Live Industry Talks: 7 Steps to More Inclusive Tech Spaces
Updated: Aug 16
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What is neurodiversity? As Nathan Chung, a senior consultant at Microsoft’s Azure Cloud and AI team describes, it’s a “spectrum of mental conditions that refer to variations in the human brain, regarding sociability, learning, attention, mood, and other mental functions.” To mention some examples, people with ADHD, autism, dyslexia, tourrettes, epilepsy, developmental language disorder, and several other conditions are all considered neurodiverse.
Recently diagnosed, Nathan learned he had ADHD and autism in January 2021. Through his NeuroSec podcast, he’s become very vocal about the importance of trying to understand and not write off people with mental conditions that differ from “the norm.” Contrary to popular belief, they can act as assets to a company and not as liabilities.
A stigma toward those who think differently has existed for a while. Even though neurodiverse people have a hard time engaging in social interactions, they’re also very creative, pay strong attention to detail, are adept at thinking innovatively, possess strong visual-spatial skills, and tend to have an intense focus on things they’re passionate about. But the overwhelming feelings they’ll experience during social situations causes non-ND people to misunderstand who they are and their capabilities.
In tech, people with neurodiverse conditions have proven very dedicated and skillful toward their role/position. The old “factory mindset” of employing workers who don’t require any accommodations causes people to think of neurodiverse individuals as hindering a company. Yet, some of the most gifted individuals were deemed neurodivergent, such as Bill Gates.
Fostering inclusive work environments takes time. Especially since it’s a new concept that not many people will comprehend, at first. But it’s possible by thinking of different solutions that can also help a company, overall.
Here are seven steps a company can take to develop a genuinely inclusive environment - as put by Nathan on our latest “Live Industry Talk with Nathan: Neurodiversity in Tech” segment that’s now available to watch on our YouTube channel.
1) Reinterpreting Job Descriptions
Many neurodiverse people are very literal. That’s why terms such as “good team player” or “excellent communications skills” will cause individuals to go above and beyond in these areas. But they lack some of the social skills to understand that these requirements do not have to be taken so seriously, or know when it’s appropriate to demonstrate specific skills at a given time.
2) Train Interviewers
Many interviewers are not trained on how to evaluate neurodiverse people. Panel interviews also pose to be difficult, since interviewees without neurodiverse conditions can appeal far more charismatic and well-qualified, even though neurodiverse individuals are well-equipped to complete a job but lack the social comprehension to do as well in this area. Keeping an interview to about an hour is also preferred, since neurodivergent people require breaks from social interactions.
3) Workplace/Environment Accommodations
Many neurodiverse individuals are afraid to ask for special accommodations because they feel uncomfortable disclosing that personal information. They believe it might risk their ability to remain at a company and/or organization. Providing written clear instructions along with any verbal/auditory requests, the ability to use headsets at one’s desk, having the option of taking necessary breaks, offering office space with limited distractions, and addressing any additional worker needs, all can prove very helpful.
4) Inclusive & Understanding Corporate Culture
Create a policy that encourages understanding between coworkers and their diverse personalities. Everyone is impacted by different factors and this will affect their social skills and ability to engage with others. By creating a positive and open atmosphere, it is less likely that office bullying, gossip, and/or any harassment occurs.
5) Creating several career pathways
Don’t create one road toward success for each individual job position. Even though someone starts off as a sales representative, it doesn't mean they’re interested in becoming an account manager. Or they don’t possess skills that make them a better fit for another career role. The old idea of the “corporate ladder” needs to be reimagined and allow for more fluidity in a company. Everyone has dreams and ideas of what else they’d like to do professionally, and company cultures that encourage growth instead of a linear career trajectory are more favourable for neurodiverse individuals and nearly anyone in general.
6) Go All In!
Inclusivity goes beyond what a company displays or certain beliefs it promotes. It’s about having a diverse executive team, including individuals from several different cultures/ethnicities and races, and people with different mental health conditions. Companies that are more inclusive often have higher end-of-year profits and also execute marketing campaigns that are more effective. However, don’t think of inclusivity as keeping people with neurodiverse conditions apart from those without. Creating separate teams for people who are neurodiverse, promoting that you’re an ND-supportive organization but have little to no people with neurodiverse conditions as staff, and not taking ND-specific needs into consideration doesn’t foster a genuinely inclusive environment. Allow diverse teams that include people with neurodiverse conditions, accommodate people with reasonable requests to help them remain productive at work, and employ a diverse staff to “go all in.”
The last step, and perhaps, the most difficult. If we can’t accept who we are, neurodivergent or not, we can’t even believe that we’re meant to be in spaces we do belong in. It makes it even harder for others to accept us. Don’t allow your differences to make you feel as out-of-place, but as adding value to a team in a way it hadn’t yet acquired. Isolating yourself because you assume that other people will reject you is a terrible solution. Don’t be afraid of getting diagnosed, open up to friends and family that you trust and know will support you, and learn to be at peace with your unique condition. Once you can accept and understand your neurodiversity/individual condition, other people will begin to do the same.
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