You must have heard the saying ‘all five fingers are not the same’ repeatedly while growing up. This saying is widely announced in schools, playgrounds, and even in homes to underline the fact that each individual is different and that irrespective of the differences people exude, all are to learn and play together. Children are raised with values of inclusion inculcated in them, yet the extent to which they apply these values in their lives as grown-ups is a question to be reckoned with.
Corporates are comprehending the fact that in order to surge forward in their field, diversity is important, and inclusion is critical. Diversity and inclusion go hand in hand, and companies are dealing with the complexities they entail by formulating clear-cut policies and plans. When companies talk about diversity and inclusion, they mostly mean gender and race; and businesses are presently welcoming and embracing diversity in this sense. However, there is so much more to this than just what is currently perceived.
The UN has cited that in 2019, 15% of the world’s population was recorded to have some category of disability which may be visible in the form of impairment in the physical, sensory, cognitive, and intellectual areas in addition to mental illness, and other types of chronic disease. Although people with physical disability find their way into the workstream in one way or the other, people with neurological variation are left either to fend for themselves or are thrust as dependents on family or government thereby triggering a serious discussion about their influx into the workforce.
In this article, let us attempt to understand neurodiversity and its various implications in the workplace. Let us also debunk misconceptions that are withholding corporates from fully embracing neurodiversity.
What is Neurological Diversity?
Neurological diversity is a range of differences seen in people owing to the variation in their brains. These differences are recognized and categorized under the labels of the autism spectrum, ADHD, learning disabilities (viz., dyslexia, dyspraxia, dyscalculia), and Tourette syndrome, among others.
Is Neurodiversity Presenting Itself as an Opportunity?
It is a fact that people with neurodivergent individuals categorized under the labels mentioned above are known to possess and exhibit high-than-average abilities when compared to their neurotypical counterparts. Moreover, along with expertise and credentials, divergent individuals also bring in an atypical perspective to the table. They are driven, meticulous, possess uncanny attention to detail, and a direct communication style making them perfect candidates to hold positions that are otherwise deemed to be difficult. The talent drought that has afflicted the IT sector has resulted in opening up avenues of opportunities for the specially-abled, which was not available to them in the past. Companies such as SAP and HPE have implemented neurodiversity policies and have applauded to the contribution of specially-abled employees, who were given a chance to operate in different roles. Hence, these pioneering companies have come forward to hire specially-abled candidates if they qualify to hold the position in question.
Corporates Refrain from Embracing Neurodiversity – Why?
There are various reasons corporates sites keep themselves from tapping into the neuro-diverse candidate pool. Some of the common reasons are:
- Difficulty to conform to conditions in the workplace: When a candidate is hired to fill a job opening, employers gauge the cost they will have to incur in hiring the candidate. The candidate has to learn and adapt to workplace norms, timings, schedules, etc. Specially-abled candidates require the employer to make adjustments that will allow them to function in addition to the settling time that needs to be extended, makes hiring such a resourceless convenient at the beginning.
- Requires job modifications: A job description is usually modified to help an employee achieve set goals. However, hiring a neurodivergent individual will require way more changes to be done to make him/her feel comfortable. For example, if an autistic person with auditory sensitivity and social anxiety is hired for a role that requires him to attend a conference where he is faced with triggers that can disturb him will need serious role modification. So, keeping track of the nuances that affect such individuals adversely and attempting to eliminating such triggers need much effort from the employer’s part. Many companies see this as an added burden that they choose to operate without.
- Dicey hire: Hiring and investing in a neurodivergent candidate is also considered highly risky and hence employers who do choose to take such a risk hire such candidates on probation. A person with fitting qualifications is hired and the probation time is used to evaluate if the candidate can perform as expected. Also, some employers find it unnecessary to deal with outbursts that specially-abled employees may exhibit in trigger situations.
Let’s Bust Myths Surrounding Neurodiversity
All communities have built irrelevant misconceptions that are making it difficult for schools and offices to truly embrace neurodiversity. Some myths that need to be busted are
- Neurological conditions such as autism, ADHD, and the like are diseases that need to be treated.
- Specially-abled employees are incapable of socializing and expressing their views.
- If hired, a neurodivergent candidate only fits in entry-level jobs.
- All specially-challenged candidates are the same.
- Candidates with autism, ADHD and other learning issues are intellectually inferior to others.
- Neurodivergent individuals are a hazard to the workplace and society.
Neurological conditions such as the ones mentioned earlier are curable, however, they can be effectively managed, thereby allowing divergent individuals to live a full and rich life. Different neuro disorders need to be looked at differently as they all vary in terms of symptoms and severity. It is important to remind oneself that behind the labels, these divergent individuals can turn out to be smart, social, and expressive, but in their way.
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Steps to Equipping Workplace to Embrace Neurodiversity
- Educate the workforce: Educate the current workforce about neurodiversity policies and condition them to receive specially-abled employees without any preconceptions. This, however, is a process and cannot be achieved overnight.
- Inclusive training: In addition to knowing the policies and welcoming a specially-abled employee, the team in which the candidate is to be placed needs to receive special training to enable to create an inclusive environment for the candidate to function in comfortably.
- Communicate appropriately: Ensure that the expectations are set and communicated effectively. If such an employee consumes information better if provided visually or in the form of datasheets, convey instruction in the format convenient to him/her. It is also important to ensure that all verbal communication is clear, unlayered, and concise to keep confusion at bay.
- Eliminate triggers: Identify and eliminate triggers that are known to make a divergent candidate anxious. Creating and managing a checklist with a list of triggers and ways to calm the employee will help in case of sudden outbursts.
- Encourage the team to be patient: Team members of specially-abled employees need to exercise patience when the latter tend to take more time anticipated or when the deliverables are different from what was expected. Investing time and resources to help neurodivergent employees settle will pay-off in the future.
Opening up the workplace to accommodate qualifying individuals irrespective of their neurological variations is bound to pave the way for creating vibrant, inclusive, and prolific work environment that will set a benchmark for other companies to emulate.