Learning to Value Neurodiversity in the Workplace

An Interview with Victoria Hill, Director of Diversity and Social Impact

At Advanced Group, we’ve always felt lucky in our heritage because our company was founded on a passionate commitment to community and four REAL values: Respect, Excellence, Accountability, and Leadership. As businesses across the U.S. have worked on the challenge and the opportunity of building more inclusive, diverse, and equitable workplaces, that heritage has been key to our journey.

Advanced Group companies are fully empowered to do what it takes to make the right changes for our employees, our clients, and the greater community. In the words of Advanced Group Founder and CEO, Leo Sheridan, “We hold ourselves, our management team and all employees accountable for promoting an environment that values these differences and capitalizes on these opportunities for the ultimate benefit of our clients, talent out working, and employees.”

Recently, an area of DEI learning for our business has focused on neurodiversity—a kind of diversity that isn’t visible to the naked eye but shapes how employees engage, operate, and grow in the workplace. Our visionary Director of Diversity and Social Impact, Victoria Hill, developed a program designed to help our teams learn how we might be overlooking the needs and potential of neurodivergent talent within our organization. I have invited her to share what she has learned and how she is helping people inside and out of the Advanced Group family better understand and value neurodiversity in the workplace.

Tim: Diversity is something we treasure at Advanced Group because it enhances our perspective, knowledge, creativity, empathy….well everything. Neurodiversity is not new, but not everyone understands what it means or thinks of it as a diverse category. Can you share the definition of neurodiversity and why it’s important to recognize this population?

Victoria: I would love to. In fact, it is one of the parts of my job that I love the most, which is helping to increase understanding of diverse perspectives and experiences across our workforce. Over the course of my work, I have learned that neurodivergent refers to someone who thinks differently than the majority (neurotypical) of people. While no two brains work exactly the same, neurodivergent people process in substantially different ways due to a variety of conditions such as ADHD, Anxiety, OCD, Dyslexia, Bipolar Disease, Autism, and more. Those differences in how they work and think can offer incredible advantages, but they can also require understanding and accommodations.

Tim: You had the chance to rollout neurodiversity awareness training to our staff this spring in time for Neurodiversity Awareness Month. What do you think worked well in that training?

Victoria: What I think worked was our focus on creating a safe space for our employees to share stories and personal experiences. There is nothing like hearing about someone else’s journey to create understanding; whether that was a manager learning to work with their neurodivergent staff members or an employee learning to advocate for their workplace needs.

Tim: Building safe spaces is something you hear a lot about in DEI work. How can businesses and teams foster that kind of safety in a workplace amid busy workdays and pressure?

Victoria: Great question. We all have lots of work on our plates to balance. I think what has worked for us is making it a spoken and shared priority. For example, we stopped the work clock for our neurodiversity training so people could take time to learn about something they might not be familiar with. We invested company time to underscore its importance and value. I think that makes a big difference knowing that your company is investing in increasing understanding.

Second, I think the openness of some of our neurodiverse employees is making an impact. Various employees shared stories during the training about triggers, roadblocks and gave great insight on how they can thrive as neurodivergent employees.

Tim: It’s great to get personal stories but not everyone wants to share their story. That’s part of understanding DEI too, right?

Victoria: Absolutely. People of any kind of diverse group should never feel forced to share their story or experience. People talk about bringing your “whole selves to work” but let’s face it, that’s not for everyone. At Advanced Group, it’s about ensuring our employees know this is a safe space for communicating what they need and want to communicate to succeed in their work and feel welcome and belonging in our workspaces.

We have had team members who have gone out of their way to help us better understand their personal experiences as neurodivergent professionals at Advanced Group and it’s been really helpful. We are grateful for what they have taught us. For example, one of our senior leaders on the Advanced RPO team, Jenna , who is our Director of Recruitment Strategy, has shared her experience as a neurodivergent senior executive and has been on the front lines of helping us generate understanding and safe space for our neurodivergent team members. And I want to say right away that we have Jenna’s express permission to share her story.

As someone with high-functioning anxiety, Jenna’s neurodiversity often goes unseen. By sharing her journey of learning to communicate how her mind works with her team and managers and bringing what is unseen by her colleagues to light, she has taught so many of us about how we can increase understanding across teams. Jenna will also tell you that it took her a long time to be ready to have these conversations. We want to be a workplace where we are ready to listen when our employees need to share.

Tim: You are now providing training to businesses of all kinds on diversity and specifically neurodiversity. What kind of accommodations and changes can businesses begin to make to become more welcoming to neurodivergent job seekers and employees?

Victoria: There are so many ways to create a more inclusive culture for neurodiverse candidates and staff. Here are some examples of ways employers can adjust processes to support neurodivergent talent:

  • Creating various job description formats, such as video clips or concise short-form formats, to accompany text-based descriptions and engage a greater pool of candidates.
  • When interviewing neurodiverse candidates with specific processing differences making the right adjustments, such as limiting hypothetical or abstract questions and focusing on skills in the interview process.
  • Performance evaluations should be given to all employees but offering more frequent feedback for those neurodiverse employees who are looking for more insight.
  • Providing workspace, work schedule or other workplace accommodations for neurodiverse staff to help them have positive, productive workplace experiences.

Tim: And what kind of advice would you provide to managers or individuals wanting to be more supportive of their neurodivergent staff and/or colleagues?

Victoria: First, I would applaud them for asking the question. One of the best things we can do for anyone we want to support is to ask the question, “How can I help? How can I support you?” Change can start with one person! Below are a few ideas that every employee can practice as we work to be more inclusive co-workers, managers, and leaders.

  • Ask questions and then listen to understand.
  • Be patient, don’t be quick to judge.
  • Be ready and willing to accommodate.
  • Continue the conversation/educate others.
  • Foster a culture of empathy and openness.
  • Use of respectful, preferred language and labels (ask don’t assume).
  • Avoid giving vague instructions and explain mistakes in private.
  • Recognize that no two people are the same.

Many neurodivergent people have superpowers, gifts which are advantageous to the workforce, such as meticulousness, creativity, hyper-intelligence, objectivity, foresightedness, and more. One of the best things we can do is to leverage and celebrate the neurodiverse strengths of our colleagues and provide the accommodations it takes for them to thrive.

Tim: Thank you Victoria for taking the time today to share so much of what you have learned and how we can all continue to grow as colleagues and businesses. For anyone looking for more information on supporting neurodivergent talent, you can find great resources and articles right here: AskEARN | Neurodiversity in the Workplace Resources.

This article is reposted from Tim Oyer’s LinkedIn profile. You can connect with Tim and engage with this blog here.