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advancing your career with neurodivergent traits breaking the glass ceiling

Breaking barriers: advancing your career with neurodivergent traits

Neurodivergent traits are natural variations in human cognitive function. We all think differently, but some of us think a whole lot differently — like off the scale!

Thinking differently includes conditions like ASD/ASC autism, ADHD, dyslexia, DCD dyspraxia, dyscalculia, tic disorders and PTSD. Neurodivergent traits can be seen as strengths contributing to innovation and creativity in many industries. However, they can also pose significant challenges for individuals looking to advance their careers.

Let’s explore how neurodivergent traits can slow down and sometimes halt career progression. I’d then like to offer thoughts on how organisations can support individuals with neurodivergent traits to break new ground in their careers.

The problem with advancing your career with neurodivergent traits

Neurodivergent strengths include extraordinary attention to detail, supercharged analytical skills, and the ability to redefine working practices. Tragically, these traits can sometimes clash with workplace demands. For example, neurodivergent individuals may struggle with the following:

  • Social interactions: Some individuals with neurodivergent traits find it a Herculean task to navigate social situations, struggling with nonverbal cues, eye contact and small talk. These difficulties can make building relationships that matter virtually impossible, stalling career progression.
  • Sensory overload: Neurodivergent individuals can be highly sensitive to their surroundings, such as noise, bright lights, or strong smells. This can cause them to experience sensory overload interfering with their ability to stay on task and requiring them to take additional breaks. This can be perceived as them not trying enough, which can harm their career prospects.

“High stimulation is both exciting and confusing for people with ADHD, because they can get overwhelmed and overstimulated easily without realising they are approaching that point.”

Jenara Nerenberg, Divergent Mind: Thriving in a World That Wasn’t Designed for You

  • Executive function: This is part of our cognitive processes. Executive function helps us plan, organise, prioritise, and complete tasks. Individuals with neurodivergent traits can struggle with executive function. This can mean missing deadlines, poor time management and projects needing to be completed.
  • Communication: Neurodivergent individuals often have unique ways of communicating and may struggle to express themselves clearly or understand the communication of others. These difficulties can create misunderstandings and miscommunications, which can cause several problems in the workplace.
  • Bias and stigma: There is still a significant amount of bias and stigma surrounding neurodivergent traits in the workplace. This bias can result in discrimination, harassment, and exclusion from opportunities.

Just these five areas can be a significant disadvantage to individuals with neurodivergent traits, making it hard for them to progress and show how truly brilliant they are. As organisations, we have an obligation and opportunity to support individuals to be their very best.

How can organisations make advancing your career with neurodivergent traits easier?

Despite these challenges, there are many ways in which organisations can support individuals with neurodivergent traits to progress in their careers. Here are five things that could make all the difference:

  • Create a neuroinclusive workplace (neurodiversity-friendly): Employers can create a more welcoming environment for neurodivergent individuals by implementing changes such as noise-cancelling headphones, flexible working hours, and comfortable sensory spaces. Encouraging neurodiversity awareness training for all employees can also help raise awareness and reduce bias, in addition to more specific role-based training where appropriate, for example, in recruitment, management and talent retention.

Find out more about awareness training here.

  • Offer mentoring: Mentoring can be highly beneficial for individuals with neurodivergent traits, as it can help them navigate the workplace and build important relationships. Neurodivergent mentees will benefit hugely from mentors with previous experience working with individuals with similar conditions.
  • Provide clear communication: To support individuals with neurodivergent traits, it’s crucial to provide clear, concise, and direct communication. Employers should avoid using ambiguous language, metaphorical expressions, or figurative language that can be difficult to understand.
  • Create Clear Career Pathways: Providing neurodivergent individuals with a clear career pathway can help them stay focused and motivated. Employers should work with these individuals to identify their strengths and interests, set achievable goals, and provide regular feedback.
  • Workplace Needs Assessments: Individuals don’t always know what they need and the type of support that can be helpful. A Workplace Needs Assessment can provide an important opportunity for the individual to assess their strengths and difficulties and then build a plan for what they can do next.

Find out more about Workplace Needs Assessment here.