what is neurodivergent

Talent left behind 

In a tight talent market, can you afford to alienate 20% of potential candidates and employees? What if that 20% held disproportionate capability for accelerated innovation, creative problem-solving, and smashing through plateaus? 

What if you were not only alienating that 20% right now, but—actively or inadvertently—stigmatizing them? 

We’re talking about literally hundreds of millions of people, based on estimated global employment figures. 

What do they have in common? They are neurodivergent. That means they have one or more conditions that lead to them perceiving and interacting with the world differently than the neurotypical majority. These conditions may include ADHD, Autism Spectrum Disorder, Dyslexia, Dyscalculia, Dysgraphia, and others. 

The subject of pervasive discrimination—particularly in the workplace, where neurodivergent people are more than twice as likely to be unemployed and far less likely to hold leadership positionsi—we at Alludo believe neurodiversity is poised for a major reimagining.  

An ambitious new survey 

With a new ERG devoted to neurodiversity—sponsored by a member of our ELT who is outspoken about her own neurodivergence—we’re leading the way on welcoming, embracing, and outright celebrating neurodiversity within our ranks. We truly believe diversity of all kinds leads to better outcomes. According to one study, companies that offer an inclusive environment for neurodivergent workforce segment achieved 28% higher revenue, 30% greater profit margins and about double the net income compared to their competitors.    

What gets measured gets improved, so we wanted to take a pulse on neurodiversity in the workforce today.  

What are employers missing about supporting neurodiversity? 

What do neurodivergent individuals say about how, when, and where they do their best work? 

What benefits can employer gain by better supporting neurodivergent employees? 

How can the future of work take neurodiversity into account to drive better outcomes? 

These are just a few of the questions Alludo set out to answer with a new research project. Alludo surveyed nearly 1,000 neurodivergent individuals and compiled the results in an eye-opening report that should be a must-read for leaders, allies, neurodivergent individuals, and anyone who wants to simultaneously accelerate innovation and tolerance. 

The gap heard ‘round the world 

Respondents report a major gap between the environment needed to leverage their exceptional capabilities, and the environment they’re currently in. While neurodiversity looks different for everyone, respondents report having particular strengths in creativity, flexibility, outside-the-box thinking, observational skills, pattern recognition, and problem-solving.  

The flip side: They frequently reported struggles with signature characteristics of a classic, structured work environment—especially one with in-office mandates. Distractions, interpersonal communication, eye contact, sitting still—none of these make respondents less skilled or talented. They all have the potential to make respondents less able to do their best work. 

What happens next? 

The survey not only into the unique capabilities and challenges of neurodivergent individuals, but how these insights can be evaluated and turned into a better working environment with better outcomes for everyone. We have a long way to go, but this information is a critical first step. 

Read the exclusive full report here. 

i Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics 

What’s it like when you’re neurodivergent but haven’t been diagnosed yet? It’s different for everyone, of course, but in my case, I spent decades trying to present myself the way I thought I should be. I struggled daily with things that seemed to come easily to others. When measured against neurotypical standards, I constantly came up short.

If you’d only apply yourself.

If you’d only focus and pay attention.

I heard these all the time. To me, they meant: If you’d only not be the way you are.

Advocating for neurodiversity

When I was finally diagnosed as neurodivergent as an adult, it was a relief. I began to lean into my neurodivergence, working with my strengths (and, it turns out, I do have a lot of strengths) and seeking accommodations and workarounds for things that are harder for me.

I’ve become a vocal advocate for embracing neurodiversity in the workplace, because I know firsthand what a monumental difference it can make when you’re part of an organization that not only recognizes but genuinely values diversity of thought. I’m fortunate to have found that in my current role, and I believe that what I experience here should be the rule, not the exception.

Now that I’m in the right work environment, I’m perceived as an effective executive and leader not in spite of my differences, but in many ways because of them. That’s important. And it’s not because people are indulging me. Neurodivergence like mine leads to breakthroughs and innovations. Homogenous groupthink never busted through plateaus. Filling a room with people of different backgrounds, experiences, and ways of thinking means challenging the status quo and going further, faster.

Everyone should feel safe to thoroughly, openly, and unapologetically be their whole, authentic selves at work, whether they’re neurotypical or neurodivergent. The world is just beginning to warm up to embracing neurodiversity, but overall, it’s still deeply stigmatized—especially in the workforce, let alone at the executive level. We have a long way to go. And I think the deeply rooted stigmatization of neurodiversity is a big miss for today’s workforce.

A competitive advantage

Tolerating neurodiversity isn’t enough. Sprinkling it in for the sake of tokenism isn’t enough. (For the record, that goes for other forms of diversity, too.) Diversity of thought is a gift, and it should be seen as such. I truly believe it’s a competitive advantage for businesses. And in order to really embrace neurodiversity, you have to create a safe space for it. It’s one thing to say that you welcome neurodiversity, and it’s another to have established an environment with such psychological safety that people are comfortable showing up as they are, leveraging their unique skills and different ways of approaching problems.

I can’t tell you exactly what gifts you’ll get by embracing neurodiversity in the workplace, because neurodiversity isn’t one-size-fits-all. For me, being able to show up as I am means offering up highly creative problem-solving. It means that when a crisis hits, I’m a go-to because I can be calm, strategic, and develop a crystal clear action plan. (I may not be able to put my laundry away in a reasonable time, but I am excellent in a crisis.) I’m an empathetic leader who has a knack for disarming people and encouraging transparency and authenticity.

Being neurodivergent is not all sunshine and rainbows, of course. Some of the neurotypical majority takes for granted how easy it is for them to get dressed in the morning, show up for work or stand up and give a presentation in front of others. The world is built for the neurotypical majority, and I still run up against barriers daily. I believe a remote-first, outcomes-oriented environment is an essential component of an inclusive workplace, and I wish more companies embraced it. This approach allows me (and people who share my circadian rhythm) to work where, when, and how I do my best work. (If you schedule a call at 8 a.m. ET, you can expect that I will decline or openly show up with limited brain capacity.)

Embracing neurodiversity in the workplace

My company Alludo is leading the way when it comes to embracing neurodiversity in the workplace, and we’re still learning. We recently launched an internal Neurodiversity Employee Resource Group, for which I’m the executive sponsor. I am so excited to have more conversations about the gifts of neurodiversity and the unique and varied obstacles we each face. Again, if you interview 100 neurodivergent people, you’ll hear 100 different sets of strengths and challenges. That’s why I can’t tell you exactly what to expect if you create an environment of psychological safety and embrace neurodiversity at your organization. But I can tell you that you, your employees, and your entire organization will be better off if you do.