Understanding and Improving Workplace Neurodiversity

Maria Hameed Khan, Mirit K. Grabarski, Muhammad Ali, and Stephen Buckmaster reflect on their article, “Insights into Creating and Managing an Inclusive Neurodiverse Workplace for Positive Outcomes: A Multistaged Theoretical Framework,” which was published in Group & Organization Management.

Neurodiversity is a relatively novel term that represents a variety of neurological variations such as autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Historically, neurodivergent individuals have been marginalized, being perceived as having deficits that limit their ability to contribute to society and particularly to the workforce. With the development of a social model understanding of disability, which focuses on removing socially constructed barriers, there has been a tangible shift in public opinion, and characteristics associated with neurodivergence are beginning to be viewed more positively.

Within a workplace context, there is an increasing recognition of the untapped potential of neurodivergent employees, who can provide competitive advantage for organizations. For this reason, there is growing interest in recruiting neurodivergent employees, which is done for example through successful initiatives like Hewlett Packard’s Dandelion Program and Deutsche Bank’s autistic graduate internship program. These programs have demonstrated an acknowledgment and recognition of the benefits of neurodiversity in the workplace. With that, it is important to highlight a need to not only recruit neurodivergent applicants but to also reconfigure human resource practices to foster a truly inclusive workplace for neurodivergent employees. Unfortunately, there is a significant gap in our understanding of neurodiversity in the workplace within the context of management and organization studies and particularly referring to the organizational perspective. This research gap limits the access of managers and HR professionals to information that is essential in order to foster an inclusive work environment for neurodivergent workers.

Headshots of authors Maria Hameed Khan, Mirit K. Grabarski, Muhammad Ali, and Stephen Buckmaster.
From left: Maria Hameed Khan, Mirit K. Grabarski, Muhammad Ali, and Stephen Buckmaster

Through our paper, we seek to shape the discourse around neurodiversity as a strength in the workplace. We organize the disjointed literature on managing neurodiversity in the workplace, including identifying barriers to recruitment and inclusion, considering the perspectives of both neurodivergent employees and their colleagues/supervisors. We also outline individual and organizational benefits of a neurodiverse workforce and offer a theoretical framework accompanied by clear and pragmatic insights for HR professionals, managers, and organizations on how to create and foster a neurodiverse and inclusive workplace.

Although research into neurodiverse workplaces is still in its nascency, our work lays the foundation for researchers and practitioners to evaluate the assumptions underpinning their HR and management practices and provides practical recommendations. With the steadily increasing awareness of the untapped potential of the neurodiverse workforce, we encourage further exploration and application of our proposed framework across a range of industries and contexts.

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Maria Hameed Khan, Mirit K. Grabarski, Muhammad Ali, and Stephen Buckmaster

Maria Hameed Khan is a PhD candidate and research assistant at Queensland University of Technology.

Mirit K. Grabarski is an assistant professor of business administration at Lakehead University.

Muhammad Ali is an associate professor in the QUT Business School, Queensland University of Technology.

Stephen Buckmaster is an administration assistant at Queensland University of Technology.

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