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Neurodiversity at Work: A Guide for Managers

Some days, corporate diversity programs can feel more like an opportunistic tick in a checkbox or a marketing buzzword than actual meaningful action in pursuit of inclusion and belonging. I've known a lot of leaders and managers who genuinely care and want to foster inclusive workplaces, but don't feel they have the resources or knowledge to do so effectively.


Companies often provide bias training and sometimes even guidance on how to foster an inclusive culture. But most of the seasoned managers that I've spoken with about this don't feel they have been equipped with effective tools or up to date information and are afraid of doing the wrong thing or using the wrong language.


Whether your corporate program is underfunded, grassroots-led but not company sponsored, saddled with performative goals, lacking measurable metrics that consistently promote long-term results, or [fill in the blank], the outcomes are the same: wasted effort, disillusionment, cognitive dissonance, lack of trust, and the undermining of a lot of well-intentioned folks' efforts.


Poll your internal communities for anonymous feedback. If your corporate diversity program is seen as inauthentic, feels ineffective to the marginalized groups you are trying to serve, and contributes to feelings of frustration and abandonment from the leaders and managers you are trying to equip, it's time to dig deeper. In those cases, even with good intent, you're likely doing more harm than good and alienating those you are trying to support while further confirming any existing bias in those who don't believe in the intrinsic importance and benefits of DEIB (diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging) efforts.


Even programs that are effective for some groups may be alienating others. One area in particular that is gaining more recognition and importance is neurodiversity, which encompasses a range of neurological conditions such as ADHD, autism, dyslexia, and more. Embracing neurodiversity at work can lead to increased innovation, creativity, and overall success, but again, all too often companies aren't providing leaders and managers with actionable guidance to effectively manage neurodivergent employees.



what managers need to know about neurodiversity at work


As a manager, it's crucial to be curious and take the time to understand and manage each person that reports to you as an individual. Some managers take a "one size fits all" approach and manage everyone the same or only manage "the team" as an entity without understanding each person's unique strengths, needs, and motivations.


Another related, common misstep is when leaders only manage each individual and don't manage the group of individuals as a team. I've seen this most frequently when leaders manage other leaders and treat each one as an individual, but don't manage them as a team of leaders with potentially interrelated strategies, goals, and opportunities. We'll explore that in a future blog post.


The "one size fits all" approach may feel like an efficiency, especially when you consider everything that gets piled on a manager's plate. Unfortunately, it can lead to difficult team dynamics, poor outcomes, and cause you to be seen as an ineffective leader. When you don't take the time to provide personalized management to each individual, it can result in mismatched skills and tasks, communication issues and misalignment because of misinterpretations and misunderstandings, a lack of trust and engagement, limited or mismatched growth opportunities, stifled creativity, homogenous problem-solving and ideas, and higher turnover.


That "one size fits all" approach really becomes ineffective when managing neurodivergent folks, who often bring unique perspectives and skills to the table. Whether someone has disclosed their neurodiversity to you or not, you shouldn't make any assumptions about what they need and want. Be curious and explore each person's motivations, strengths, and challenges. This helps create a more inclusive and supportive work environment, can potentially unlock neurodivergent superpowers, and lead to better outcomes for everyone.

"With the right tools and support, neurodiverse teams can be 30% more productive than those comprised of solely neurotypical people." - Deloitte, 2022


Here's a list of resources to explore and if you've found any others valuable, please share in the comments!



Together, we can create a work environment where every individual feels valued, supported, and empowered. For support on your leadership journey, sign up for a free consultation today.



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