By Elisabeth Goodman, 18th January 2021
Some background on neurodiversity
The term neurodiversity was first coined by Australian sociologist Judy Singer, and encapsulates a whole range of cognitive, sensory and behavioural diversity associated with neurological differences from what is deemed to be more ‘neurotypical’ configurations.
Temple Grandin is a well-known author and advocate for autism, who is also autistic. Grandin & Panek (2014) share their insights on early studies of Grandin’s own brain and that of others that go some way to describe these neurological differences.
Nancy Doyle, psychologist and CEO of Genius within is also an author and advocate, as well as a researcher, for the wider range of neurodiversity, such as ADHD, Dyslexia, Tourette Syndrome as well as Autism. I was struck by her statement about the relative prevalence of neurodiversity.
“It is estimated that just 59% of people can be considered “neurotypical”. With prevalence data like that, we have to assume that neurodiversity is a natural variation within the human species.”Doyle, 2019
One of the ways in which the estimated 41% of people with neurodiversity are different, is in their ‘spiky profiles’ (Genius Within, n.d.) and the significant strengths that the spikes represent. These spikes cover a range of skills including, creativity and innovation, verbal communication, honesty, empathy and authenticity, focus and sensory awareness. I work with managers and teams in the vibrant Life Science community in Cambridgeshire, UK, where such strengths could confer many advantages.
Whilst I have not sought a diagnosis for myself, and recognise the fallibility of claiming to be ‘a little autistic’ (Doyle, 2021), I am the parent of a diagnosed young autistic adult, and we often talk about how we might have this or that trait in common. We also discuss the strategies that would enable autistic people to address some of the ‘troughs’ associated with their ‘spiky profiles’ and so thrive and shine. These strategies are not so different from those that would enable many so called ‘neurotypicals’ to also interact and communicate with others, and to deal with change more effectively.
Possible strategies for supporting a “neurominority” in the workplace
What if we treated neurodiversity as an under-represented form of diversity, or a “neurominority” (Genius Within n.d.) and focused on the strategies that could enhance the representation, inclusion and general well-being of this minority at work?
Jo Farmer is another advocate for neurodiversity, and for autism in particular. She is also autistic and has written a series of enlightening blogs on how organisations could more effectively access the autistic skill-set, starting with recruitment (Farmer, 2020). Much of what Farmer suggests is to do with:
- clearer communication, with less ambiguity
- creating calm environments
- being more tolerant of the different ways in which someone might need to think and process information
- providing representation or support
As often happens, when I’m exploring a topic, the Harvard Business Review has a very relevant article too. Paul Ingram (2021) has chosen to focus on social class, as a ‘forgotten dimension of diversity’. His article addresses the 32% of of US workers from lower social-class who are less likely to become managers than their higher-class colleagues. His research suggests that organisations are consequently missing out on a potential pool of candidates for leadership that typically demonstrate strengths and values associated with empathy and caring for others, trust and loyalty, and motivation and the courage to change.
Although the situation is very different, if neurodiversity is another such ‘forgotten dimension’, then similar measures might be helpful. These might include:
- Adding neurodiversity to your organisational goals for diversity and inclusion (with measures for success)
- Working with your community: schools, colleges and local advocacy groups to reach out to those who are neurodiverse
- Being open to ‘non-conventional’ academic routes i.e. not just degree requirements but also lived experiences for prospective candidates (see one of my earlier blogs for more on this – Goodman (2019))
- Taking diverse approaches to interview your candidates e.g. through completion of designated tasks
- Including people who are neurodiverse on your recruitment and interview panels
- Having neurominority role models and advocates in the workplace
Finally, how comfortable are people to disclose that they are neurodiverse? Should they have to? And if they don’t, how will that affect their ability to communicate what they need, and others’ ability to support them?
Amanda Kirby (2021) has an excellent article on this topic, which suggests to me that, more important than any advocacy or diversity and inclusion policies, is a mindset amongst all of us to express our own needs, develop strategies to be at our best, and be attentive and receptive to, and supportive of the needs of others.
Doyle, N. (2019, Feb 1). Making the invisible visible – supporting neurodiversity in the workplace. Personnel Today. Retrieved from https://www.personneltoday.com/hr/making-the-invisible-visible/
Doyle, N. (2021, Jan 18). Is everyone a little autistic? Forbes. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/drnancydoyle/2021/01/16/is-everyone-a-little-autistic/?sh=3ff6c75b5666
Farmer, J. (2020, May 20). Accessing the autistic skill set – 1. Recruitment and interviews. Retrieved from https://jofarmer.wordpress.com/2020/05/20/accessing-the-autistic-skill-set-1-recruitment-and-interviews/
Genius Within (n.d.). What is neurodiversity? Retrieved from https://www.geniuswithin.co.uk/what-is-neurodiversity/
Goodman, E. (2019). Using smarter criteria than experience for selecting the right candidates? Retrieved from https://elisabethgoodman.wordpress.com/2019/10/24/smarter-criteria-than-experience-for-selecting-the-right-candidates/
Grandin, T. & Panek, R. (2014). The autistic brain. Exploring the strengths of a different kind of mind. United Kingdom: Rider.
Ingram, P. (2021). The forgotten dimension of diversity. Social class is as important as race of gender. Harvard Business Review, January – February, 58 – 67.
Kirby, A. (2021, January 27). Is neurodiversity coming out in 2021?.. and should we have to? Neurodiversity 101 Retrieved from https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/neurodiversity-coming-out-2021-should-we-have-prof-amanda-kirby/
About the author
Elisabeth Goodman, ACC is the Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting, a consultancy that specialises in “creating exceptional managers and teams”, through coaching, courses and workshops, and with a focus on the Life Sciences. RiverRhee is a member-to-member training provider for One Nucleus.
Elisabeth founded RiverRhee Consulting in 2009, and prior to that had 25+ years’ experience in the Pharmaceutical Industry in line management and internal training and consultancy roles supporting teams on a global basis.
She is developing her coaching practice, with a focus on helping individuals to be true to themselves and exercise choice in the workplace by enhancing their leadership / management, interpersonal and communication skills, and their ability to deal with uncertainty and change.
Elisabeth is accredited in Coaching (ACC – International Coaching Federation), Change Management, Lean Sigma, Belbin Team Roles, MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) and is an NLP (NeuroLinguistic Programming) Practitioner. She is also a member of the APM (Association for Project Management) in which she was a founding member of the Enabling Change SIG.
Elisabeth is working towards her PG Certification in Business and Personal Coaching with Barefoot Coaching and the University of Chester. She is also the founder of The Coaches’ Forum – an international community of interest for coaches to explore ideas and insights as an extension to their personal and professional development.