If we rolled back the clock to just 10 years ago, the workplace was a very different environment. Artificial intelligence sounded very grand, automation was in its infancy and the workplace was not so diverse with people retiring promptly when they hit 65, and those with disabilities or long-term conditions often struggling to find an opening in the workplace based on the way they looked or on pre-conceived ideas about their ability.
Like everything, times change and with it, the way we collectively think and act. Slowly we are tipping the balance and realisation that diversity is the key to future success. If you bring in people with varied skills, perspectives and backgrounds you can address a range of business issues, and pave the way for true innovation. Put quite simply, diversity – when embraced, acts as a source of creative potential.
Many big companies have started to recognise this, including IBM who launched their IBM Ignite Autism Spectrum Disorder program in 2017. The program’s goal was to help launch the careers of employees, and their work remains ongoing.
IBM are not alone in recognising the talents of neurodiverse people i.e. those people that see, understand and think about the world differently, but the question is are you ready? Often making the world a more inclusive space is adversely affected by those in it, who may not be of a like-mind.
So, are you inclusive or do you hold some typical misconceptions about neurodivergent individuals, such as they do not interact/communicate well with others, they do not perform well at school/in the workplace and that they are only capable of performing repetitive tasks?
The truth is that just as every single one of us is different in what we do, like, in the way we act, etc., so are neurodivergent individuals. Some of your co-workers will be neurodivergent, and you won’t notice it. Many go on to be exceptional employees, as they can offer a new perspective. That’s why many will refer to neurodivergence as a superpower.
For example, one particular form of neurodivergence is autism, and there is a wide variation in the type and range of symptoms. Tom Hanks, in the film Forrest Gump, perhaps portrayed a more stereotypical depiction of someone with autism by his literal interpretation of people’s speech and his need to maintain a singular focus; but this depiction contrasts greatly with the likes of Bill Gates, the founder of the Microsoft Corporation who is a software developer, investor, author and philanthropist. Throughout his career, he has been an inspiration to many, just view some of his TED Talks if you need any further evidence.
Whilst the writing of this article sadly coincides with the announcement that his marriage has irretrievably broken down, Bill Gates was married and had three children in his 27-year marriage to his wife, Melinda. Once again, this situation directly challenges the depiction that these individuals cannot have fulfilling relationships with family and friends. A 27-year marriage, whether it failed in the end, is a testament to the fact that this is possible.
Where we do occasionally see neurodivergent individuals shying away in the workplace or socially, perhaps this is a reflection of our own behaviours towards that individual. We cannot expect everyone to behave or act in the same way. Everyone’s brain is wired differently, and whilst neurodiverse individuals have a different way of seeing the world, it is wrong of us to expect them to only behave and act in a certain way. Their differences should be welcomed and not challenged as wrong, or inappropriate.
And the good news: the faster we accept these individuals, their similarities and their differences, and start appreciating their inputs and values; they will be more open to show the world who they really are, including their talents, strengths, and quirks.
So, what was the purpose of my article you may ask… well, my one ask to you is to go away and think about whether there really is a ‘normal’ brain, in the same way, that there is no one ‘right’ gender, ethnicity or culture. If you conclude that there is indeed no normal brain, then put yourself into their position –the discrimination they may face for being different, for responding in a different way – yet their desire to be heard, successful and accepted in life. Put aside your preconceived ideas, and focus on getting to know that individual better and I promise you, you will not be disappointed.