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Supporting Black Neurodiversity in the Workplace

While many organizations have taken strides to begin conversations about diversity, equity, and inclusion in their workplace, much work still remains, especially when it comes to the inclusion of neurodivergent employees. And for those who live at the intersections of Blackness and neurodiversity, we can use the end of Autism Awareness Month as a catalyst for change and holding space for their experiences year-round.

The term neurodiversity reflects that idea that people experience the world in different ways, and often refers to neurological or developmental conditions such as autism spectrum disorder (ASD), dyslexia, dyspraxia, and ADHD. White boys are most likely to be diagnosed and treated for ADHD, while many people of color remain undiagnosed, or will be diagnosed much later in life. White supremacy culture plays a hand in this mistreatment, where people of color– and in particular, Black women– are stigmatized by their symptoms, and labeled as lazy, defiant, or unfocused.

Being a person of color in the workplace brings its own challenges in navigating spaces that were primarily designed for White, cis-hetero males to succeed in. For those who hold the identity of being both a person of color and neurodivergent, existing in such a space can take an immense toll on their wellbeing and contribute to increased anxiety and depression. From the hiring process to everyday operations, there are numerous steps organizations can take to ensure neurodivergent people of color are included, retained, and supported in their workplace:

End worship of the written word

White supremacy culture in the workplace demands that ideas, concepts, and evidence of one’s abilities be demonstrated through written word. Beginning at the hiring process, organizations can rethink their approach of requiring written responses that force candidates to articulate their value into a few hundred words. Instead, leaders can explore ways to make hiring practices more equitable by incorporating other accommodations and alternatives, like audio and video submissions.

Be slow to make conclusions about performance

For people with conditions like ADHD, meeting deadlines and following through on tasks at work can be a challenge. Many companies follow the motto, “slow to hire, quick to fire,” breeding a mentality that will break out performance improvement plans (PIPs) at what they perceive as the first sign of trouble. Instead of approaching performance issues from a space of discipline and judgment, adopting a more curious and compassionate approach to management can help leaders gain valuable insights on how to best support their teams. Simple fixes such as providing editing software or creating a space built on trust and support can go a long way in helping neurodivergent employees to feel supported and not under a microscope.

Address how racial and disability biases may be showing up in your workplace

It may be tempting for corporations and organizations to want to add another DEI training to their calendars, but uprooting bias and discrimination within your place of work can begin by truly listening to the voices of, and responding to the needs of people from underrepresented backgrounds who are on your team.

Making space for employees to provide consistent and honest feedback about practices and operations that may not be supporting them will give the direct insight needed to implement change. Backing that insight with resources and actionable items will show employees that they are valued and reveal a demonstrated commitment to equity.

This Autism Awareness Month and beyond, take the time to rebuild trust with your team and create the conditions for those who are neurodivergent to feel heard, supported, and included. Neurodivergent people teach us that there is no one standard way of thinking or processing the world around us. By ensuring the inclusion of neurodivergent people on your team, your impact as an organization will be improved for it.

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