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“Kindness” is not a Strategy: Why it’s Vital to Look Holistically at Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Initiatives When Considering Neuro-Inclusion

Neurodivergence is a vital element of diversity.


And that diversity needs to be factored in to all elements of your business, just like other diversity issues such as race or gender.


The Cultural Element


Employers who ignore the social and cultural aspects of being Autistic, for example, will continue seeing each Autistic individual’s unique way of communicating as something they 'need to work on’, instead of recognising that Autistic communication is a valid form of communication.


This means the employer will stick to the all too popular playbook of overlooking Autistic employees for promotion opportunities, putting them performance improvement plans, or worse - all because of their Autistic traits.


Employers have a legal obligation not to discriminate against those with disabilities. Unfortunately, many companies fall short of that, unknowingly and repeatedly.

Accommodations for individual autistic people don’t and can’t address this type of discrimination, especially when so many people remain undiagnosed or scared to disclose. What is needed is cultural change, to make your workplace inclusive of all neurotypes.

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion


So how do you create that cultural change? This is where looking at Neurodiversity as an element of diversity, and therefore an integral part of your Diversity, Equity and Inclusion program, is essential.


When Neurodiversity is looked at in isolation without considering the pattern of who workplaces have been set up to serve, and the systemic issues this creates for anyone who is not part of that group, the solutions we propose will be set up to fail no matter how hard we advocate for them.


One reason for this is of course intersectionality: there is no neuro-inclusion unless those who are also marginalised for other reasons are also fully included.

Another reason is that Neurodiversity is new: the term has only been around for less than 30 years. Meanwhile, people striving to make workplaces more inclusive for women or people of colour, for example, have been developing strategies and tools to do this for decades: we have a lot to learn from these spaces.


“Kindness” vs Strategy


This is just one example of there the Neurodiversity movement and it’s manifestation in workplaces has a lot to learn from other areas of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.

We often see “kindness” pushed as the solution to neuro-inclusion issues in the workplace by well meaning Neurodiversity advocates. To be fair - it’s a good sell to businesses: it’ll be easy to convince our employees, shareholders or the public that we are neuro-inclusive if all we need to do is say we are kind!


But kindness is not a strategy: in fact, it leaves the treatment of Neurodivergent people in the hands of individual managers and their subjective views on what is ‘kind’, which is not a lot different to the situation Neurodivergent people so often find themselves in today (remember the promotion opportunities, performance improvement plans, and worse, mentioned above?). “Kindness” does not allow us to get to the core of the issue, or tackle policies that are not neuro-inclusive.


What we learn from other Diversity, Equity and Inclusion spaces is that we need tangible steps which make up a strategy, coupled with action items that everyone can be held accountable to. Which is why we recommend you focus on two key elements in parallel when it comes to beginning your neuro-inclusion journey:


Education

Implement a Neurodiversity training program across your organisation. Start with management and expand to all employees. You want this to be focused on getting people to understand how Neurodivergence actually presents in reality - which means the best people to be doing the training are those with lived experience.


Policies & Practices

Look at your recruitment, feedback and promotion policies and criteria. In many cases, “skills” are being assessed that are actually excluding Neurodivergent people by default. Update these policies and implement new guidance for HR teams and hiring managers. Here, it’s vital that you include Diversity, Equity and Inclusion experts alongside those with lived experience of Neurodivergence, to best understand the specific issues created and lean on the expertise of those who understand how to solve these issues.

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