Creating inclusive, productive work environments for job seekers with ADD, ADHD, autism

Neurodiversity has never been more of a hot topic. From viral videos of singer Lewis Capaldi’s fans helping him finish a song when his Tourette’s took over mid-concert to activist Greta Thunberg calling her neurodivergence a superpower, we are relearning what the wide spectrum of neurodiversity looks like from the visibility of those who experience it.
The trope of the quirky but brilliant savant continues in shows like The Good Doctor and Extraordinary Attorney Woo, but we’re now fixated on watching the lives of real neurodivergent people play out. Reality series like Love on the Spectrum and TikTok influencers sharing their stories as neurodivergent employees, partners, and parents are challenging the stereotype that neurodivergent individuals are resigned to a life without social interaction.
Neurodiversity is an umbrella term used to describe the spectrum of natural differences in the way the brain functions and processes information and stimulation. Someone who is autistic, has ADHD, has suffered a traumatic brain injury, or struggles with dyslexia might be considered neurodivergent. This means that their brain processes information and stimulation in a way that is different from what is considered typical in our society. People who do not have thought processes or behaviors that deviate from societal norms are generally considered to be neurotypical.
You likely know someone who is neurodivergent, whether they have an official diagnosis or not. Many neurodivergent individuals have been forced to “mask” or hide their neurodivergence, so this may include folks who you wouldn’t assume are anything but neurotypical at first glance. A 2020 study reports that between 15 and 20% of the global population falls somewhere under the umbrella of neurodivergence – and as more people are learning to recognize their own atypical traits and seeking support, that number could continue to rise. Whether you’re working with someone who is neurodivergent or wondering if you might fall somewhere under that umbrella, it’s important to understand both the strengths and struggles that come with neurodiversity.
Although no two neurodivergent employees will be exactly the same, many traits found in neurodiversity are desirable for employers. Neurodivergent employees may be creative, innovative, and detail-oriented. They may also be organized, methodical, and analytical. In recent years, Forbes and Harvard Business Review have written about the advantages of neurodiversity in the workplace. An autistic employee who is hyperlexic (meaning they exhibited advanced and precocious reading comprehension skills in early childhood) might make an incredible copywriter or editor, for example; a project manager who had to be innovative and adaptable as they healed from a brain injury may find that they produce better outcomes at the office as a result of their out-of-the-box thinking.
Studies have suggested that neurodivergent employees may be upwards of 90% more productive than their neurotypical counterparts and that employers that incorporate neurodiversity may see a 30% boost to their teams’ overall productivity. A neuroinclusive workplace (one that embraces and supports the unique needs and strengths of neurodivergent workers) doesn’t just help a portion of the workforce  – it benefits everyone. Despite the positive impact of hiring and retaining neurodivergent employees, a staggering 30-40% of neurodivergent adults are unemployed and over 50% of neurodivergent employees have quit or are considering leaving their jobs because their employers fail to prioritize neuroinclusion efforts.
One startup committed to changing that is Mentra. Founded by neurodivergent professionals, it has a big mission: to encourage organizations to tap into the limitless potential of neurodivergent employees and to help job-seekers land roles with companies that are committed to hiring and retaining neurodiverse talent. While some neurodiverse employees rightfully fear that self-disclosure runs the risk of opening them up to discrimination, Mentra wants to empower job-seekers to show up authentically so they can feel valued and receive the support they need to be successful.
From marketers and designers to data analysts and engineers, Mentra has helped many professionals find their dream jobs since its inception in 2018. Users fill out a profile that allows them to highlight their skills, interests, and working style needs in addition to their experience. Including these less-conventional traits paints a more holistic picture of who their potential employees are so employers can look beyond previously-held titles and tenure.
On the opposite side of the workforce, Mentra is working to educate employers on the benefits of neuroinclusive hiring practices and how to best support and retain neurodivergent talent. Companies that have implemented neuroinclusive hiring initiatives have reported that these employees’ retention numbers are above 90% across the board, which is much higher than average retention. When an employer has a job that fits a Mentra user’s profile, Mentra lets the user know there’s a match and recommends them to the recruiter at that company.
Mentra is making an impact on the 1.2 billion neurodivergents around the globe through their resources and life-changing career partnerships, but there is always more work to be done. For employers, that means reconsidering outdated and ableist hiring practices and rethinking learning styles and employees’ needs so that they feel supported. For employees, it’s important to have empathy for those who process information or learn differently. While it’s best not to assume someone’s neurotype, fostering inclusivity is the responsibility of everyone on the team.
It may be helpful to get in the habit of asking your coworkers or employees how they prefer to communicate, for example. Someone who is a visual learner and prefers clear instructions may prefer to receive an email than have a long chat about something they might walk away and forget. Similarly, be open to and tolerant of other learning and teaching styles. When you’re training a new employee who doesn’t seem to be grasping the concepts, you might offer alternatives such as practicing hands-on or creating a manual. These workplace supports create an environment where differences are not just respected but are celebrated, and this is a good starting point for neuroinclusivity.
Neurodivergent employees are capable of much more than most of society has been led to believe, but they deserve to feel like they can show up authentically and be valued without the need to “mask” their full identity and capabilities. The expectations placed upon them should be clear, and they should not have to prove that they deserve reasonable accommodations if they need additional support. Mentra believes that the future of the workforce is neurodiverse, and they want to help create more equitable workplaces for neurodivergent employees by creating a network where individuals can feel comfortable unmasking their neuroexceptional strengths and connecting with employers who value them because of their neurodivergence, not despite it.
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