For many employers, diversity in the workplace is a core value. But traditionally, people with learning and thinking differences have been excluded from the diversity pool. That may be changing.
In recent years, several major companies have announced neurodiversity worker programs. Neurodiversity is the concept that no two brains are the same, and that’s why people learn and behave in unique ways. Through this lens, brain-based issues like ADHD, dyslexia and autism spectrum disorder aren’t “abnormal.” They’re part of human diversity. And some large organizations are realizing that it can be an advantage to have workers who think differently.
One of the first companies to take steps in this area was the large accounting firm, Ernst & Young. With help from disability experts, the company started a program designed to help “neurodiverse individuals” succeed. While the program was originally intended to focus on employees with autism, it does cover all sorts of neurodiverse workers, including those with various learning and thinking differences.
The program offers training for these new hires and also pairs them with an office buddy and a counselor to work on career development. Equally important, supervisors and key staff receive training on how to support these employees.
“We have a very strong commitment to bring in people of all abilities,” says Lori Golden, the company’s abilities strategy officer. “We hire across every category. We have an entire network of individuals with dyslexia. We have individuals with ADHD, with language processing disorders and various kinds of speech issues. You name it.”
Golden also stresses the bottom line. “This program exists because it delivers real measurable business value,” she says. “Not because it’s a corporate responsibility.” According to Golden, these workers may have unique perspectives and valuable skills. It’s about helping them manage challenges that can limit success in the workplace.
Ernst & Young isn’t alone. According to the Harvard Business Review, big companies like SAP, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Microsoft, Willis Towers Watson and Ford have launched similar programs. Other large corporations are also considering them.
Nonprofits are also bridging the gap for young workers with learning and thinking differences. One notable example is BroadFutures, which helps young adults build skills essential to the workplace. The organization connects young people with internships in the Washington, DC, area.
“We have an innovative and holistic approach to learning,” says CEO Carolyn Jeppsen. “We’re the only program in the U.S. focused on internships for students with learning disabilities.”
As a mom to kids with learning differences, Jeppsen knows how tough the working world can be. But she’s also confident that building young peoples’ work skills will pay off.
Another organization, Lime Connect, uses a different approach. Its tagline is “Rebranding disability through achievement.” Lime Connect focuses on placing high-achieving young adults with learning and thinking differences in internships and jobs with corporate partners. Lime Connect works with companies like Bloomberg, Google and JPMorgan Chase, who have been opening their doors more than ever before to neurodiverse workers.
Overall, the trends seem to be looking up for workers with learning and thinking differences. In March, the Bureau of Labor statistics reported that the unemployment rate for people with disabilities had fallen to 8.6 percent. That’s down from 16.8 percent in 2011. But it’s still twice the rate for other workers. There’s clearly more work to be done.
Learn about the requirement for employers to provide accommodations at work. Get tips on helping your child develop job skills at home. And read how to support your young adult child with the job-hunting process.