When people think about diversity, equity and inclusion, their attention focuses naturally on race, gender and other traits easily visible to anyone who wanders through the workplace.
But the world of DEI encompasses much more than that.
One area overlooked is neurodiversity, which recognizes that not everyone’s brain works the same way and that a person who struggles under some working conditions can soar when modifications are made, says Dr. Nika White, president and CEO of Nika White Consulting (www.nikawhite.com) and the author of Inclusion Uncomplicated: A Transformative Guide to Simplify DEI.
Failing To Make Accommodations
Neurodiversity includes ADHD, learning disabilities, autism, dyslexia, Tourette’s syndrome and other conditions.
“More and more people are coming out as neurodiverse, which means the odds are high that any particular business will have neurodivergent people on staff,” White says.
About 15 to 20% of people worldwide fall under at least one of the neurodiverse categories, according to a study published in the British Medical Bulletin and shared online by the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
Yet, when companies consider how they can promote the goals of DEI, they don’t always take into account the accommodations they can and should make for all of those neurodiverse people, White says.
Of course, part of the reason could be that leaders in the business, even those charged with putting DEI policies into action, fail to recognize their neurodivergent employees, who are left to find their own ways to overcome obstacles they face at work, she says.
As just one example, an employee might struggle in noisy environments, but shine if given a quiet room where they can carry out their duties.
Valuing Different Work Styles
“But it’s important to remember that employees are individuals, so you won’t find one-size-fits-all solutions,” White says.
With that said, there are ways an attentive leader can help their neurodiverse employees succeed, White says, such as assigning a manager to serve as a trusted ally who will listen to the employee’s concerns and can suggest inclusive policy and practice changes.
“You also can design a variety of workspaces that meet the work needs of different types of people,” she says. “That could be a mixture of closed door offices and open areas where people can work together. It could even involve different types of furniture or wall colors. An added advantage of this is that this can help not only neurodivergent employees, but all employees.”
It’s also important for businesses to encourage other employees to value the different working styles of others. Some employees may not understand why someone else prefers a particular work situation, and they may even look down on people who are neurodivergent, White says. The organization can help by providing training that encourages employees to be “compassionate and respectful” in those scenarios, she says.
But here’s the tricky part: Even as businesses make accommodations, White says, they should take care to avoid making the person feel they are being labeled as some “other” category of person or employee.
“The goal is for managers to provide neurodivergent employees with the tools and the environment they need to succeed,” she says, “without labeling or making them feel exposed or embarrassed about making personal requests for their work or wellbeing.”
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