By Larry Ross
There are many factors that go into successfully recruiting, hiring, supporting, and retaining neurodivergent employees. Though all factors are vital, I’m going to focus on one of the most important when building a neuroinclusive company, which is management. It’s essential for managers to be trained and knowledgeable about how to manage neurodiverse teams.
In my experience, most managers are unsure about dealing with matters relating to neurodiversity, such as disclosure, reasonable adjustments, and working with different communication styles. At the same time, these are the very skills that are needed to create an inclusive workplace and a positive experience for neurodivergent employees.
The good news is that it’s possible to build these skills and change the culture of your workplace. The key is to start at the foundational level by doing the internal work to achieve neuroinclusive management.
Step 1: Assess Company Culture and Management Styles
Companies are increasingly recognizing the importance of effective management when creating a more neurodiverse and inclusive workplace. As a result, they’re turning to advisors like auticon for neurodiversity training. However, before diving into training, it is crucial to take the initial step of conducting an assessment. By gaining a clear understanding of their current practices and policies in relation to neuroinclusion, organizations can better engage in training leading to a customized pathway for lasting change.
When auticon delivers neuroinclusion services to a client, we start with a comprehensive assessment of the organization’s neuroinclusion maturity level. An assessment offers great value, as it gathers relevant data. This data is derived from internal surveys and feedback from employees and managers across all departments, including interviews with senior stakeholders. Insights from the assessment help managers better understand their strengths as well as areas for growth in supporting their teams. Data-driven insights are also highly valued by leadership, as they provide a tangible basis for understanding current practices and determining areas for improvement.
Assessment is an integral first step because it’s how you build the foundation for systemic change throughout the entire organization. It’s about having knowledge at the company level of what’s working, what you need to work on, and how you’re going to get there.
Step 2: Implement Recommendations and Training
Once the assessment is complete and valuable feedback has been collected, the next step is to translate these findings into meaningful changes. This process begins with leadership, who must participate in reviewing the assessment results by identifying areas for improvement, establishing a clear plan, and creating a reasonable timeline for implementation.
This phase can be challenging as it carries the risk of causing harm if not executed correctly. Gathering feedback from every level and corner of the company generates a wealth of data, which must be carefully considered, digested, and implemented. Failure to act upon this feedback may lead to employee dissatisfaction, as they need to witness tangible outcomes resulting from the company’s commitment to inclusion.
To navigate this sensitive stage effectively, it is crucial to partner with an external, neutral neuroinclusion advisor. This advisor should take a holistic approach that includes reviewing the assessment results, assisting in creating plans, providing coaching, and offering support throughout the implementation process.
This stage also requires dedicated effort from management, as they are the backbone when implementing necessary changes within their respective teams. To ensure change is implemented with integrity, management training becomes crucial. These trainings must be tailored to the organization’s specific needs, while building upon a foundational understanding that change starts with them through furthering their neuroinclusive leadership practices.
Priority training topics may include the following:
- Neurodivergence in the Workplace
- Mental Health and Well-being
- Inclusive Communication
By tailoring training to the company’s specific needs, management can effectively implement necessary changes within their teams. Individualized training ensures that the company’s commitment to inclusion is translated into tangible actions, promoting a more inclusive and supportive workplace for all employees.
Step 3: Practice Neuroinclusive Management
After completing the assessment, implementing recommended changes, and providing training, the journey towards neuroinclusive management is not complete; in fact, it is just beginning. Equipped with the necessary tools and external guidance, it is now crucial to foster and sustain these practices. By demonstrating an ongoing commitment to neuroinclusive management, your company can use its newfound learnings as catalysts for foundational change throughout the organization.
These are some of the key elements in practicing neuroinclusive management day-to-day:
- Treating each employee as an individual.
- Creating safe spaces for employees to disclose and ask questions.
- Shifting norms around different communication and work styles.
- Leveraging strengths on your team.
- Providing support where it’s needed.
Managers play an integral role in implementing reasonable accommodations and supports for neurodivergent employees. In a survey of employers, the Job Accommodation Network found that nearly half of accommodations cost nothing. And while there are some that managers may not be able to provide directly, without additional involvement from HR or IT (e.g., an adapted workspace or assistive technology), there are many that can be implemented easily. These are practical changes that will support others on the team as well.
For example, an autistic employee may request to receive instructions and feedback in writing, to stay off camera during video calls, or to communicate over chat rather than audio/video. The manager’s role is to understand, accept, and adopt these practices. When a manager sets an example of embracing and normalizing different work styles, the whole team will benefit.
The Transformative Power of Neuroinclusion
For your neurodivergent employees, your company’s commitment to neuroinclusion and inclusive management practices has the potential to transform their careers. Consider this: starting early in life, many neurodivergent people face a cycle of exclusion, misunderstanding, and messages that something is wrong with them, creating pressure for them to change themselves. This level of exclusion can migrate from childhood throughout their educational journey and into adulthood.
By following the steps above, your company can reframe this narrative to accept, embrace, and actively include employees with different styles of thinking, communicating, and working. As a result, you can break the cycle of exclusion and make a profound difference for your employees.
For more details on the process of becoming a neuroinclusive company, download auticon’s free guide for employers, “Neuroinclusion in the Workplace: a 360° Approach.”