How to leverage neurodiversity in your culture

Whenever I speak to companies interested in hiring neurodiverse individuals, there is sometimes concern over how much work might need to be done to rethink culture. But really, you don’t need to do this from scratch. There are a sizeable number of neurodiverse individuals already Trojan horsed into your organisation, and we can start from there.
Enter, one of my pet topics, as someone with ADHD myself, who has Trojan horsed herself into your schools, universities and workplaces for years.

What is neurodiversity?

Not too long ago, we expected everyone to network and socialise at work like extroverts; now we are increasingly aware of how some of us are introverts and ambiverts. That is diversity in our personality— how affected we are by stimulation, and how we recharge within a social environment.

Just as the recognition and respect for other forms of diversity have increased in organisations— from gender to sexuality to ethnicity— it is a great time to recognise neurodiversity.

In short, it is the amazing variety of ways in which our brains are wired. You may have heard of ADD, ADHD, autism, dyslexia and dyspraxia, to name a few.

And whilst sometimes these neural wirings are banded with stories of doom and gloom, and handicap, it is not always this way.

There are stories of triumph too, because much as being neurotypical can make it hard to function in everyday life— from being unable to read the nonverbal hints in communication, to being terrible at planning one’s time and therefore overscheduling, to being incredibly easily distracted— there are plenty of strengths to be leveraged.

And these strengths include:— being great at deadlines, the ability to see patterns and problem-solve or push new frontiers, divergent thinking and practical creativity, and creating systems and structures for new and better ways of thriving.

How we should not see neurodiversity

As with anything in mental health and diversity, I am cautious of using it as an excuse or using it to say that one type of functioning style is better than another.

Take for instance, the old meme I saw years ago that says, ‘Your introversion is not an excuse to be an asshole’. Amen to that.

So for instance when we talk, we aren’t saying “Oh I am easily distracted, and therefore refuse to go through these documents, end of story”. What we might say instead is, “I need someone to take five minutes to do this with me, and in exchange, I will support them with [XYZ]”.
Otherwise, it might be “When I am speaking with you, I might be doodling, but I am not actually focused on the doodles. The action in my hands helps me focus on you better”. So explaining how it is a win-win-win for you, them, and the relationship/task matters.
Similarly, people start to question, is one pace of thinking/doing better than others.
No. This is simply about acknowledging that some people’s brains work at a much faster pace, but may have shorter attention spans so they need more breaks and recharging. Others have a medium pace; and then others have a slower pace but a long focus span. It is
not a competition.

Everyone, regardless of their pace, stays accountable and shows personal responsibility.

Just because you’ve met one neurodivergent doesn’t mean you’ve met them all

“But you don’t look ADHD”, people tell me.

Then they see me bang out a 3000 word article in an hour, speak at 3x my normal pace, or climb things.

Well, you asked.

So I will show you the upsides of my ADHD; but I will not reduce myself to my older levels of poorer functioning before I trained myself, in order to convince you or get a crumb of pity.
This isn’t about proving, nor does everyone look the same.

In fact, many females have inattentional ADD, where they appear calm, but may forget many things not out of malice but rather due to deficits in executive functioning. Meaning, the cogs and wheels of parts of their brain aren’t working as well to help them through day-to-day stuff that you may find easy.

Whilst I have what we colloquially call “boy ADHD” where I like to run and jump and fidget, except that I’ve learnt to control that and my speaking pace, especially within a professional setting.

So long and short is, it all appears very different.

A neurodivergent may also have different types of wiring compounded. So, a person with ADHD + autism may less impulsive, and need both stimulation and quiet. And this would look very different to someone with ADHD alone, or someone with dyslexia and ADD.
Then you also consider the mental health challenges that neurodivergent struggle with.
You see, even if we have found it easy-ish enough in our education and jobs, the price to pay on our brain exhaustion can be high. We know we are different, and we know we could have been better, less lazy, more productive. . and we have no words for it except for ‘weirdo’, ‘strange’ and. . ‘imposter’, ‘fraud’ or ‘stupid’. So enter depression, anxiety and a whole cluster of struggles. But of course, being high-functioning, we show up all the time.

So layer this into your neural signature and every neurodivergent presents differently.

Not everyone is Rainman.

How to support neurodivergents in your workforce

The business case is evident. For every £1 spent on mental health initiatives— especially pre-emptively— you gain £5 in return. That’s what Deloitte found in 2020, way before we account for what COVID and the global recession and wars have been doing to buffet our collective psyches.

So making some provisions to tweak the everyday life of neurodivergents can help us all work and play together better.

One way is to use non-threatening language rather than to ask for disclosure, because there is considerable stigma with being neurodiverse. So frame these in terms of how this looks like at work.

To recap the above:—being great at deadlines, the ability to see patterns and problem-solve or push new frontiers, divergent thinking and practical creativity, and creating systems and structures for new and better ways of thriving, having a significantly faster pace of thinking and doing than everyone else.

And when you figure out what they are great at, let them do more of that. Whilst outsourcing the rest to someone else who is better at those, or prefers those. Teamwork, for the win.

Another is to ask someone, what support they require. Maybe it’s a desk with less stimulation? Maybe it’s more breaks? Maybe it’s more or less autonomy.

What I love is running workshops on the concept of psychological safety here. Which is something we all need in order for people to voice their real opinions and propose alternatives, rather than to look like they are agreeing because there is a dearth of psychological safety. Here, questions about people’s needs for safety, certainty and autonomy can help; because no amount of relationship or communications workshops will mean anything otherwise. To find out more about this gamechanger, simply reach out.

Third, don’t give your neurodivergent the same cookie-cutter type of mental health or coaching support. Because the generic stuff don’t work on high performers— they are already functioning even if it comes at a cost to their well-being and sanity— and what more, when their brains are wired differently. Matching solutions within time-limited frameworks create real sustainable change. Support isn’t just about when a person is in crisis mode or has a mental health diagnosis; the best in sports and music become and stay the best in their fields because they receive coaching. You need to keep yourself in tip-top shape.

Finally, it is never an Us Versus Them thing. Neurodivergents aren’t zoo exhibits, to be flaunted as an example. Nor to be seen as different. We like the same activities as you, and we share similarities— especially a common humanity— that we can tap into. And by tapping into what we are great at and passionate at, everybody thrives. I think that’s a sweet deal.

Keen to leverage neurodiversity within your culture, or get coached about it? Get in touch with us.