Article: Neurodiversity: How to unleash the power of a cognitively diverse workforce


Neurodiversity: How to unleash the power of a cognitively diverse workforce

Identifying neurodiversity in the workplace can greatly influence creativity and innovation in your company.
Neurodiversity: How to unleash the power of a cognitively diverse workforce

Nowadays, companies value the diversity of age, race, gender and culture in the workplace.

Having a wealth of experiences from different people brings about a wide range of ideas and experiences that can increase a company’s success in the long run.

In fact, diversity in terms of age, race, gender, and sexual orientation can directly boost a company’s productivity, as different workers have different skills, areas of work, and abilities they enjoy.

An article published in the Harvard Business Review, however, challenges this notion. 

The missing piece of the puzzle

Alison Reynolds and David Lewis explained in their article that they reviewed the performance of a diverse set of people in terms of age, gender, and ethnicity over the last 12 years.

Reynolds and Lewis reviewed an average group size of 16 that consisted of senior executives, general managers, MBA students, teachers, scientists, and teenagers. They found that some groups fared exceptionally well while others fared quite badly, irrespective of age, gender, and ethnicity.

“If not diversity, what accounted for such variability in performance?” asked Reynolds and Lewis.

Because they wanted to determine what caused groups to perform well and badly, they began to look beyond the usual criteria for diversity. In the end, they discovered that cognitive diversity, also known as neurodiversity, might be at play.

Read more: Where no one feels excluded

What is cognitive diversity?

Cognitive diversity or neurodiversity is defined as differences in information processing styles or perspectives. Factors such as age, race, gender, or sexual orientation do not predict it. 

It involves the way individuals think about and engage with new, complex, and uncertain situations. Unfortunately, cognitive diversity is less visible than the typical markers of diversity. It is also affected by cultural factors, particularly the functional bias, which happens when recruiters only hire people that reflect their own image.

According to Marcelle Ciampi, an international neurodiversity expert, a person may be considered neurodivergent when he or she has been diagnosed with a difference in neurological functioning, and conveys outlying skills and attributes.

Although neurodiversity encompasses all brains, employers are encouraged to create an inclusive and supportive environment for people with specific neurodivergent conditions such as autism, dyslexia, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Doing so empowers individuals in being more agile, innovative, and creative.

Read more: Employing and retaining talent who are on the autism spectrum

How to unleash the power of neurodiversity in the workplace

Reynolds and Lewis’ review proved that teams could solve problems better when they’re more cognitively diverse. When employees are not struggling to fit the confines of a neurotypical workplace, they are free to think, create, and work in ways that works best for them. 

There is no single definition of what a “normal” brain looks like. When companies expand how they design workplaces that are suited for neurodiversity, they can provide a creative sandbox for employees.

How can you empower and unleash the potential of neurodivergent employees? Below are the steps:

Ask for feedback. Start by asking your employees their duties and responsibilities at work. It’s highly likely that a huge percentage of your employees are neurodivergent because most people in your company will think differently from each other. They don’t have to reveal medical conditions in their feedback, but you can ask them which parts of the work experience could be made more accessible or inclusive.

Provide flexibility. Your entire workforce will benefit from a flexible work-from-home or hybrid setup, but even more so for neurodivergent employees. They can set their own routines and schedules, and work from anywhere they like.

Educate your employees. Offer chances for managers and contributors to learn about neurodiversity and how to accommodate neurodivergent people. Hiring managers can understand neurodiversity better and they can adjust to their interview styles to suit the candidate’s skills.

Create resources for neurodivergent employees. Ensure that resources are available for neurodivergent employees. Establish formalized programs to empower your inclusive workplace. Adjustments such as distraction-free workspaces for people with ADHD and autism are necessary. Lastly, provide noise-cancelling headphones to avoid sensory overload.

Identifying neurodiversity in the workplace can greatly influence creativity and innovation in your company. Educate your team about neurodiversity and make sure that resources are available for neurodivergent employees.

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Topics: Diversity, Performance Management, Culture

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