Approximately 15-25% of the global population identifies as neurodivergent or as having one of an infinite range of differences in brain functioning.  One of the best explanations of neurodivergence is from the Charter Based Instituted of Personnel and Development (CIPD), a London based non-profit studying the human issues at work. In their 2024 Neurodiversity at Work report, CIPD explained neurodivergence as follows:

“While all brains are different, some people with broadly similar ways of thinking, communicating and processing information can have a sense of shared identity and experience – for example, an identity as autistic, dyslexic, dyspraxic or as an ADHDer. For many, the spark to such an identity comes through receiving a specific medical diagnosis or diagnoses. People who possess one or more such identities most often identify and are referred to as ‘neurodivergent’. You may hear someone who does not identify as neurodivergent referred to as ‘neurotypical’ (though in reality neurotypicality is highly contextual, and there is no one ‘normal’ brain).”

At a time when attracting and retaining diverse talent is now a critical part of organizational strategy, neurodivergent individuals are welcomed in inclusive workplaces for the unique skills, perspectives, and experiences they bring to organizational performance and culture. But not every workplace is inclusive and neurodivergent individuals have significant challenges when their employer is not responsive to their needs or does not value their way of working.

This was a key finding of research IMA conducted in 2022 on the topic of neurodiversity in the accounting and finance profession. IMA interviewed over twenty accounting and finance professionals who self-identified as neurodivergent with professional accounting employment experience in the U.S.  IMA intended to find out more about their career or working experience as a neurodivergent individual, their perceptions of inclusion and belonging in the workplace, and their recommendations to improve the perceived inclusion of neurodivergent persons.

As a baseline, IMA asked study participants whether they felt they could disclose their neurological condition to their employer. Responses indicated discomfort with this idea and a need for greater support. Fifty-six percent of participants expressed fear of disclosure, linking it with actual or anticipated experiences of biased, unfair, discriminatory, exclusive, or career-limiting treatment prompted by others’ knowledge of their neurological condition.

Several of the study participants perceived that they faced occupational and social exclusion in the workplace upon disclosure of their neurological conditions and sometimes without disclosure but linked to the differences in how they communicate and interact with others.  Without frequent and transparent feedback, participants noted they often go weeks or months manifesting behaviors they do not know make others uncomfortable.

For those who voluntarily disclosed their condition or felt compelled to disclose their condition to receive needed support, they saw mixed responses. Some reported receiving what they perceived to be negative treatment, but others benefited from supportive leaders who they perceived continued to value their contribution. Some indicated the accommodation they ultimately received was not what was needed for them specifically. Participants who choose not to disclose often do not tend to receive the accommodation needed to perform their jobs, as most accommodations are provided upon request after disclosure of the condition and are not broadly available to all.

The IMA research provides participants’ in-depth responses and quotes to support their perceptions. You can access it here. The study is useful for any leader as it sheds light on what improvements can be made to improve inclusiveness of neurodivergent individuals. These recommendations include:

  • Broader and continuous training among neurotypical and neurodivergent individuals to raise awareness
  • Provide autonomy and flexibility on when and how work is performed
  • Make available a broad range of arrangements and offerings to all employees so that those with neurological conditions do not have to request for specific accommodations

As we celebrate Autism Awareness Month, it is imperative that organizations consider the needs of neurodivergent staff in their overall diversity, equity, and inclusion and talent strategies. Contributions by neurodivergent individuals at work are significant and it is up to each of us to ensure they feel welcomed, respected, and valued.

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