Embracing Neurodiversity: How HR Leaders Can Champion Inclusion in the Workplace

Many neurodiverse people have above-average abilities, and some are even extraordinarily gifted. For example, many believe that Albert Einstein had autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

Unfortunately, there are still neurodiverse individuals who get rejected by recruiters because they seem “different.” As a result, employed neurodiverse individuals try to hide their condition because of the stigma attached to it.

Fortunately, this is changing as employers recognize the value neurodiverse individuals can bring to an organization. A growing number of companies are revising their HR policies to include neurodiversity.

Here’s how neurodiversity can benefit public sector organizations and how HR leaders can champion neurodiversity in the workplace.

What is Neurodiversity

Neurodiversity describes differences in the way people’s brains learn, think, absorb and process information. Studies show that 15-20% of the U.S. population are neurodivergent.

Neurodiverse conditions include:

  • Autism
  • Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) / Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
  • Dyscalculia
  • Dyslexia
  • Dyspraxia
  • Tourettes

In the past, neurodivergent people were often viewed as strange or eccentric. Today, we understand that there are a range of natural variations in brain functions that lead to different behavioral traits. Some being neurotypical and others neurodivergent.

Because neurodiverse people are “wired” differently, they may bring new talent, perspectives and innovative ideas to an organization.

Organizations that embrace neurodiversity can benefit from employees who:

  • Are highly focused.
  • Offer creative solutions to problems.
  • Have sharp attention to detail skills.
  • May thrive on doing repetitive or routine work.

Why Neurodiverse Employees Avoid Disclosing Their Conditions

According to the 2023 Disability Equality Index (DEI) report, 93% of DEI participants said they encourage employees to self-disclose their disabilities. However, only 4.6% out of the estimated 25% of employees with disabilities do.

Many neurodiverse employees avoid disclosing their condition because they are afraid of discrimination from their co-workers.

This hesitancy may stem from the following reasons:

  • Bad experiences in previous workplaces.
  • Fear of exclusion from advancement in the organization.
  • Fear of attracting attention.
  • Fear of losing their job.

How HR Leaders Can Encourage Employees to Disclose Their Condition

HR leaders play a pivotal role in fostering inclusion in the workplace and creating a supportive environment for neurodiverse employees.

Here’s how public sector HR professionals can encourage employees to disclose their condition:

  1. Be clear in job advertisements that you encourage people with disabilities to apply.
  2. Explain your organization’s diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) policy in the interview.
  3. Raise awareness of neurodiversity and other forms of disability in the organization. Biases often stem from a lack of knowledge.
  4. Equip direct managers to create supportive and respectful teams.
  5. Build an inclusive workplace culture that makes all employees feel welcomed and accepted.
  6. Provide a safe space for employees to report incidents of prejudice, discrimination or ridicule.

Creating Inclusive Workplace Policies

Organizations that invest in DEI programs attract a broader pool of talent and have stronger performance levels and a higher employee retention rate.

Including neurodiverse talent can bring additional strengths to your organization. For example, many dyslexic people have excellent puzzle-solving skills and an imaginative mind. This makes them great out-of-the-box thinkers and problem-solvers.  

To attract talented neurodiverse employees, you may need to adjust your recruitment and HR policies as follows:

Remove recruitment barriers that may eliminate neurodiverse candidates

Recruitment processes are often designed for neurotypical candidates. They do not take into consideration the challenges that a neurodiverse candidate may face, such as weak communication skills or social anxiety. This can create a poor impression with interviewers and eliminate them from the pool of candidates.

Provide workplace accommodations

Some neurodiverse people struggle to work in open-plan offices or find it hard to concentrate for long periods. You may need to provide certain workplace accommodations to support their condition.

These may include:

  • Providing headphones to prevent auditory overstimulation.
  • Allowing them to work from home if they find it more productive.
  • Not placing pressure on them to “fit in." or adjust the way they work.

Create an inclusive career development policy

Past approaches to employing people with disabilities have mainly focused on helping them access jobs rather than assisting them to build a career.

Don't exclude neurodivergent employees from opportunities in the organization. Discuss their career aspirations and ways the organization can support their growth. With the right support, your neurodivergent employees could turn out to be future rising stars in the organization.

Key Takeaways

Neurodivergent employees are often misunderstood. To avoid dealing with the negative stigmas surrounding their condition, some prefer to hide it from their employer. HR leaders play a vital role in creating a workplace environment that embraces neurodiversity and encourages self-disclosure. To champion inclusion in the workplace, broaden your HR policies to better support neurodiversity in the workplace.

CPS HR offers workshops and training courses to help public sector organizations understand why diversity, equity and inclusion matter in the workplace. Find a course here.

Neurodivergent employees are often misunderstood. Here's why HR leaders in the public sector should champion the inclusion of neurodiversity in the workplace.
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About CPS HR Consulting

CPS HR Consulting is a self-supporting public agency providing a full range of integrated HR solutions to government and nonprofit clients across the country.  Our strategic approach to increasing the effectiveness of human resources results in improved organizational performance for our clients.  We have a deep expertise and unmatched perspective in guiding our clients in the areas of organizational strategy, recruitment and selection, classification and compensation, and training and development.