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Opinion: Neurodiversity in the workplace

www.telanganatoday.com | May 10, 2023

Implementation of various policies remains unmonitored revealing the tokenistic nature since they only bring about temporary first-order change in their current state
When you look closely at a jigsaw puzzle, you will notice that although each piece is unique in its shape, size and other features, they all come together to create one cohesive picture. This is the very philosophy behind neurodiversity in the workplace. In the last decade, many organisations have increased diversity and inclusion efforts to make their working culture more equitable. While gender and ability inclusion remain spotlight topics, most organisations remain blissfully unaware and non-inclusive towards the neurodiverse population, probably due to the lack of understanding of what it is!
What is Neurodiversity

Neurodiversity refers to the atypical functioning of neurology that encompasses conditions including but not limited to Autism Spectrum Conditions, Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, Dyslexia, Dyscalculia, and Tic conditions. Individuals with these conditions have differences in sociability, learning, attention, mood, etc, and are often labelled to be unfit to work in “cognitively demanding” occupations. This assumption, however, disregards the fact that neurodivergent individuals have varying levels of functionality and most can uphold a full-time job with simple accommodations.

In fact, they may even have the edge over neurotypical individuals (those with ‘normal’ neurological abilities) in areas including creativity, detail orientation, out-of-box thinking, hyperfocus, etc. If leveraged appropriately, these can not only lead to their career progression and improved sense of self, but also greater productivity in their organisations.
Diversity and Inclusion

Diversity and Inclusion isn’t simply a social or moral concern, but a tool enabling drastic organisational change. Organisations with diverse teams generate 19% higher revenue (The Economic Times, 2022), and have a stronger sense of belonging, unique ideation and problem-solving, and the ability to boost overall employee performance. Realising this, various policies have been implemented to ensure its practice.

India today ranks high in Diversity and Inclusion awareness. We have seen an 8% rise in female board directors due to the Sebi-mandated rule requiring all listed companies to have at least one female director (The Economic Times, 2022). Almost 90% of employees in India today consider Diversity and Inclusion to be important, however only 3% remember being trained on its implementation (People Matters, 2023). Currently, the only law protecting neurodivergence is the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016, which promotes respect, dignity and autonomy of people with disabilities, including neurodivergence.

However, the implementation of these various policies remains unmonitored and therefore, unsuccessful. This reveals the superficial and tokenistic nature of these policies since they only bring about temporary first-order change in their current state. Discrimination, ill-treatment and inequitable opportunities are prevalent issues in many populations.
Causes of Non-Inclusion

Why is it that the modern-day workforce have a negligible proportion of neurodivergent employees? Most often, it is due to the belief that it is an added task and expense to accommodate them and that the cost of resource investment is disproportionate to the outcome. Prevailing stereotypes also have a role to play.

Let’s say that an important client presentation needs to be delivered in an organisation. Who do you think is likely to be picked: an employee with autism or a neurotypical employee? More often than not, the former will be rejected based on the assumption that they might not possess the appropriate communication skills, delivery, or technical knowledge. This rationale, however, is stereotypical in nature and disregards the role of individuality and case specificity of neurotypical conditions. Each condition presents differently in different people, and therefore, such generalisations are inaccurate. Besides, the rejected neurodivergent employee might outshine others with their creative delivery and innovative problem-solving. But you as an employer, first need to give them a chance to prove themselves before letting your stereotypes and misconceptions get the better of you.

Such assumptions are rooted in misinformation and ignorance and lead to the creation of a power hierarchy between neurodivergent employees and their neurotypical counterparts. An environment like this fosters hostility and is counterproductive to the organisational goals. It also leads to a diminished sense of self and esteem in the neurodivergent employees, which may further demotivate them. Studies reveal these misunderstandings to be the cause of rising workplace isolation, unfair treatment, harassment, absenteeism, low performance, job quitting, and even psychological conditions like anxiety and depression.

Not only is the mindset to be blamed but also the existing formal procedures of hiring. The selection process offers default advantages to neurotypicals due to its emphasis on communication, sociability, language fluency, articulation and the ability to read social cues. For example, taking longer than a few seconds to respond to an interview question can be perceived as a lack of understanding or articulation. However, the comprehension, reasoning and subsequent response formulation, paired with situational pressure, may require a longer time for a neurodivergent. These biases are especially prevalent in the selection of authority-position employees due to the rigid and generalist-seeking demands of these roles.

Equity and Inclusion

The most basic steps towards organisational neurodiversity inclusion would be the provision of accommodative resources like light regulators, headphones, noiseless cabins, speech-to-text, read-aloud tools, etc. Policy changes can be implemented that make provisions for individualised mentoring, hiring procedural changes, additional training and frequent breaks with special rest zones. Additionally, generalist-seeking authority roles can be dismantled and replaced by specialised managerial roles that allow the hyper-focused exercise of a specific skill. This will not only imbibe inclusivity but also lead to greater productivity.

Remote work can also be promoted as it allows greater environmental personalisation. Using chat and email features enables socially anxious individuals to exercise control and makes communication effective. Revisiting presentations and recordings may help counter attentional/concentration barriers. It also becomes easier to manage fatigue or burnout. This solution is especially beneficial for organisations that lack the resources to accommodate their neurodivergent workforce in offices.

Most importantly, learning and awareness workshops must be conducted on a regular basis to educate the entire workforce about how they can take simple steps to accommodate their neurodivergent colleagues and subsequently foster empathy, cooperation and an enhanced sense of organisational belonging. Optimistically, the organisational incorporation of neurodivergent employees can lead to the dissolution of misinformation and stigma, translating into their societal incorporation. Great things can happen when people are given a chance!
This article has been authored by Kashish Srivastava, UG Student - Psychology, FLAME University, and Prof. Moitrayee Das, Faculty of Psychology, FLAME University.

(Source:- https://telanganatoday.com/opinion-neurodiversity-in-the-workplace )