking skills. By working collaboratively as a group, we are balanced and advantaged by those who are less typical.

Not all neurodivergent individuals have the same strengths, but many share built-in advantages. For example, people with dyslexia tend to be abstract versus linear thinkers, and visualizing helps them to discover hidden connections and recognize patterns missed by others. And people with ADHD may be more creative thinkers and problem solvers than their neurotypical counterparts.

Neurodiversity in the workplace

Around 10-20% of the world’s population is neurodivergent; however, the modern workplace is designed only for people with neurotypical brains.

Most neurodivergent adults (up to 80%)  are unemployed or underemployed relative to their abilities. While many neurodivergent people have higher-than-average capabilities, they may struggle to fit the ideal profiles of prospective employers.

Organizations that fail to prioritize hiring and support for neurodivergent individuals risk losing out on talent to other organizations that provide safe and progressive work environments. Diversity and inclusion are a true priority when it’s an integral part of any organization’s strategy.

Workplaces that are inclusive of neurodivergence translate to happier, more engaged, and more loyal employees.

One surprising outcome of neurodiversity programs in the workplace is that empathetic leaders begin to think more deeply about the individual needs and talents of all employees. Creating psychological safety in the workplace and fostering environments that are inclusive of neurodivergence translate to happier, more engaged, and more loyal employees.

Neurodiversity and inclusion

There are typically three elements of inclusion, particularly in a work environment: belonging, respect, and support.

  • Belonging: perception of acceptance
  • Respect: feeling one is treated with civility
  • Support: is provided the means to achieve one’s full potential

If any of these elements are missing, a workplace is not truly inclusive.

According to Deloitte Insights, “One big benefit of an inclusive work culture is that it fosters diversity of thought, different approaches to work, innovation, and creativity. Research suggests that teams with neurodivergent professionals in some roles can be 30% more productive than those without them.”

Leaders in neurodiversity and inclusion

Sam Farmer, a neurodiversity community self-advocate and individual with autism, shares a vision for lasting workplace neurodiversity. His “CAALE” framework (pronounced kale) establishes basic tenets that anchor most successful neurodiversity programs we’ve examined.

Another neurodivergent individual whose work centers around workplace inclusivity is Lara Schaeffer, Founder of Exceptional in New Jersey and a certified autism specialist.

Schaeffer learned in later adulthood that she is autistic. She offers insights and guidance based on her own professional experiences with neurodivergence in the workplace: “I simply want current and future colleagues to have a baseline knowledge and understanding of autism.”

How to support neurodiversity in the workplace

Here are a few tips from inclusion leaders on supporting neurodiversity in the workplace to create a safe, inclusive environment for all.

Raise awareness

People tend to be afraid of the unknown, and having diverse team members can be intimidating at first; knowledge can correct misconceptions.

Train managers and colleagues on what to expect — everyone should have a basic idea of neurodiversity and how best their team will function to satisfy all needs.

Lara Schaeffer shares: “Being supported and seen means I don’t feel like I need to apologize for my natural tendencies and behaviors, even though I know they are not common or typical in the non-autistic majority. It feels vastly more comfortable and less stressful.”

Create a sense of inclusion and belonging

Encouraging employees to share what makes them unique, along with the things they love. A robust culture strategy says, “we celebrate what makes you, you!”

Empathy can help build stronger relationships and trust in the workplace. Try to understand what another person thinks and feels from their perspective rather than your own.

Create a community where people can be their authentic selves and be treated fairly. Valuing individual contributions ensures people feel aligned with the organization’s mission.

Provide fair accommodations

Accommodations are opportunities to maximize potential and, by extension, loyalty. These can often be simple, inexpensive changes that are not intrusive to others.

Traditional interviewing methods marginalize neurodivergent individuals. Equity in recruitment can be increased by offering non-interview alternatives, allowing for demonstrations of work-related skills, and establishing competency-based assessments.

Focusing on ability rather than conformity can provide neurodivergent employees with an equal opportunity to thrive in an environment of respect and dignity.

Build a supportive and inclusive workplace with Espresa

A diverse and inclusive workplace simultaneously improves employee engagement and happiness — all while demonstrating to the world that your company is a place where people can be without prejudice.

A Lifestyle Spending Account (LSA) demonstrates that you understand your employees and what they want and need. You can use this new understanding to deliver global and flexible wellbeing benefits that are inclusive of all, celebrating the uniqueness of who your people are as individuals.

You can also build community with Espresa’s Employee Resource Groups (ERG) platform, supporting a revolution in Culture Benefits®, inclusion, and actionable insights.

Interested in ways to boost engagement with your entire workforce? Schedule a demo of Espresa today!


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