Though neurodiversity has recently cropped up more often in books and TV shows, it remains stigmatized and neurodiverse individuals are often marginalized. This is especially true in the workplace, where those whose brains are wired differently are often under- or unemployed. In fact, neurodiverse people are eight times more likely to be unemployed than people without a disability.
And even if neurodiverse folks are hired, they often experience difficulties in the workplace. They may be excluded from social groups, left out during meetings, misunderstood, or set up in an environment that doesn’t suit their needs (too noisy, too unstructured, etc.).
The fact that workplaces can still be unaccommodating, or even hostile, toward neurodivergent employees is a terrible truth, considering:
- Neurodivergent employees have many incredible skills to offer (one study showed that neurodiverse teams outperformed neurotypical teams by 30 percent)
- Neurodiversity is very common (an estimated 1 in 5 people in the U.S. are neurodiverse)
- All people should be respected and set up for success!
How can workplaces support their diverse employees? Let’s talk about 6 methods:
1. Promoting a Culture of Education and Acceptance
One of the most important ways employers can support neurodiverse employees is by creating a workplace culture of acceptance. Creating an inclusive workplace requires education and understanding. It’s important that all employees recognize the value of neurodiversity and don’t view it as a weakness or something to be feared. To ensure this happens, businesses can conduct regular training sessions, deliver presentations, and provide access to informational materials.
2. Gathering Feedback
Checking in regularly with employees about their day-to-day working lives and finding out what would make the workplace better for them is an important way to ensure that businesses are doing their best to accommodate and support their neurodiverse employees. Employers should set aside time to hold surveys and interviews to find out how staff are doing in their environment and what changes or accommodations might be needed. This can also help businesses get to know their employees better and understand their individual needs.
3. Embrace Flexibility and Accommodations
One of the most important things employers can do to support their neurodiverse employees is to offer flexibility and accommodations. This can range from providing a more controlled and quiet working environment to offering more flexible hours or breaks during the day. Providing reasonable accommodations is key to ensuring that neurodiverse employees can do their jobs to the best of their abilities.
4. Play to Your Employees’ Strengths
When it comes to neurodiverse employees, it’s important to recognize their unique abilities and allow them to use their strengths. For example, an employee with dyslexia may not excel at writing, but they may be an excellent leader and public speaker. Offering them opportunities to shine in this way is an important way to ensure that employees feel supported and valued in the workplace.
5. Share Resources
Helping neurodiverse employees ease into their roles and reach their full potential can be challenging, but company leadership doesn't have to do this alone. To support all employees, leadership can provide resources and tools, such as online courses, helpful books, and even external specialists (such as DEI practitioners) who can offer guidance.
6. Be an Advocate
Finally, employers should strive to be an advocate for their neurodiverse employees. This can include speaking up in their favor, making sure their voices are heard, and ensuring the positive aspects of their differences are valued and appreciated. Additionally, employers need to be willing to (vocally and directly!) challenge negative perceptions and unfair stereotypes about neurodiverse individuals.
The workplace can be tough for neurodiverse workers, but employers can make sure their people are supported, respected, and given the opportunity to reach their full potential. By following an intentional approach and understanding their employees’ unique needs, businesses can create an inclusive workplace that encourages and celebrates diversity of all kinds.