How to Cultivate Neurodiversity on Workplace Teams

Written by Susan Fitzell

Diversity of thought may be silently lurking – Give it a voice

A common excuse I hear against creating a more diverse workplace is that it is simply more work. However, this is true whether we are talking about culture and gender diversity or neurodiversity in the workplace. When we have different individuals working together, new challenges arise. 

Diversity requires businesses to identify areas of conflict and propose solutions. Building an inclusive workplace culture is an investment in time, energy, and resources.

However, for the issues that may occur, neurodiversity in the workplace brings a lot of advantages. Cognitive diversity improves creativity and problem-solving. People who think in different ways may see inefficiencies and better ways of doing things. 

I recently spoke with Gregg Gregory on his podcast The Teamwork Advantage about the importance of neurodiverse teams and how to nurture them.

So, what can businesses and managers do to hire more neurodivergent people and create a workplace that allows them to thrive?

Hiring Practices that Attract Neurodivergence

Many traditional hiring practices do not accommodate people with neurodivergence, or only accommodate those who have learned to mask their neurodivergence. Masking is the ability to act like a neurotypical person in social settings. This behavior is often learned while young to fit in with peers.

Traditional hiring practices are tailored to people with neurotypical brains. They require a good grasp of social norms to succeed. In-person interviews, for example, require a lot of eye contact and positive body language. It also requires the interviewee to read between the lines and address the subtext of a question along with the actual question. These practices would rule out some candidates with Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity (ADHD) or autism, regardless of how capable they are of the actual role.

The practice of asking for a resume or cover letter may also eliminate neurodivergent people. It is an obvious barrier for people with dyslexia, but other neurodivergent groups may also struggle to know what to write. Unless they get professional help to write these documents, they may not even make it through the process to get an interview.

Currently, companies in the finance and technology sectors are recognizing that neurodivergent people have a lot to offer. They see things in a completely different way than neurotypical people, which leads to a lot of innovation. I think part of this is because of successful examples of neurodivergent people like Elon Musk, Bill Gates, and Richard Branson.

Companies that are looking to hire neurodivergent employees haven’t dropped traditional hiring practices, but they have added processes that allow them to better assess the suitability of candidates. In many cases, they ask candidates to complete mini-projects or solve problems to see their abilities. This is a win-win situation for companies because they are hiring people who can do the job, not just people who fit the neurotypical mold.

Fostering Neurodiversity in the Workplace

Hiring a neurodiverse team is only part of the process. Companies also need to create an atmosphere where neurodivergent people feel safe and comfortable. Without this, your neurodivergent team members will not thrive, or worse, they may face hostility from colleagues or managers.

I like to look at the pandemic as an example of what happens when companies accommodate the needs of their employees. Before the pandemic, corporate culture was adamant that employees needed to be in the office to achieve peak productivity and collaboration. It was thought that allowing employees to work from home would cost too much in terms of productivity, system management, and company culture.

But when the world was forced to work from home, we discovered that wasn’t the case. Companies that loosened the reins and were open to different ways of working thrived during the pandemic. So, for companies who wonder how best to support neurodivergent workers, the answer is, the same way you supported workers during the pandemic. Let your team tell you how they work best, and be open to trying different things.

It is not just people with autism, ADHD, or sensory processing disorders who will benefit. Taking a flexible approach to the workplace will benefit all your employees. It will help people with different learning preferences, different social capacities, and even those experiencing stress to have a better workplace experience. Discussions around working styles and needs will help your team become more sensitive to each other’s needs.

A great example of this is Ultranauts Inc., a software testing company that employs many autistic people. All new hires are given a BioDex, A user manual for every teammate, that introduces them to their new team members. Included in the BioDex is data about preferred working styles and communication methods to ensure a harmonious work environment. 

This kind of initiative not only helps neurodivergent team members, but neurotypical team members also benefit from people communicating with them in their preferred manner.

An employee user manual is a great step in promoting the cultural change that is necessary to successfully create a neurodiverse team. It provides opportunities for people to consider their work preferences and understand that others may have different inclinations. So, when someone with a sensory disorder needs to wear earbuds or headphones at work to concentrate, it is less likely to cause offense to other team members. It also opens the door for neurotypical employees to be able to use noise-canceling headphones when they need to concentrate; open-plan offices aren’t conducive to deep focus.

Innovation in the Working Environment

Being open to creating a workplace that is conducive to the needs of neurodivergent employees means understanding that people work best in different ways. While it’s important to have conversations about how to make workplaces more inclusive to neurodivergent people, these conversations are futile when C-Suite executives promote a “one size fits all” approach to workplaces. Even neurotypical people don’t all work in the same way. Extroverts may thrive in open-plan offices, while introverts would prefer more privacy. Visual learners may struggle in verbal brainstorming meetings, while auditory learners may thrive.

By empowering employees to discuss their individual needs, businesses can create a workplace where workers can reach their full potential. Think about it; an introvert is never going to be able to do their best work in an open-plan office when people keep stopping by their desk to “pick their brain.” But if they had the ability to tailor their work environment to their needs, they could improve their output. It doesn’t require renovations or expensive tools. An introverted employee could discuss working from home when they need to or wearing headphones in the office when they need more focus. They could discuss their communication preferences with colleagues and ask them to email instead of stopping by.

Yes, these culture shifts make the workplace accessible to neurodivergent people, but they also result in an overall happier, more productive workforce. Cultivating a neurodiverse team should not be viewed as disruptive or too much work; it is a win for everyone involved. 

Copyright © 2022 Susan Fitzell & Aim Hi Educational Programs, LLC.  First published May 15, 2022.


Susan Fitzell, M. Ed, CSP, is a nationally recognized presenter, author of nine books for teachers, trainers, and parents, an educational consultant, and CEO of Aim Hi Educational Programs, LLC. As an independent consultant and coach, Susan offers the personalization, continuity, and consistency necessary for true change in any organization. She works side by side with teachers, school administrators, and business leaders as a coach and trainer, employing Brain Power strategies that take learning to the next level.

For more information, visit Susan's website at

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