The world has slowly caught up with Harvey Blume’s pioneering thinking around neurodiversity, 20 years after his article in The Atlantic. To our dismay, the concept of neurodiversity perpetuates a common misunderstanding of neurodiversity as a disability, which often gets interpreted into inability to perform in corporate workspaces. This couldn't be further from the truth.
Understanding neurodiversity is a call to include and respect people whose brains work in atypical ways. Neurodiversity includes everyone, but individuals with neurodivergent traits may meet a diagnostic threshold for neurodivergent conditions such as autism, dyslexia, dyspraxia, ADHD and more. These have been seen as developmental disorders that need managing, and even curing, for a very long time.
Thankfully, now we are seeing these as natural forms of human neurocognitive variation. We are beginning to see the flip side strengths of neurodivergent individuals – from problem-solving to creative insights and visual spatial thinking. Neurodiversity is a competitive advantage.
At Groupon, we too are beginning this journey. What’s truly exciting is this ignites a cultural change in how an organisation thinks about all its employees. Understanding and accepting that everyone is different means the different pieces of the puzzle can be put together in a way that is most productive, effective and rewarding for all.
So, how are we harnessing neurodiverse talent to help drive performance, innovation and culture?
To be truly neuro-inclusive, we must increase our awareness and knowledge of neurodiversity, and appreciate the individuality of neurodiverse conditions, to support all employees.
We’ve all heard about ‘culture fit’ – what we want to champion is ‘culture add’. That means breaking the bias around neurodivergent conditions and understanding what they can add to our talent mix. Like so many things, the first step in the process is education.
How many times have you heard someone say: ‘They are totally on the spectrum’? The underlying connotation is rarely positive. It’s often used as a way of saying that someone has lacked empathy, was socially awkward, or is perceived to have behaved strangely. Instead, try having an open conversation about how all individuals react differently to situations and pressures to remove stigma and begin to truly understand neurodiversity and its impacts.
At Groupon, we host monthly forums to challenge our concepts of workplace conversations by leaning into the uncomfortable, encouraging bravery, and ultimately creating a culture of honest and authentic interactions. These sessions cultivate a space where no matter if you identify as neurodivergent or not, you feel welcomed and empowered to be your authentic self. It also helps raise the voices of colleagues who have voluntarily self-identified as neurodivergent. We also post articles to our global workforce to share their experiences.
Managers have the privilege of transforming a company value from intention to meaningful action and have a positive impact on the employee experience every single day. This is especially true for harnessing the power of talent through the lens of diversity, equity and inclusion. We created a managers’ I&D toolkit to help inspire, educate and support our managers on that journey. It has become a go-to tool as managers navigate the complex and sometimes intimidating area of diversity.
Hiring for superpowers
It’s estimated that 10 per cent of people may be neurodivergent, so conceivably a significant proportion of job applicants, customers and teammates. Organisations aiming to be truly inclusive cannot exclude such a significant demographic, otherwise you risk missing untapped talent, and compromising on productivity, customer engagement and trust.
Ensuring hiring practices have diversity of thought at the forefront means hiring people with different perspectives, backgrounds and experiences – resulting in more innovative and creative teams. Neurodivergent people bring unique qualities like determination to solve problems, visual thinking, attention to detail, pattern recognition, visual memory and creative thinking to develop new solutions and problem-solving techniques.
Understanding the impact of environment
Whether you have adopted a hybrid, remote or flexible approach to work following the pandemic, you should still think about your office space and if it allows neurodiverse staff to work effectively. Small things can have a big impact – such as quiet spaces away from open-plan areas, photocopiers with clear instructions for use and office lighting. Remember to ask neurodiverse employees what they need to do their best work – but be mindful that it will be different for each individual – and educate their teams so they can be more accommodating.
These steps are by no means exhaustive, and we are at the early stages of this journey. We will continually gather feedback, update our strategy and engage with our people along the way, but we cannot allow the natural fear of getting it wrong to hold us back in pushing for more equitable and diverse teams and workplaces: ones that allow us to bring our whole selves to work.
Yemi Akisanya is global head of diversity, equity and inclusion at Groupon