When we think of diversity in the workplace, we often think in terms of race, gender, or people with physical or mental disabilities, with laws in place to protect employees from discrimination and sanction companies that violate them. These perceptions about diversity and inclusivity can be limiting, and even negative when we view them through the lens of obligation, and not as a business advantage. As society has made significant strides in this area, one aspect that isn’t well understood is neurodiversity. Kennedy Krieger Institute is trying to change the conversation around hiring workers who have neuro-diverse traits, positioning this “disability” as a true strategic business advantage.
What is Neurodiversity?
So, what exactly is neurodiversity? Kennedy Krieger Institute defines it as “a broad range of neurologic differences that endow an individual with unique skills, abilities and perspectives.” This range can include dyslexia to ADHD, to learning disabilities, or autism. Though the language built around “disabilities” leads us to think of them as disadvantages, people with neuro-diverse traits have unique talents and capabilities that add real value to the workplace.
According to Stacey Herman, Director of Post-Secondary Services at Kennedy Krieger, “It is important to embrace diversity; we all come with unique talents and skills, we all deserve the dignity of work and earning a wage, and we need to be more educated about these differences and what they can bring to the table as far as business is concerned.” It goes beyond accepting differences, she says. “Embracing neurodiversity encourages businesses to look at strengths and talents in order to match people with the right job.”
What can Neuro-diverse talent bring to the table?
Kennedy Krieger has found that employees who have neuro-diverse traits often offer many unique skills to certain jobs, including: pattern recognition, data-driven thinking, hyper-focus, memory, math skills, increased tolerance for repetition, and inferential reasoning to name a few. These skills are specialized and valued for many types of roles, and for marketing – with the increased emphasis on data and analytics – these skills will become even more crucial for the industry. According to a Smart Insights article, ‘data-related skills’ is a key area with skills gaps that need to be addressed, and employers should consider looking into the pool of neuro-diverse talent that can provide analytical and problem-solving skills that are important for marketing jobs, along with loyalty and attention to detail that can be beneficial for any type of job.
How is Kennedy Krieger removing the stigma of neurodiversity among potential employers?
There are some misconceptions that still exist about employees who are neuro-diverse, but Kennedy Krieger believes that education, awareness, and training can help increase acceptance. Herman says that the organization has training and resources in place to help businesses better understand neurodiversity and create strategies, not only for employees to be successful, but for businesses to retain these employees. She said, “In the workplace, we need to understand different strategies and sensory needs, and provide modifications to help get the work done.” This also includes things like using the right words and language to help people feel included and representing people with disabilities in marketing materials. More importantly, she notes, “This is not charity; this is a person’s right to work. It’s important to remember that this is a person with talent that is beneficial for the organization.”
It’s clear that employees with neuro-diverse traits offer specific talent to the workforce, but unfortunately are met with many challenges. Herman notes that sometimes access to transportation can be an obstacle, as well as adhering to social norms such as eye contact, handshaking, and knowing what is appropriate to say in a public space. However, she is confident that the resources Kennedy Krieger offers the neuro-diverse workforce, and employers, will reduce these barriers and increase acceptance. She said, “I hope one day we won’t look at an individual as a person with a disability; I hope that one day soon we look at individuals with neuro-diverse traits as simply candidates for a work position.”
Visit Kennedy Krieger.org/Neurodiversity for more information on the neurodiversity initiative currently underway at Kennedy Krieger Institute. Photo credit: Kennedy Krieger Institute.