Lead With Inclusion

How to support neurodiversity on teams

April 10, 2024

How would you like to increase productivity by 140%?

Professionals on the autism spectrum are 140% more productive than neurotypical peers when in a job that matches their skills.

And yet an astonishing 50-75% of autistic adults in the U.S. are either unemployed or in jobs that don’t fully use their skill set. So when we think about greater inclusion in our workplaces, are we including neurodivergence in the conversation? Are we ready to move from awareness to authentic action?

Be an Inclusive Leader:

A common challenge I see clients facing when it comes to inclusion and neurodiversity is their own misconceptions. I’ll hear people say, “I don’t know what types of jobs in our company are suitable for neurodiverse people.”

It might seem like a benign comment at first glance. But would you ask that about another identity or characteristic? Imagine:

  • “What types of jobs in our company are suitable for Black people?” or
  • “What types of jobs in our company are suitable for women?”

Of course not!

Being inclusive —including but not limited to inclusion of neurodiversity—means putting jobs out there and allowing people to apply. Well-intentioned leaders, wanting to be inclusive, often default to treating people with certain identities or characteristics like special-interest groups.

But rather than calling out a group in a job description with “great fit for someone on the spectrum” (cringe!), let people apply.Make sure your interview process is clear and your criteria for evaluating candidates is designed to avoid unconscious bias.

Speaking of cringe, we must all be more careful of our language. It’s estimated that 15-20% of the population is neurodiverse (which includes people with ADHD, dyslexia, mental health challenges like anxiety, and more). If you’re on a team of five people, one of them is likely to be neurodiverse. So if you’re casually using terms and phrases that are biased, insulting, or inaccurate about neurodivergence, it’s almost certainly being heard by someone whom it could hurt.

Lead with Inclusion:

Being inclusive of neurodiversity at the company level doesn’t have to be awkward or difficult. An easy place to start is with the programs and policies that are available. Make sure all employees understand what they are entitled to and how to access it.

Think about it: you wouldn’t  interview a woman and tell her about your company’s generous maternity leave, right? Such a comment rests on the gendered assumption that she’s going to get pregnant. Instead let all candidates know, “this is our leave policy for parental, bereavement, personal, and caring for elderly relatives.” Share the whole policy with all candidates.

Take the same approach to inclusion of neurodivergence. “This is our policy around accommodations, mental health leave, and remote/flexible schedules and work options.” Consistent sharing avoids assumptions and allows everyone to understand what’s available to them, whether it’s applicable to them now or in the future (or to someone they might refer to the company).

As we say at Rework, we need to be more aware altogether. To that end, I almost included a reference to an autism education organization in our last email newsletter. Why? Well, as an awareness builder: this particular organization has been criticized for trying to get individuals on the spectrum to assimilate. The unfortunate truth is that even when people are trying to help, sometimes they inadvertently cause harm.

Thankfully, there are plenty of awareness-building options that don’t cause harm. If you haven’t yet completed our Sparking Awareness learning path, check it out. You’ll find a lot of education packed into six short modules, which are included for free with your Workspace membership. While you’re there, take time to explore, experiment and stretch your boundaries with our other DEI Sandbox tools and resources.

Now I’d like to hear from you: does your company share all policies with all interview candidates? Do you have a good resource for avoiding cringey language around neurodivergence? Share what you think in the comments:

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