Neurodiversity in the Workplace: A Competitive DEI Advantage

IRI Podcast episode on Neurodiversity in the Workplace

Companies today strive for a diverse workforce. In this episode, we’ll be exploring why opening the door to neurodiverse workers can not only increase staffing levels, but also bring valuable, new ways of thinking and problem-solving to your organization – ways that can give your company a competitive edge. Today, we talk with Susanne Bruyère, Professor of Disability Studies and the Director of the Yang-Tan Institute on Employment and Disability at the Cornell University ILR (Industrial and Labor Relations) School, co-editor of Neurodiversity in the Workplace: Issues, Interests and Opportunities. Here, she explains:

  • What falls under the umbrella of the term "neurodiversity";
  • Why neurodiverse workers today are considered a valuable, untapped talent pool;
  • The truth behind who demands the vast majority of accommodations in the workplace today; and
  • How to identify gaps between neurodiverse and neurotypical employees, and how to develop effective practices to minimize those gaps!

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The Meaning of Neurodiversity

  • Neurodiversity describes the natural way that people think, learn, and perceive the world. 
    • While there is no “right” way of thinking, neurodiversity describes how people experience the world differently.
  • There is an umbrella list of words that fall under the term, including autism, ADHD, learning disabilities, depression, and more. 


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A Neurodiverse Workforce

  • Many employers are embracing affirmative hiring programs, actively seeking neurodivergent candidates, because of the way they perceive the world.
    • Neurodiversity in the workplace can demonstrate expanded focus abilities and other advantageous characteristics.
    • There is especially great interest in neurodivergent candidates within the tech industry.
  • While it is also important to amplify other diversity initiatives in the workplace, companies have been slow to include people with disabilities, and neurodivergent people, in the conversation.

Reactions to a Neurodiverse Workforce

  • Statistically, there are fewer opportunities for neurodivergent people in the workforce.
    • As of 2021, the employment rate for individuals with autism was 22% - and even when hired, many are in positions where they are underemployed and underpaid.
  • Historically, employers have not adequately adapted to neurodiversity in the workplace.
  • Labels can be very off putting, and create stereotypes that infuse an unnecessary fear in the workplace. 
    • Addressing concerns about accommodations, studies show that 95% of people who request workplace accommodations are NOT people with disabilities - so we’re already accommodating, all the time. Accommodation should not be a reason to avoid hiring neurodiverse employees. 

Being a Neurodivergent Employee

  • Neurodivergent people have a wide range of experiences when it comes to employment.
    • Some have success finding a job, and thrive in the workplace. 
    • Some neurodivergent people have reported negative experiences at work, facing discrimination, harassment, or ridicule. 
    • As a result, some feel like they need to hide their neurodiversity at work. 

Neurodiversity in the Workplace

  • Ms. Bruyere is the editor of Neurodiversity in the Workplace: Issues, Interest, and Opportunities, which is part of a larger collection launched by The Society for Industrial Organizational Psychology, which makes scientific contributions to the field of industrial psychology. 
    • The goal of the series is to inform and stimulate members, students, and researchers, to think about issues with neurodiversity in the workplace and integrate them into educational efforts.
  • Inspiration for this book came from the fact that neurodiverse people are a largely untapped talentpool, and the authors and editorial team wanted to share compelling reasons to make people in the industrial organizational field more aware of the fact. 
    • This can also show business leaders how changing workplace policies and practices can effectively include neurodiverse individuals
  • This book aims to highlight and identify gaps between neurodiverse and neurotypical employees, and develop effective practices to minimize those gaps. 
    • While the ideal audience for the book is psychologists and those working in industrial organization, the information is useful for a much broader audience, including HR professionals, labor relations professionals, and industry leaders.
    • The hope is also that neurodiverse people can read the book and understand good practices to self-advocate or ask for help. 
  • The collection includes other topics such as organizational behavior, management, law, special education, counseling, and more. 
    • The books do more than inform people about compliance, but also look at what people can do to build a more inclusive work climate and provide a comprehensive look at what good practice is throughout the employment process. 
    • Those who work on the collection want to look at the employment process from recruitment to career development to retention.
  • The number of neurodiverse people in the workplace is growing, and companies need to be prepared to accommodate neurodiverse candidates, and help them succeed. 

Neurodiverse Candidates

  • Inclusion needs to start with recruitment, which can be improved by letting candidates know that they are desired throughout the application process. 
    • If potential candidates see inclusivity statements from CEOs, and high-ranking executives in recruitment materials, they’re much more likely to apply.
  • Good practices that have previously worked for an organization is also likely to work for neurodivergent candidates. 
    • Making clear job descriptions and expectations, providing regular check-ins, and consistent performance feedback helps all employees, but especially neurodivergent ones, feel supported and motivated. 
    • Companies can also look into employee resource groups or business groups that target neurodivergent individuals and build a supportive culture.
  • Affirmative hiring programs help get people into the workplace who otherwise have not been given opportunities to thrive, and that includes neurodiverse workers. Looking at equity for this population is really important. 
  • We need to be building more neurodiversive, diversity-inclusive workplaces as a whole, thinking about how we design our workspaces, and how we educate our supervisors about inclusion to include neurodiversity and autism.
  • Medical history attaches labels to people with neurodivergent, implying that neurodivergence is something that needs to be “fixed” or “changed”. 
  • Society is now moving away from this, and shifting towards a culture that embraces neurodivergent people, and adjusts to help them thrive.
    • It’s important to focus on a culture where people get the support they need to be successful, and that support is essential for neurodiverse people at work.

Susanne Bruyère Background

  • Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.), Rehabilitation Counseling Psychology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison
  • Master of Arts (M.S.), Vocational Rehabilitation Counseling/Counselor from the University of Southern California
  • Master of Arts (M.A.), Public Administration from Seattle University
  • Master of Arts (M.A.), Adult and Continuing Education and Teaching from Seattle University
  • She began her career as an Assistant Professor at Seattle University
  • She was the past Chair person, and now serves on the Board of the CARF (Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities)
  • Ms. Bruyère currently serves as the Director of the K. Lisa Yang and Hock E. Tan Institute on Employment and Disability at Cornell University



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