Yet more than half of U.S. employees say that’s not the case.
The notion of prioritizing diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace has not only become a more explicit focus for companies in recent years, but also essential elements for retention and recruitment. Often, applicants will voice that working with a diverse range of colleagues and at a company that authentically integrates inclusion into their culture are key factors in their search. Benchmarking the DEI progress (or lack thereof) that companies are making in various ways is therefore critical. It is also important to acknowledge that the notion of ‘diversity’ is not fixed but evolving and with ample room for more depth. However, with this in mind, DEI in the workplace often leaves out neurodiversity and the explicit support of neurodivergent individuals.
According to Understood’s Employee DEI Experience research, 64% of the surveyed American employees feel their place of work values diversity and shows it in their actions, but only 47% of them saw neurodiversity as an identity trait that was supported by their employer. True, many companies have made notable efforts to better their DEI efforts in recent years. But 1 in 5 employees in the United States has a learning or thinking difference, and workplaces often aren’t shaped for them. In fact, the study found that a concerning 28% of employees indicated not having the right office setup, technology, or tools needed to do their job properly.
Examining this issue more closely, not having the resources needed to perform is, in part, a product of not having a platform where a conversation about these needs is available. This presents a massive challenge for neurodivergent individuals as simple supports and accommodations – like Zoom meeting transcriptions or a quiet place to work – can help them do their best work.
Without active assistance from human resource departments, hiring managers, and business leaders at the top, companies not only fail to acknowledge or support their neurodivergent employees, but are also likely missing out on hiring neurodivergent employees that are highly qualified for roles they need filled. But there are several simple things employers can do to create true impact and inclusivity for people who learn and think differently.
First, it is important to note that neurodiversity is likely only one piece of an employee’s intersectional identity. Failing to consider neurodiversity as a factor worth supporting in the workplace, especially considering the stigma neurodivergent thinkers often experience, is often where companies’ DEI efforts fall flat. For example, according to the study, nearly 20% of employees are not aware they can request an accommodation at work should they need one. But of those who have requested one, employed men were roughly 20% more likely to have had the request granted. And on the other hand, Hispanic and Black employees who have asked for an accommodation were denied much more often than their white peers.
Then, focus on proactively offering accommodations. As it relates to neurodiversity, these include but are not limited to flexible work schedules, additional training time, and dual written and verbal content. It’s worth noting the common misconception among managers is that accommodations are expensive – but most are free to organizations, and those that are not, are generally one-time expenses of less than $500. Understood also offers a comprehensive disability and DEI training and solutions program for employers invested in building inclusive workplaces.
Lastly, as a part of your culture efforts, consider developing an internal community for your employees, through the creation of an employee resource group or an employee driven space that provides support for employees with a learning and thinking difference. Providing safe spaces for employees to celebrate their wins, discuss their challenges, and share their personal experience can create improved retention and engagement.
As companies look to develop their DEI systems of support, consider how neurodiversity should be better integrated into your efforts. From workplace training programs, to providing platforms that explicitly support neurodivergent employees, everyone will benefit from being more completely understood.