Without cognitive diversity we would have limited variations in music, in art, science or mathematics; therefore, potentially the development of new forms of electronics, computers, AI, and who knows what else in our futures could be limited.
It’s important, therefore, to recognize that in all elements of society, we need representation. This is the true meaning of inclusivity. If we don’t get the opportunity to have representation of views, ideas and experiences, how can we ever be able to know what we are potentially missing? It often feels easier and more familiar to recruit ‘in our own likeness’; to recruit people who have more in common with us. Communication is less effortful. But when we do so, those that offer different solutions, or communicate differently, remain excluded.
Inclusion is essential across society and starts in school. We are at the beginning of developing neuro-inclusive processes and procedures in some bigger companies where they have in place Equality, Diversity and Inclusion initiatives. We see some companies have focused in past years on LGBTQ+, BAME or gender. More companies are starting to consider neurodiversity as well; they can see that diversity of thought and of cultural and life experiences!
At the present time there is a lack of representation and opportunity for neurodivergent thinkers to progress and especially reach the C-suite. Too many people from the same gender, ethnicity and academic backgrounds end up in the top jobs and so the stories we hear remain the same and the viewpoint then remains narrow. Often the person who does reach the top who becomes interested in neurodiversity has a neurodiverse family member and understands the challenges from a personal perspective.
We are often still thinking in silos: while specific campaigns such as those for gender equality are crucial, there also needs to be focus on intersectional campaigns. We don’t all fit into one category or another. There is no one-size approach. It is impossible to understand the development and training needs of each person without fully understanding the opinions and experiences of people who are working in variable settings. Unique skills and experiences bring different perspectives. Context is everything. A different work setting and culture will require a different understanding of needs, expectations and support.
That’s complicated. There are myriad social reasons why some people get a voice at the table and others don’t get a look in at all despite having similar qualifications and experiences. We can use business metaphors such as ‘groupthink’ and misuse ideas like ‘culture fit’ to maintain a status quo of recruiting using a narrow range of characteristics. Thousands of years of racism, sexism and of privilege make it harder in the modern world to be suddenly representative of all those you serve. Unless of course you, your team and your organizations are as diverse as the communities you represent and become disruptive in the way you think.
A true change requires commitment that is more than tokenistic as it needs to be sustained and anticipatory. The only way we can really do this is to measure what we do. We also need to ensure that diversity and inclusion is a part of all our processes and not a policy that is written and then stuck in a drawer. This requires a commitment to see through different eyes and accept at times our ignorance and the need to open up honest conversations. It requires revision and review and is not static. Change can happen when we see enough value in doing so. Progress depends on how effectively we work to change people’s thinking and never happens overnight. But let’s be clear, the path is not always an easy one and it takes dedication and a focus to make change. But the rewards and impact for the organization and society are great.