Expanding opportunities for neurodiverse colleagues

When looking at the growing role that diversity, equity, inclusion and most importantly, belonging, play in the financial services industry, opportunities continue to emerge. But perhaps what’s even more exciting is that the strong current of change is being driven by employees who proactively turn an idea into a process, program or opportunity without ever being asked to do so.

Terms like “neurotypical” and “neurodiverse” are often heard in conversations around diversity, equity and inclusion. But what do these mean? Neurodiverse individuals have variances in their brains related to mood, learning, sociability and other cognitive functions. These variations diverge from what’s considered the societal standard of “normal,” or neurotypical.

What’s important to understand is that inclusion and equity work means we’re not seeking to change our neurodiverse colleagues to meet societal norms—we’re seeking to expand opportunities, change processes and elevate the voices of our neurodiverse colleagues to understand their knowledge, perspectives and unique experiences.

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The beauty of inclusion work is that it isn’t focused on any sole individual. When you open the door for conversation and encourage activism, you accomplish so much more. In fact, by welcoming diversity of thought, experience and talent, a firm’s workforce can flourish and help drive innovation and growth.

Many financial services organizations are launching programs focused on neurodiversity and sharing lessons learned and mistakes made along the way as their programs evolve. Our partners in neurodiversity share a passion for evolving our workforce for the future, which has led to new avenues of exploration. For example, how do we source and hire talent? How do we work with our secondary education and university partners? How can business competitors become partners in neurodiversity?

We’re witnessing how a focus on creating equitable hiring practices, such as skills-based evaluations instead of a traditional cultural evaluation, leads to active listening and giving everyone a valued voice. Partnering with education providers to host discovery weeks gives all applicants the view into careers they want but often don’t have the ability to see. Reverse career fairs—where applicants create “booths” about themselves and employers ask questions based on the applicants’ interests and skills—further reinforce the opportunity to give neurodiverse individuals a voice to showcase why they’re an asset to the organization.

Forming partnerships with industry competitors, local businesses and nonprofit organizations is critical to learning and understanding. Pooling collective knowledge and experience fuels the evolution and betterment of neurodiversity programs because everyone can learn from each other’s mistakes and successes. What’s more, a cohort can also prove to be a powerful tool in spreading passion and awareness, and these relationships serve as excellent referral sources for talent.

Our goal around inclusion should be to change practices and adopt cultural mind shifts about what talent looks like across all spectrums—not just within neurodiverse individuals—and create safe and equitable spaces for people to thrive in celebration of their unique personal attributes. Our learnings should evolve our practices and management approach. When a manager tells a neurodiverse employee that they’ll get back to them “soon,” that can cause ambiguity for the employee. Does “soon” mean later today? Tomorrow? The end of the week? Lessons like this can help managers grow and refine their approach to things like communication.

Another important component of a neurodiverse employee’s workplace journey is self-disclosure. Many factors, including fears of being stigmatized, may affect someone’s comfort with disclosing their neurotype to colleagues. Organizations can alleviate this fear by providing employees the option to make the decision as to whether they’d like to disclose  while being evaluated for their skills and organizational impact.

Neurodiversity programs, like SEI’s [email protected], are creating lasting positive change in how employers evaluate talent and the employee experience. They’re a byproduct of people fighting to systemically transform the workplace and workforce. Eventually, we shouldn’t need these programs within the walls of organizations.

What are you doing to create more safe and equitable spaces for people to succeed? Ignite that fire to keep going, keep pushing, and keep saying, “I may fail, but what will I regret if I don’t try?” Whatever it is that brings you further along your inclusion journey, we’re marking our calendars to check in and celebrate all that you’ll accomplish.

Krista Deguffroy is director of compliance and inclusion at SEI.

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