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Posted 23 Dec 2021

2021 – The Year That The Neurodiversity Movement Came Of Age

Neurodiversity at Work has been building through the last 10 years as a phenomenon with a core in Social Justice and Talent Management. Since around 2013, we’ve seen big international firms such as SAP and Microsoft running affirmative hiring programs to bring in Autistic thinkers and organizations such as EY and GCHQ play the same strategy for Dyslexics. Increasingly though, these businesses are realizing that this isn’t just about Autism or Dyslexia, it’s about cognitive diversity. It doesn’t make sense to ring fence certain jobs for a specific neurotype, any more than it makes sense to systematically exclude certain neurotypes, because the cognitive profile of the human species is more complex than that. However, it does make sense for businesses to have a neurodiversity strategy, because not all jobs require the same cognitive skills and a balance of specialist and generalist workers recruited into a balance of specialist and generalist work will be more efficient. So the story goes – but the reality is difficult to operationalize and that’s why there’s been a growth in business support groups springing up to help. We’ve seen great advice and toolkits from many of the usual HR and Business Forums, but these are not enough. In 2021, we saw the formation of some specific groups that are ones to watch for 2022.

Neurodiversity In Business

Headed by Dan Harris, Neurodiversity in Business (NiB)is an industry forum that is bringing the UK’s leading listed businesses together to lead changes in employment practices for the neurodivergent. With an advisory board formed of neurodivergent experts and those with experience of neurodiversity at work, NiB works with businesses by sharing best practice. Importantly, those who are neurodivergent are key to this organisation ensuring that NiB keeps true to the aims of the neurodivergent community. Neurodiversity in Business’ Mission is:

“To help businesses; support the neurodivergent and change society.”

Harris believes that neurodiversity is a competitive advantage. He says: “Being privileged to see the inner workings of corporate giants across industry, I can see that even with the best of intentions people can struggle to deliver scalable, authentic change without the support of senior leaders. It’s time to share ideas, peer review and facilitate a constructive dialogue. Everyone wants to be following some measure of good practice and honing what they do. Therefore we need to be developing evidence and asking, ‘which interventions deliver the most meaningful outcome?’”

The Institute Of Neurodiversity

Charlotte Valeur, founder of the Institute of Neurodiversity (IoN) has picked up on a specific element of Harris’s critique – the reliance on champions and sponsors. Her vision is to create space for those championing Neurodiversity in business to get the support they need, from a position of lived experience. Too often, social justice movements in businesses rely on the work of those who are affected to clear the way for those coming after. Marginalized staff doing extra work, voluntarily, can be exhausting and lead to burnout. We need allies and connections. Valuer shared the following:

“At IoN we want to bring ND people together with our allies, supporting the individuals who are doing the work, supporting Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) to deliver the work. Individuals will get the support they need to deliver the mission of the ERG and expand the message. We want to have a mesh of ND networks around the world that connect locally, and then we connect globally. Our mission is to lift our community promote their work.”

Both Harris and Valeur agree that neurodiversity can lean on the experiences of the broader Equity, Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging (EDIB) movement and connect into these rich resources to inform practice.

The 2020s are also maturing our concept of intersectionality – there’s unlikely to be a gender, LGBTQIA2S+, race or disability ERG that doesn’t have a neurodivergent member, and equally in neurominority groups all genders, sexualities, races, ethnicities and other disabilities are present. Previously, organizations have tried to make changes for individual categories in silos, but Intersectionality shows us how this is limiting and incomplete. Valeur shared that her son, who is Autistic and of Mixed Heritage, identifying as Black, has a different experience to her own experience of being white, female and Autistic. In line with these developments, some of the leading firms such as Microsoft and EY have updated their hiring strategies to a more comprehensive definition of neurodivergence and diversity. Where they lead, no doubt others will be following soon.

What Does “Good” Look Like?

So, as we move into 2022, with the talent argument firmly in the narrative, and the legal imperative clearly demarcated in case law around the world, it’s time to ask a new question, what does good look like? When Neurodiversity becomes part of the furniture, what will we be seeing and hearing that we’re not seeing and hearing yet? Harris states:

“When we’ve finished this work, we will not be talking about neurodivergence anymore. We will talk about everyone, as individuals, having their own strengths and struggles. We need our organisations to have both the IQ and the EQ to get the best out of us. Leaving your workday in your happiest place having delivered your potential.”

Judy Singer’s original concept of Neurodiversity certainly proposed an embrace of all neurotypes and a critique of any neurotype seeking dominance over another. Neurodiversity began as a human rights movement for neurominorities and in all human rights movements, employment equality is an essential step, a point at which we can say Neurodiversity has come of age. But it is rarely the finish point, and it remains to be seen how society evolves with a more powerful Neurodiversity lobby operating in our corporate workplaces. If gender, race and LGBTQIA2S+ movements are an indicator, we still have a lot of work for 2022 and beyond. There are still too many neurominorities in prison, unemployed, failing in education, missing out on appropriate healthcare; there’s a dynamic tension for which we need solutions seeded throughout rather than solely top down.

Read more of Nancy’s Forbes Blog here.