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Cognitive DEI; Neurodiversity

Updated: Sep 7, 2023

Implementation of diversity in the workplace is often publicly perceived as intentional integration of genders, races, ethnicities, and orientations. There is, however, an emerging topic of diversity that has been neglected in workplace diversity: neurodiversity.

The concept of neurodiversity was coined in the 1990’s by Just Singer, an Australian sociologist, and centered around the autism spectrum and other cognitive disorders that created barriers to full participation in society. Neurodiversity describes the idea that people experience and interact with the world in various ways. There isn’t a “right” way of thinking, learning, and doing. Our brains and nervous systems aren’t all the same which impacts how we process information and how we interact with our environments – we are all neurodiverse. Neurodiversity is also impacted by past experiences, the kind of education we receive, the traumas we’ve been exposed to, etc. This is why it is a problem that many workplaces are designed to be one-size-fits-all.

Those who are “neurodivergent” or “neurodiverse” may not always fit into traditional work norms, but can be productive and talented in unique ways while still representing the neurological norms. The ability to be neurodiverse is like thinking outside the box, with many neurodiverse individuals harnessing talents that many others don’t. Seeing a situation differently can mean having unexpected solutions to complex problems. Implementing neurodiversity and encouraging anomalous ideas, thoughts, and suggestions develops cognitive empathy and can lead to great advancements in all areas of an organization.

Neurodiversity is a critical element in the DEI strategies and programs and allows organization to expand their workforces with capable talent and ideas that they may have not previously entertained. It is important to be more inclusive in considering the talent that doesn’t fit into pre-conceived notions of viability. We must recognize the untapped talent and skills that go unacknowledged from capable and resilient individuals who have been ostracized and not given opportunities due to a particular stigma. As a leader in DEI, it is important to give opportunities to all walks of life both cognitively and physically in order to fill in the missing puzzle pieces that fully develop an organization.

Here are some steps you can take to begin building a neurodiverse team in your organization:

1. Confront your hidden biases about what a “good” candidate looks like. A Harvard Business School study showed that we usually make up our minds about someone only 30 seconds after meeting them. This is often based on subtle things, like whether someone makes eye contact or has a firm handshake.

2. Make sure that your interview process is a productive collaboration instead of an exam. An interview process is often seen by both sides as a test that the candidates needs to “pass” to get the job. However, this isn’t always a proper indication that they are the right or wrong fit for the position. Some people thrive in interviews and others crash, no matter how qualified they may be. Don’t let a interview “test” be the deciding factor when hiring new talent.

3. Create a person-centered environment with space for different ways of working. For example, if you hire a candidate who requires a wheelchair, make sure you have an accommodating environment that allows them to participate in everyday work life. Neurodiverse employees may require different kinds of support to really be able to thrive at work.

Make it a focus to bring the untapped talent poll into the workforce and develop a broader range of neurodivergent individuals to your organization. Neurodiversity is essential to creating innovative business solutions that deliver results while developing rewarding, long-lasting careers for the neurodiverse community and leading the way to an inclusive work environment.

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