Most of us don’t question how we think, our behaviours, patterns or ways of doing things. But for neurodivergent people, this isn’t the case. For the most part, the working world is set up to suit neurotypical people. However, with 1 in 7 of us falling into the neurodivergent category, there are likely some people in your workplace that are being left behind. So today we wanted to explore what being neurodivergent means, the prejudices around it and how we can create better workplaces for neurodivergent people. Backed with the wisdom of our expert on the weekly Haley Moss, a highly successful attorney and neurodivergent advocate.
"Given the things we often struggle with when it comes to neurodivergent is also when our strengths come into play. That's because we’ve had to adapt into a world that may not always have us in mind we have other strengths too”
So what does it mean to be neurodivergent?
Every one of us has a unique brain that processes the world in different ways. What might be a loud and busy place to one of us might be an energetic and fun place for someone else. But whilst we process the world differently, there are general similarities in our cognition: those classed as neurotypical.
Neurodivergent people, however, sit outside of these predefined ‘standard’ cognitions. The umbrella term includes people who have ADHD, autism, mental health disabilities, learning difficulties, intellectual disabilities and acquired cognitive difficulties. Each individual in this category will process the world differently and as a result, may not be able to thrive.
What is ableism?
Put simply, ableism is prejudice and stereotypes against people with disabilities. They can be obvious (for example hateful language or not having accessible spaces) or more subtle and culturally ingrained in everyday language or structures we might have in place. Haley saw this play out while she was studying law, feeling like she was stupid and lazy when she couldn’t keep up with the demands of both school and life. When the reality was that she simply processed information differently from her peers and needed to learn in different ways. Not wrong or less than - just different.
The business case for hiring neurodivergent people
Haley’s Dad explained to her that in neurotypical people, there may be an X & Y axis of thinking. But neurodivergent people can sometimes see a line going all the way through; the grey area. They might be more creative, can focus on one specific area at a time or may problem-solve differently. All of these things are often seen as deficits. However not only can those differences be strengths but out of the box thinking, if supported correctly, can lead to benefits for whole teams and businesses too.
Haley recalls the first assignment she was given as a newly graduated attorney, “I got to my first job as an attorney and was always looking for solutions in non-traditional places. On my first assignment, I was told to look at one standard to figure out what was correct for our client’s argument. But as I was thinking about it I realised that I didn’t think it was correct, there was a different standard than the one I’d be told to investigate. So I investigated both standards: the one I’d been told to and the one that my gut feeling told me was something to look into. It ended up that the standard which I had a gut feeling about was the one that ended up winning our client’s argument.”
How to support neurodivergent people as a manager
- Pass the mic when you can: amplifying their voices and ensuring that they’re heard in your team or business.
- Create opportunities for mentorship or leadership: guiding them on their journey.
- Allow room for success: and celebrate it!
Neurodivergent excellence should not be an exception but a norm. After all, the world does benefit and needs different kinds of minds.
Disclosure and respect
- Wait for them to tell you: whether you suspect they are neurodivergent or they’ve told you, offer the same support. Remember disclosure is individualised and situational.
- Extend grace: refraining from judgement or talking about what you might suspect with others.
An edited work life
- Offer up solutions: to better suit their ways of thinking. Whether that be saving them a desk if you all hot desk, creating a quieter space to work or assigning them tasks that need a lot of concentration.
- Ask them what they need to thrive: and do your best to accommodate it. It’s not an upper hand, just an adaptation to get the best out of them.
Whether you have a neurodivergent colleague or are looking to recruit a neurodivergent person, we hope this journal has given you a better understanding of them. You can see Haley’s full PepTalk on demand on The Weekly or book a private PepTalk for your team, get in touch with us.