Workplace Wellbeing

Inclusivity is the Future of Work. Here Are 6 Ways to Support Neurodiverse Team Members.

Inclusivity and diversity is the path to a richer, more productive, and vibrant world. A world where every person can have a seat at the table, every voice is heard, and every neurodiverse individual can contribute their unique perspective.

Written by
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Kali Love
Leadership Coach & Chief Impact Officer, #lovework
Clinically reviewed by
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    Inclusivity is the future of work. Cultivating a truly inclusive workplace means diversity and inclusion must extend beyond traditional parameters, encompassing a spectrum of neurological distinctions and differences—known as neurodiversity. 

    Research has found that up to 20% of the global population could be considered neurodiverse. Neurodiversity refers to the simple truth that no two minds are alike. Recognizing and embracing the diverse ways individuals experience the world isn’t just a matter of social responsibility—it’s a catalyst for team innovation and productivity. 

    In the quest for an inclusive and dynamic work environment, acknowledging neurodiversity is crucial. It’s not just about ticking boxes. It’s about recognizing and leveraging the unique strengths that each individual brings to the table, through awareness and support. 

    The neurodiversity spectrum

    Neurodiversity encompasses a range of mental differences, better framed as variations or distinctions rather than “conditions.” Two-dimensional diversity involves inherited traits like gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, born-in mental and physical differences, and experiential diversity, like cultural background or coping mechanisms developed over time. 

    It’s important to recognize that these differences can be visible, such as using a wheelchair, or invisible, like coping with childhood asthma. Neurodiversity may stem from various sources, including physical differences that shape our interaction with the world, influencing our mental development. 

    Some mental distinctions include autism spectrum traits, challenges such as bipolar disorder or PMDD, trauma influences, and learning and processing differences, like ADHD or dyslexia. Each brings its unique perspective, resilience, and skill set to the table. 

    Rather than viewing these neurological and psychological differences as deficits, it’s essential to understand that they can enhance the diversity of thought within teams, contributing to more innovative problem-solving and effective decision-making. 

    The research case for neurodiverse teams

    Research consistently shows that companies that welcome neurodiverse individuals and teams excel beyond their counterparts. 

    Organizations embracing inclusivity are:

    • Twice as likely to achieve or exceed financial targets
    • Three times more likely to be high-performing
    • Six times more likely to exhibit innovation and agility
    • Eight times more likely to yield better business outcomes

    Neurodiverse individuals can significantly boost productivity, with some studies indicating an increase ranging from 30% up to 140%. For instance, JPMorgan Chase & Co. estimates that tech employees hired through their neurodiversity program are 90% to 140% more productive, and consistently deliver error-free work.

    Companies prioritizing diversity, particularly two-dimensional diversity, witness increased innovation, contributing to 45% of total revenue—compared to just 26% for those with below-average diversity. These organizations are also 45% more likely to report growth and 70% more likely to capture new markets

    Scientific American reports that individuals with ADHD often exhibit exceptional creativity and problem-solving skills, surpassing non-ADHD individuals in conceptual expansion and overcoming knowledge constraints.

    Deloitte's research found that inclusive cultures outperform their peers by 80%. In essence, cultivating a culture of vulnerability, belonging, and inclusivity isn’t merely about fostering positive sentiments, but enhancing the bottom line. 

    6 ways to support neurodiversity in the workplace

    Creating an inclusive environment for neurodiverse team members involves several key strategies. Here are some of the most important.

    Understand and educate for awareness and action

    Get to know what it means to be neurodivergent and educate your teams about neurodiversity. 

    Leaders and team members can familiarize themselves with neurodiversity to foster a culture of understanding and empathy. This involves recognizing the unique challenges and strengths that neurodivergent individuals bring to the workplace. 

    Learning through studying, training, and—when appropriate—seeking input from neurodivergent team members on creating conducive conditions can be valuable. 

    It’s important to ensure that this involvement aligns with the interests of neurodivergent individuals in your organization, allowing them to share their general or personal knowledge. Alternatively, many excellent resources and coaches and consultants who specialize in this area are available. 

    Provide flexible support systems

    Providing personalized and tailored support, such as flexible working conditions, mental health support, clear communication strategies, appropriate technological tools, and personal growth opportunities can significantly enhance the productivity and well-being of neurodiverse team members. 

    Create sensory-friendly work environments

    In the pursuit to embrace neurodiversity, a pivotal yet often overlooked aspect is the creation of sensory-friendly work environments. These environments are crucial for neurodivergent individuals who may be more sensitive to sensory stimuli like light, sound, or tactile sensations. 

    Here are practical steps to create productive office environments:

    • Lighting adjustments: Address the impact of overly bright or flickering lights by implementing adjustable lighting, offering dimmer switches, or providing areas with natural lighting.
    • Noise management: Recognize the challenge of noise distractions by providing noise-canceling headphones, establishing quiet zones, or allowing flexible work-from-home arrangements. Soundproofing meeting rooms can also create a reprieve. 
    • Ergonomic and tactical considerations: Prioritize comfort in the physical workspace with ergonomic furniture that can be adjusted to individual preferences, including standing desks or chairs with sensory cushions.
    • Personalized spaces: Grant employees the freedom to personalize their workspace with items that provide sensory comfort, like stress balls or desk plants.
    • Mindful design: Opt for designs that reduce sensory overload, like muted color palettes for office decor, reduced clutter, and a balance of open spaces and private areas.
    • Regular breaks: Encourage regular breaks for employees to recharge away from their workspace. Designating relaxation areas or quiet rooms can be particularly beneficial.

    Leverage neurodiverse strengths

    It's crucial to recognize and utilize the unique strengths and abilities of neurodivergent team members. For example, someone with dyslexia may exhibit enhanced spatial reasoning, while someone with autism might excel in pattern recognition and attention to detail. Teaming them up could result in effective data analysis and visualization. 

    Individuals who have overcome trauma or navigated the world effectively while blind or deaf may offer unique perspectives on building resilience and understanding—which is valuable for enhancing change management or customer success processes. Leaders and teams must consider these superpowers when planning projects and allocating work.

    Foster an inclusive culture

    Fostering an inclusive culture that celebrates differences and establishes a safe space for all employees to express themselves is essential, with psychological safety being a key component. 

    Encourage open communication, transparently appreciate diverse thinking, and celebrate unique contributions. Facilitate these practices through simple check-ins, mentorship programs, employee resource groups, and regular feedback sessions.

    Measure and reflect

    Regularly review your policies and practices to ensure they align with an inclusive and psychologically safe environment. Implement simple feedback mechanisms to determine the effectiveness of your initiatives in creating processes, productive teams, and environments that resonate with the needs and sentiments of neurodiverse employees. 

    Perceived organizational challenges

    Organizational leadership often faces perceived challenges when integrating neurodiverse team members into the workplace. Without leadership’s complete buy-in and support, a truly humane culture cannot thrive. 

    Thankfully, many concerns are rooted in misconceptions. Let’s address these common misconceptions with relevant statistics and facts to facilitate a much-needed mindset shift.

    Misconception: Flexible work arrangements reduce productivity.

    Reality: Flexible work arrangements can increase productivity. According to a Gartner survey, 43% of respondents reported that flexibility in work hours helped increase productivity. A Stanford study found a 13% increase in productivity among remote workers.

    Misconception: Neurodiverse employees struggle with teamwork.

    Reality: Neurodiverse teams often bring diverse perspectives that enhance teamwork and innovation. A Harvard Business Review article emphasizes that neurodiverse teams can outperform neurotypical teams in problem-solving and innovation.

    Misconception: Accommodations for neurodiverse employees are costly.

    Reality: Most workplace accommodations are cost-effective. The Job Accommodation Network (JAN) reports that 56% of accommodations cost absolutely nothing, and the rest typically have a low one-time cost.

    Misconception: Neurodiverse employees have higher absenteeism.

    Reality: There’s no significant link between neurodiversity and absenteeism. A Center for Talent Innovation study found that inclusive companies have a 39% reduction in absenteeism.

    Misconception: Neurodiverse employees impact team morale negatively.

    Reality: Inclusive environments can boost team morale. Deloitte’s research indicates that inclusive teams are 83% more effective in decision-making and 29% more likely to report high team performance.

    Misconception: Training for neurodiversity is time-consuming and ineffective.

    Reality: Effective neurodiversity training can be integrated efficiently and yield substantial benefits. According to Forbes, companies that invest in neurodiversity training see improved employee engagement and a better understanding of customer needs.

    By challenging these misconceptions with facts and statistics, leaders can better understand the value of embracing neurodiversity in the workplace. This mindset shift is crucial for creating a more inclusive, innovative, and productive work environment.

    The impact of inclusion

    The inclusion of neurodiverse individuals benefits everyone, enhancing the entire organization. A diverse workforce encourages different perspectives, leading to more innovative solutions and a competitive edge in the marketplace. Embracing neurodiversity is more than a moral imperative. It's a strategic advantage. 

    By recognizing the unique strengths and needs of neurodivergent individuals, organizations can create more dynamic, innovative, and productive teams. As we appreciate the value of cognitive diversity, the potential for growth and development in our workplaces becomes limitless.

    So here's my plea: let's not just create workplaces that tolerate diverse ways of thinking—but accommodate and celebrate them. Let's recognize that a mind that thinks differently isn't broken. It's a mind that can break molds—finding solutions where others see problems, innovating, inspiring, and initiating positive change.

    Inclusivity is the future. It's not just the path to a more equitable world, it's the path to a richer, more productive, more vibrant world. A world where every person can have a seat at the table, where every voice is heard, where every neurodiverse individual can contribute their unique perspective. And in that world, we won't just have better businesses. We'll have better lives.

    Go deeper into the bias many neurodiverse employees face, and discover six effective strategies leaders can implement to help.

    About the Author
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    Kali Love
    Leadership Coach & Chief Impact Officer, #lovework

    Growing up queer with neurodivergence in extreme adversity, I have survived trauma and toxic cultures to challenge societal barriers and become a champion of workplace inclusivity and an empowering future of work. I am a coach, speaker, facilitator, author, and poet who has worked with some of the biggest brands in the world like Bank of America, Shea Homes, Chanel, and more. As Chief Impact Officer at #lovework, I am continually developing the field of energy intelligence and encouraging practice-oriented productivity on a global scale. Human-centric leadership and practicing energy intelligence to enact positive change is the future of work. We are most effective and able to create a lasting impact when we work together, and I'm here to help everyone bring their whole selves to work to do the best work of their lives!

    About the clinical reviewer
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