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Embracing neurodiversity: Enhancing corporate competency models for innovation and inclusion

It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognise, accept, and celebrate those differences. - Audre Lorde, Writer & Civil Rights Activist

Photo by Milad Fakurian on Unsplash

It is thought that about 15 to 20 percent of the world's population is neurodivergent. This includes up to 10 percent of people with dyslexia, 6 percent with dyspraxia, 5 percent with ADHD, and 1–2 percent with autism. Other neurodiverse conditions include dyscalculia and Tourette's syndrome. (Source:Zurich Insurance). From a workplace inclusion point of view the goal is to reframe neurodivergent traits as natural variations with inherent strengths and point organisations towards embracing differences and cultivating an environment that values the contribution of every unique person.

Among the dimensions of diversity, neurodiversity stands out as a very difficult one to capture equitably in competency frameworks, considering the variations in brain function and behaviour. Integrating neurodiversity effectively into corporate performance matrix, not only fosters a culture of inclusion but also unlocks unparalleled potential for productivity and innovation.

A competency model is a guideline/framework developed by an organisation's leadership that lays out the specific skills, knowledge and behavioural requirements that enable an employee to perform their job successfully.

The role of competency models in people management

Companies across industries rely on competency models to guide their performance and innovation. The aim is to use them for these 3 main areas.

Recruitment – Fully developed competency models are often used for the development of job postings. When they are well-defined and clear, organisations have a better chance of finding more closely matched candidates.

Talent/Performance management – Defining what success should look like within the organization boils down to the performance of the workforce; a competency model can define what performance success should look like for each role and level within an organization. This benchmark helps to connect the function of each job with organizational goals and also ensure that the talent of employees is developed.

Performance appraisal – Competency models provide the framework needed to properly assess employees during a performance review; both the employee and employer have a clearly defined list of behaviours and skills to work from.

Embracing neurodiversity in competency models

Incorporating neurodiversity-friendly competencies into existing models entails a paradigm shift in how organisations perceive talent. Traditional competencies often prioritise conformity and uniformity, inadvertently excluding neurodiverse individuals whose strengths lie in unconventional thinking and problem-solving approaches. By expanding the scope of competencies to include traits like creativity, pattern recognition, and hyper-focus, companies can tap into a diverse talent pool and drive innovation.

However, integrating neurodiversity isn't merely about updating competency models; it requires a holistic transformation of organizational culture and practices. Leadership must champion diversity and inclusion, fostering environments where neurodiverse employees feel valued and empowered to contribute their unique perspectives.

Some examples of adaptations:

  • Flexible work arrangements: Offer flexible work arrangements to accommodate diverse needs, such as remote work options, flexible schedules, and quiet spaces for focus.

  • Individualised support: Provide individualised support and accommodations, such as assistive technologies, specialised training programs, and mentorship opportunities.

  • Training and awareness: Conduct training sessions to raise awareness and promote understanding of neurodiversity among employees and leaders. Foster a culture of empathy, acceptance, and collaboration.

Photo by Luke Jones on Unsplash

Promoting fairness in the workplace for neurodiverse talent. Central to the integration of neurodiversity is ensuring fairness in hiring and promotion processes. Bias, whether conscious or unconscious, can hinder opportunities for neurodiverse candidates. Companies must implement inclusive recruitment practices, such as diverse interviewer panels and structured interviews. Additionally, promoting transparency and accountability in promotion decisions fosters a culture of equity and challenges the myth of meritocracy.

Incorporating neurodiversity into corporate competence models isn't just the right thing to do—it can be a strategic advantage, if done right. By embracing diverse cognitive profiles, companies can foster innovation, enhance productivity, and drive sustainable growth. Leadership must lead by example, championing inclusion at every level of the organisation. Only by harnessing the full spectrum of human potential can companies thrive in an increasingly complex and competitive business landscape.


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