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The Pros and Cons of ‘Making the Business Case’ for Neuro-Inclusion

Updated: Mar 17

The concept of the ‘business case’ for diversity in general, and neurodiversity in particular, refers to the idea of using data to demonstrate the positives for the organisation of implementing more neurodivergent-friendly practices and policies - a common one being the oft cited statistic that Autistic people are 90% to 140% more efficient than their non-Autistic peers (and therefore, organisations can capitalise on our productivity). This idea of a ‘business case for inclusion’ is not unique to neurodiversity - and neither is the debate around it - as it can be seen across the diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) space. So what is the debate, exactly?


Pros

On the one hand, we have those who happily make the business case for neurodiversity. From their perspective, there is no convincing people from the dominant group to change their practices and behaviours without evidence, so let’s try and produce data so we can push for the outcome we desire (inclusion). This is essentially a realist perspective, taking into account the world in which we are operating. If we want to influence organizations operating under capitalism, particularly for-profit organizations, then we need to be speaking their language. A few pros associated with this position are:

  • Often people who agree with the moral argument for neuro-inclusion still need more incentive to actually take action given their responsibility to their organization, which is where the business case can be persuasive.

  • Inclusion movements are overwhelmingly unsuccessful if the leadership of an organization is not fully on board. As leadership are responsible for the performance of the company, showing that inclusion is linked to business performance is a key way to motivate these leaders.

  • Neurodivergence is in many ways pathologised because neurodivergent individuals are deemed less valuable or productive in a capitalist society (just look at the fact that there are 380+ references to “work” in the DSM). Given that reality, this analysis is necessary.

  • If we want inclusion to be seen as a core objective for the business, we need to treat it just like any other business priority and measure it - particularly as shareholders are seen as a business’s key stakeholder and they are more likely than other groups (customers or employees), to want to examine a business case.

  • Allows for easier ‘operationalising’ of inclusion (i.e. creating programs designed for change, based on metrics we can actively work towards).


Cons

On the other hand, there is a proportion of people who are opposed to the idea of a ‘business case’ for diversity inclusion at all. Why is a business case not required for the status quo? Why is the dominant group not being asked to justify their dominance? Surely, the moral argument for neurodiversity should be enough? The feeling is that discussing the productivity of a given neurotype or the innovation created by a diverse group both overlooks the inherent value of individuals as human beings, and places expectations on minority groups to achieve results that the dominant group (in this case, neurotypicals) are not expected to achieve. Some cons noted by this school of thought are:


  • Focusing only on the business case comes across as uncaring about the inherent value of human beings and performative - like you’re only doing it because there is something in it for you - which can undermine your efforts as current and prospective staff will not believe they are genuine.

  • Can lead to an endless cycle of debates and more push back: if an inclusion program isn’t ‘delivering results’, it’s much easier for people to justify abandoning the cause (as we see with the current pushback against DEI).

  • If we believe that neuro-inclusion is both (1) an unquestionable moral imperative, and (2) that it will benefit society and organizations who embrace it: is it not a waste of resources to focus on preparing and convincing people of business cases? This energy could be better spent elsewhere.

  • Places additional burdens on minority groups to achieve outcomes that are not expected of others, and sets the current situation of exclusion as a baseline to improve, rather than an unacceptable position to dismantle.

  • It is very difficult to obtain the data needed, given that inclusion is not the default at present: there necessarily will be some speculation and uncertainty.


Conclusion

This is not a black and white issue, as much as many of us would like it to be. Our thinking is that given how our organisations and workplaces operate at this point in time, where the financial profitability of the organisation is prioritised above all else, the business case likely remains necessary to make.

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