“In addition to creating a workplace inclusive of race, gender, and sexual orientation (to name a few), many organizations are seeking value in something even simpler, diversity of thought. In some industries that are known for being insular—think law or high-tech companies—seeking out talent with different thinking and problem solving backgrounds in critical. Deloitte research underscores that diverse thinkers help guard against groupthink . . .” ~ Selena Rezvani, Forbes Article, Five Trends Driving Workplace Diversity
So what exactly does diversity mean? We’d likely all agree the concept of diversity is a large one—and growing. Ironically, definitions of diversity vary primarily because we all bring forth a wide range of personal experiences and backgrounds. Indeed, the very idea of diversity itself differs merely because we are diverse! Given the diversity of the human race, it makes sense that opinions differ and no singular concept definitively represents diversity. Some people think of diversity as differences amongst groups. Others claim diversity is more about differences amongst individuals, that diversity encompasses contrastive qualities or attributes about an individual when compared to a larger collective. Some recognize the word diversity is code for race or culture. Others understand diversity covers more than ethnicity and cultural roots. And while familiar terms surrounding the subject of diversity include race, national origin, color, gender, age, citizenship, sexual orientation, and religion, less familiar diversity markers are sometimes overlooked, such as gender identity and expression, physical ability, veteran status, weight, personality type, learning style, cognitive ability, genetic information, and educational experience, and approaches to challenges, goals, and tasks.
We might agree diversity means the boundless ways individuals differ.
Modern definers of diversity are complex, considering pretty much any attribute that makes a person set apart or unique might equate to diversity. If diversity implies what is distinct about one’s own experience and one’s own self, in contrast to another, then what qualifies as diverse is as vast as the human experience. Not to mention that the concept of diversity is subjective and malleable by nature, in that definitions of diversity are created by cultural norms and standards. (< worth a read)
Diversity in the Workplace
Workplace diversity typically encompasses familiar terms of diversity (as discussed above), as well as the different ways employees approach life, and the variations in what an employee brings to a situation. In example, workplace diversity might indicate differences in aptitudes, attitudes, behaviors, and challenges. Overall, some differences add to an employee’s chance of sustainable and gainful employment. Other diversity attributes might lead to barriers to employment, including lack of work, not enough work, not enough pay, or a job match that doesn’t match an employee’s interest skillset, education, training, or work experience (underemployment).
Narrowing Down Neurodiversity
The standard for neurodiversity is recognizing natural variations of human brains and minds as a valuable aspect of human diversity. The neurodiversity paradigm encompasses the idea that social constructs hinder individuals that are different—constructs that perpetuate inequality and social injustice. Neurodiversity promotes inclusion of all types of minds to break down the barriers of constraint. Just as diversity equates to a cornucopia of differences, neurodiversity is specifically referring to differences in neurology, including the way one thinks, processes, behaves, functions, copes, and perceives. I sometimes joke that because of my dyslexia and poor working memory, I cannot remember or pronounce some of my other conditions, such as my challenges with slight prosopagnosia and proprioception. (I even accidentally listed dysgraphia on the back cover on the first edition of my book Everyday Aspergers, when I’d meant dyspraxia!) My neurology, specifically autism, dyslexia, dyspraxia, and OCD makes me a neurodivergent.
A neurodivergent attribute includes a different way of thinking and approaching situations when compared to the mainstream. My combined neurological condition, with my unique presenting skills, makes me a part of the neurodiverse culture. Conditions such as ADHD, autism, and dyslexia fit under the opened-capped umbrella of neurodiversity. An individual doesn’t have to be autistic to be neurodivergent. A non-autistic individual is neurodivergent if they have a neurological condition in which they process information differently than the typical person.
As John Elder Robison, a bestselling author diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, explains, “Neurodiversity is derived from the combination of neurology and diversity. The fusion of the two words is smooth; they amalgamate without a tussle just as their subjects do in real life. The conjugate recognizes a reality that’s been part of humanity for all time – neurological diversity.”
Anyone who has been diagnosed with a difference in neurological functioning and who conveys outlying attributes or skill could be considered neurodivergent.
The modern day term of neurodiversity is extremely fluid in nature. Mood disorders, such as PTSD, are appearing under the neurodiverse umbrella, as are brain injuries that cause cognitive impairments or differences. Some business leaders use the term neurodiversity to refer to every employee at an organization. Fair warning: neurodiversity ought not be used loosely to include everyone in the general population; that type of behavior minimizes and invalidates a neurodivergent’s life experience. People aren’t neurodivergent because of diversity, they are neurodivergent because of specific, identifiable brain variances. It’s not precise to say because each person thinks and processes differently that they are therefore neurodivergent. Diversity is not the same as neurodiversity.
Steve Silberman, a respected journalist and New York Times bestselling author of NeuroTribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity, sums up the definition of neurodiversity well:
“The word neurodiversity was coined by Judy Singer, a sociology student in Australia in the late 1990s, who was a member of one of the early online groups for autistic adults. Neurodiversity is a way of looking at conditions like autism, ADHD and dyslexia that takes into account the fact that these conditions can convey gifts, as well as challenges . . . Neurodiversity is a way of looking at these conditions in a more holistic and humane way, so that we also [see] the virtues of these different kinds of minds. So you could say [that] great minds do not, in fact, think alike. And society is stronger if we can draw on the different skills of these conditions. Judy Singer coined the word neurodiversity to do for the autistic community what feminists [did] with a slogan such as, “Sisterhood is powerful,” or what the gay liberation [movement did] with a slogan such as, “Gay is good,” so that people with different kinds of minds could take pride in themselves and pride in their communities, instead of being seen as isolated patients in clinics with a characteristic checklist of deficits.” (Steve Silberman on autism and ‘neurodiversity’)
The Value of Neurodiversity
Because of our brain variances, neurodivergent workers think differently than the typical employee. This different way of thinking can be an advantage. Different ways of thinking (e.g., approaching challenges, finding solutions, brainstorming ideas) is an excellent means to fuel cognitive diversity—the fusion of different experiences, perspectives, and backgrounds within a group. The blending of various employee attributes and traits combines to create unique and innovative approaches and ideas. Cognitive diversity in action can be thought of as an out-of-the-box thinking incubator.
Work environments not conducive to cognitive diversity—where coworkers think much alike —are more apt to have employees resistant to change and engagement.
Organizations that put neurodiversity hiring initiatives (and effective inclusion measures) into practice have great potential to positively impact business. A heterogeneous inclusive workplace can enable an organization to reach its full potential. Companies with initiatives to recruit jobseekers from a diverse workforce have access to a large pool of applicants. A large pool of applicants equates to an increased likelihood of talent acquisition and lower recruitment costs. With more applicants to choose from, more talent is brought into a place of business. Neurodivergent thinkers can offer valued skills, dedication, new innovative approaches, and varied perspectives to the job.
Neurodiversity, work and me | HSBC Now (Awesome video <<)
This is a portion of the manuscript ‘Autism in a Briefcase.’ No portion of this article or works on this blog can be used without explicit permission from the author. All rights reserved. Marcelle Ciampi, M.Ed (aka Samantha Craft) is a senior recruiter, outreach specialist, author, professional educator, keynote, and more. More articles can be found here, at myspectrumsuite.com, and on LinkedIn.