Diversity Emotional intelligence Leadership Organizational culture Talent & HR Innovation

Leading People as Individuals: Unlocking the Potential of Neurodiversity

In this episode:

Research has shown that there are clear benefits to having a diverse team, but how do you create an environment for individuals with unique differences to thrive? Discussions about Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion are becoming central to leadership, and, moving forward, leaders must consider neurodiversity as a central pillar of their organizations' strategy to stay innovative and approach problems in a new way. Recruiting a neurodivergent team isn’t just about ‘doing the right thing’—it enables you to drive your organization to the next level and expand capabilities.

In our second episode on neurodiversity in the workplace, we explore how to lead by creating an inclusive work environment that matches the individual needs and preferences of your employees and empowers each member of your team to embrace their differences. For this discussion hosted by Bryan Benjamin, Executive Director at the Ivey Academy, we're joined by guests: Rob Austin, Professor of Information Systems at Ivey Business School; Charlotte Valeur, Chief Executive, Global Governance Group; and Neil Barnett, Director, Inclusive Hiring and Accessibility, Microsoft. During this episode, our panelists will explore the benefits of neurodiversity at work and unpack the deficits in traditional managerial structures that limit neurodivergent individuals.

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From the live audience...

Poll results


We recorded this episode from a livestream on this topic and our audience members submitted a range of questions in the chat. Here is a Q&A breakdown of the most common questions: 

Q: How can an organization adapt the recruitment process (postings, applications, interviews, etc.) to be more inclusive for neurodivergent talent?

There are many steps organizations can take toward making their recruitment process more accessible and accommodating to neurodiversity. Visit the following link to access specific guidelines and toolkits for employers: https://www.neurodiversityhub.org/resources-for-employers

Q: How do we support neurodivergent individuals who have been hired into leadership positions? How can we help their teams understand that their manager may not always conform to social conventions?

As an organization, it is crucial to foster a culture of open communication where people feel psychological safety in sharing their differences and respecting those of others. Through sustained commitment, leaders at all levels can create space for any employee to communicate differences in how they work best – including other leaders. One of the best ways to encourage that openness is for individuals to lead with vulnerability, sharing aspects of their own identities and modeling trust.

On a larger scale, training focused on neurodiversity awareness across the organization can help build a shared sense of understanding and acceptance between all employees.

Q: In many organizations, the board of directors is responsible for pushing people and culture initiatives: how do you see change evolving at the board level?

Societal biases often prevent groups from seeing diverse individuals as suitable for leadership and board positions. Research shows this phenomenon across various examples of traditionally underrepresented groups at work, including women, BIPOC, and disabled individuals.

Deliberately examining those biases is an integral part of driving change. In considering intersectionality, lived experience, and assumptions about others, we can actively challenge commonly held definitions of “good” or “bad” leadership characteristics and expand our understanding of leadership more broadly.

Additionally, the more diversity exists in the boardroom and at the senior leadership levels of an organization, the more likely it is that diverse perspectives will be celebrated at all levels. Research shows that organizations with diverse leadership across various dimensions consistently achieve better outcomes.

Q: How can a leader create a functional team composed of neurodiverse and neurotypical members? Trying to accommodate everyone’s style/methods can be challenging.

By focusing on each team member as an individual, leaders can better understand the individual needs and preferences of those individuals – and the group. Fostering an environment that promotes acceptance of individual differences is critical to successful collaboration in diverse teams. Though this can be emotionally challenging, it enables long-term success through increased creativity, stronger employee engagement, and more robust decision-making.

Q: Do you have any advice to support those who exhibit symptoms/challenges consistent with neurodiversity within our teams, perhaps not even being aware of this themselves?

The best way to support any employee is to ask them about their personal preferences, allow them to express themselves without judgment, and work with them individually to create an approach to work that accommodates their differences. When we allow individuals to embrace their unique traits and methods rather than conforming to ingrained standards, we empower them to bring their full selves to their work. This approach benefits not only neurodiverse individuals, but all employees.

Additional Resources

Neurodiversity Employment Research Project at Ivey Business School (Overview)

Publications and Whitepapers from the Neurodiversity Employment Research Project at Ivey Business School

Institute of Neurodiversity (ION)

Charlotte Valeur: 'My autism is my strength' - CA Magazine (Profile Feature)

Ivey Academy livestream showcases how to unlock the potential of neurodiversity - Ivey News (Recap)

NeurodiversityHub: Resources for Employers

Full podcast episode transcript:

CHARLOTTE VALEUR: It's not, 'one is right, and another is wrong.' It's just that it's different. And be curious and open about these differences, not insist that someone has to do it your way because we all have our different ways.


SEAN ACKLIN GRANT: Welcome to the Ivey Academy Presents Leadership in Practice, where we discuss critical issues in business, unpack new research, and hear from industry experts about the latest trends. Research shows clear benefits for diverse teams, enhanced creativity and innovation, stronger employee engagement, and better-informed decision-making.

But realizing those opportunities takes deliberate leadership to create an environment where individuals can be authentic and thrive in their differences. A growing number of organizations now acknowledge differences in the way we think and engage with the world as crucial dimensions of an inclusive workplace culture. In our second episode on neurodiversity in organizations, we are joined again by Rob Austin, professor of information systems at Ivey Business School as well as Charlotte Valeur, founder of the Global Governance Group, and Neal Barnett, director of inclusive hiring and accessibility at Microsoft.

Listen in as we explore some of the ways organizations can help to create a inclusive environment for everyone. This episode is hosted by Bryan Benjamin, executive director of the Ivey Academy at Ivey Business School.

BRYAN BENJAMIN: Understanding and embracing neurodiversity isn't just about doing the right thing. It is the key to unlocking the full potential within teams. This is a real catalyst for expanding innovation and approaching problems in new and creative ways. All of these are critical ingredients for taking your organization to the next level.

Today, we're going to be unpacking deficits of traditional managerial structures and explore ways that leaders and organizations can create more inclusive work environments that match the individual needs of all employees while empowering all team members to truly appreciate uniqueness and differences. Joining us for our discussion today are the following.

First up is Professor Rob Austin. Rob Austin is Professor of Information Systems here at Ivey Business School and an affiliated faculty member at Harvard Medical School. He has worked extensively with corporate clients, including BP, CIBC, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Microsoft, Pfizer, UPS. Professor Austin has published widely, including publications such as Harvard Business Review, Information Systems Research, MIT Sloan Management Review, Organization Science, and the Wall Street Journal.

He's also the author of 10 books and more than 100 published cases and notes. And his research on neurodiversity employment programs is funded by the Social Sciences and Human Resources Council. Also joining us, Neil Barnett is the director inclusive hiring and accessibility at Microsoft. Since the announcement at World Autism Day in 2015, Neil has been responsible for the program evolution of the Microsoft neurodiversity hiring program.

He leads the inclusive hiring strategy for people with disabilities across Microsoft. Neil is also responsible for the strategy and performance of Microsoft's consumer enterprise disability answer desk, that provides specialist customer support to people with disabilities. And he co-founded and leads a coalition of employers as part of neurodiversity at work roundtable.

Charlotte Valeur is chief executive of the Global Governance Group. Charlotte is an investment banker and experienced FTSE chair and non-executive director whose long board experience spans a host of sectors and industries and covers IPOs, M&A, and restructuring. Charlotte is a lifelong human rights advocate. She advocates for equity and inclusion for all working at the intersection of government industry, academia, and the third sector.

To this effort, is also founded in chaired Board Apprentice and the global Institute of Neurodiversity. So we're going to get started here. And Rob, what do you mean by the term neurodiversity?

ROB AUSTIN: Sure, Bryan. And you're right. It is a moving target. The definition, I think, has evolved over time.

It's generally credited to Judy Singer, who is a sociologist who coined the term in a thesis that she wrote. It embraces a set of conditions that would include autism, dyslexia, dyspraxia, ADHD. Historically, as the term suggests, it was things that presumably had some sort of a basis in neurology. The way sometimes people put it, it's a metaphor and not one that I love, but they say it has to do with the wiring of the brain.

But I think in recent times, it's broadened. It's broadened to include pretty much anything in the employment context that might mask talent. So it has included, for example, it now includes often things like social anxiety disorder, which probably does have some basis in neurology, but it's a bit more tenuous.

There is also, I think, as a part of the term, there's sort of a philosophy behind it. And historically, if you think about the conditions that underlie it, that terminology comes to us from the medical field. And there's something that people often refer to as the medical model.

And it seems kind of natural. The medical model is typically about diagnosing and treating. And the philosophy of neurodiversity says that not every difference needs to be fixed. Not every difference needs to be cured. And so there's sort of a pushback against the medical model in the terminology of neurodiversity, moving in the direction of what is sometimes called the social model of disability.

The medical model says there's something that needs to be fixed in the person. The social model says that's not where the problem is. The problem is with the structures, the institutions that don't embrace the difference or do not include the difference. So, for example, I'll just use a really rough metaphor.

If I can't get into a building because of the way that my body works, that's different than most people. The problem isn't with my body. The problem is that somebody hasn't built a ramp to get up into the building. So that's the general idea.

BRYAN BENJAMIN: That's great. Thanks, Rob, for taking something that is so big and so complex and boiling it down to some simple pieces. I really appreciate the context that not everything needs to be fixed. I think there's a real opportunity just to simply deepen understanding.

And thank you, Lori, for commenting on the social anxiety disorder. Huge for my son and many of his friends. This is relevant not just for employees at work. This is relevant for person or the population in general as well. I'm going to go over to you next, Charlotte.

So as the founder of the global Institute of Neurodiversity, you're creating a global community for neurodivergent people and allies to come together. Can you tell us more about ION and why you founded this critically important network?

CHARLOTTE VALEUR: Thank you. Thank you for that question. I appreciate it, Bryan. So I'm autistic and ADHD. And when I became diagnosed, find this out just 10 years ago, it was quite a big issue for me to work my way through a whole lifetime of having been that and looking at your entire life with different lenses.

I have neurodivergent children. We have lots of neurodiversity within the family of all varieties. And what I found was that there were nowhere to turn. I didn't have a community I could turn to. If you have an interest in sports, you have a sports community. You have different communities as women's communities, ethnic diversity communities.

We didn't have a neurodiversity community where we can meet other neurodivergent people and talk about what this means for our lives and what it means to be late diagnosed. Anyway, so I went quite public in the UK on this because I was doing a campaign with a local charity, and it was a lot more public than I had anticipated. And suddenly, I had like hundreds and hundreds of emails and texts from all over the world.

There was a great need for people to talk to me about what does this mean, how are you feeling, what was the diagnosis. So it's a gap, and nobody has ever tried to bring us together. So I know that we are not the most obvious group of people to bring together because we're very comfortable like online, for example, and not necessarily many people in a room, but that doesn't mean that we don't crave someone like us to talk to.

So a handful of other neurodivergent people and myself came together and talked about this and said, look, we're going to set up an institute, an organization that is here for 100 years, 200 years, not just an initiative that comes and goes but actually something that's sustainably staying for a long time. And we have a very lofty vision of bringing a million neurodivergent people and allies together.

By the end of 2025, of course, but ADHD is pushing me to set lofty targets in 100 different countries. So we are working in 18 different countries by now. We are organizing the UN's World Autism Awareness Day this year because we are global. So within a year, we have over 11,000 members and supporters. So somehow, we're growing by 1,500 a month around the world.

So it seems to me that there is a need that we are meeting, and then we meet up in various smaller groups. But if you see the world with a mesh of neurodiversity networks while we support each other, that's our vision. And then, obviously, once we are many together, we can push for policy changes.

BRYAN BENJAMIN: So, first off, thank you. I really like nowhere to turn, so I'm going to build it, and I'm going to create something because other people are probably in the same situation. And we'll touch on this a little bit later as well about diagnoses later in life and adult diagnoses. And I'm hearing a lot more about this than ever--

CHARLOTTE VALEUR: We've been so invisible. We just haven't been seen, but we were always there.

BRYAN BENJAMIN: So important. You're right. And now that there's a bit of a spotlight in a good way, hopefully, it's encouraging more and more, and it will grow from there. Neil, we're going to come over to you here. So Microsoft, a true leader in this space and a model for many other organizations, how are you working in terms of what you've been doing and what plans are for creating a truly sort of neuroinclusive work environment within Microsoft?

NEIL BARNETT: I've been involved in this since 2015, when we started our autism program. It's now neurodiversity. We have expanded it. And I think one of the things at Microsoft we see neurodiversity disability as talent, and we've really kind of leaned into this.

This is all about finding talent, ensuring that our interview processes are as inclusive as possible. And then making sure that once people are at the company that, they can have a productive career and successful and grow and retain the talent. And there are thousands of people at Microsoft that have careers that are neurodivergent that have been there here for years.

And so it's really important for us to really think about just the whole lifecycle and not just about hiring people but growing people, growing manager capability. We spend a lot of time about managers at Microsoft and how to model coaching care. And I will say it's been a great opportunity to really work, not just at Microsoft.

But as Charlotte's doing too, is just what all these other employers there's such a, I don't know what the right word is, movement, but there are so many employers out there that are really leaning in to understand and learn what more they can do in their existing environments whether they have a dedicated hiring program or they're just working with their employee base. It's just fascinating to see and encouraging that so many employers, large, small, mid-size, are really looking at this and asking themselves how they can be more inclusive.

BRYAN BENJAMIN: Great overview. And I pick up on a piece there as well, too, is organizations large and small can sort of just start somewhere. It doesn't all have to be big practices and sort of large exercises. I'm going to throw another one, maybe very quickly. How did you adapt some of the interview processes to be inclusive of neurodivergent applicants? I assume both internally and externally applicants.

NEIL BARNETT: So it's a great question. There's things that all employers can do today, the ones that you've heard about real simple, like looking at your job descriptions. Like if anyone goes out to a website, whether it's LinkedIn or Deed, and you see all these companies posting jobs, a lot of stuff on there, but is it really necessary and pertinent to the job?

So making sure that that's the job description and simplifying the job description, everything from just think about a typical interview at many companies, are, for anyone, is back to back to back. It's a lot of pressure. And so, what if you just spaced out your interviews? What if there's more time to regroup between interviews? What if there is actually some training ahead of time for people interviewing?

So whether they know someone has self-disclosed or not, just best practices on being a good inclusive interviewer. Like there are simple things that employers can do that we've done that, can have large impact for your entire population of job seekers.

BRYAN BENJAMIN: That's great. Thanks for that and step back and just take stock of what's going on and is it truly inclusive of everyone as employers will win as well, too, because you may actually see more in a potential candidate than you otherwise would have seen. So job seeker can get an opportunity employer can get an amazing talent.



Rob, I'm going to circle back to you now. We've seen research on the benefits of inclusion, and it's great that there is a lot of research going on in this space. So why should our organizations pay attention to neurodiversity? I think some of this is, let's be honest, already woven into the conversation, but I want to really dig in deep here.

So what are some of the benefits both for individuals but also teams and organizations themselves?

ROB AUSTIN: Yeah, thanks, Bryan. We have done research across different organizations and including, for example, Neil's. We've worked with Neil at Microsoft for quite a while. But there's a lot of potential benefits, and some of them are things that seem straightforward, things that might have motivated the program in the first place.

So in that category would be, of course, access to talent, so positions filled that you might not have been able to fill otherwise, especially in technology companies in areas that they really need people in. Things like software engineering and cybersecurity and data science, and so forth. The other thing that's related to that is accessing really great talent.

So when you recruit in a way that allows you to tap into a new talent pool, one of the things that's going to be true of that talent pool, as is true of all talent pools, is there's some really sensational talent in that talent pool. And so one of the things we hear from companies is that not only have we filled a position that we didn't think we could fill. We filled it with better talent than we thought we were going to be able to get.

Some of the other things that come to mind easily, there are reputational benefits. I heard a senior executive in a company say, in another part of the world. People don't know us here, and this program is a terrific way for people to get to know us. It makes us look like a part of the community. We might call those CSR benefits.

Some of the less obvious ones, though, we hear from a lot of different companies that employee engagement and morale increases even in the vicinity of these programs. So, for example-- and it doesn't even have to be in the same organization. It can just be six cubicles over. People feel better about working for this company because it's doing good things for the world.

And I know of at least one company that's correlated that kind of morale and engagement increase with business results. It's actually good business to have highly engaged employees. Another one that comes up a lot is innovation. I study innovation. I do research and innovation.

One of the things that companies and people are not especially good at is coming up with ideas that aren't like ideas they've come up with in the past and recognizing value in ideas that are not like ideas they've seen value in the past. And the cure for that is a different perspective, somebody who sees things in a different way.

And so one of the things that comes up a lot in our discussions of innovation benefits is not only the ability to see things in new ways, come up with new ideas, see different kinds of value, but also, and this goes along-- one of the characteristics of people with certain neurodivergent conditions is that they're outspoken. They're willing to say things straight up.

Some people might say blunt. Some people might say honest. And when people are actually willing not only to see a problem or a way a thing could be improved but to actually be willing to say it is another thing. And then, finally, I would say there's a whole category that we call spillover benefits. And spillover benefits are benefits that it's when we create a solution in support of this kind of inclusion.

We discovered that the solution actually works better for everybody in the company. So we come up with it at a particular context. We then roll it out more broadly. And Neil mentioned already one of the things we hear a lot is people will tell us that working as a manager in this program has made me a better manager. So if I think about what I need to do to make a neurodivergent person able to contribute to a maximum degree, how do I change the work conditions or make adjustments or whatever?

If I can get good at that, what dawns on them, is that that's actually a pretty good way to think about all of my employees. So what can I do with all of my employees to make them maximally able to contribute? And coming up with a few more percentage points on everybody in the company can make a huge difference.

NEIL BARNETT: Just let me just jump in on some examples right there on that manager capability, which is so important. And an employee shouldn't have to self-disclose, but when an employee, in our case, someone hired through our program, our neurodiversity hiring program, we talk to the manager about how to best support employee. But these best practices are good for all employees.

So the examples are how about recapping meetings with notes. Like all employees will love to be able to go back to their desk and see what was said and have a transcript and think about it and come back. Or ask you about your communication style. Or giving employees options.

Can I Zoom in, or do I have to go to the big meeting in the conference room with everybody? Giving them choices. Providing more feedback more often. Like people tell me all the time, my employees, I wish I gave more feedback. That's a common thing for managers. Employees always want more feedback.

So those things are good for everybody. And so when Rob was talking about management capability, those are just some feasible things that anyone can do today.



BRYAN BENJAMIN: Once we are able to recruit more effectively and more inclusively, that's only part of the equation. The other part is how do you help someone succeed once they're in the organization and have the right systems and the right sort of understanding around them. So Charlotte, I'd love to go to you next. I know you can help elaborate on that.

In terms of once someone is in, what can we do to really kind of help them thrive?

CHARLOTTE VALEUR: Thank you. So the hiring programs are great, but the fact is that all businesses already have us in there. So I think we need to first look to our existing employees and see how we support them. If we haven't got ourselves, especially in bigger businesses, already a neurodiversity employee resource group, then we should probably start doing that.

So we have some corporate members within ION and that didn't have any RG a year ago who has them today, and there's over 1,000 people in it. Specifically neurodiversity RGs. So, for example, dyslexic people tend to not identify as disabled. So if you want to capture all neurodiversity, you need to not have it as part of your disability group. You need to have it as a separate piece.

So with the hiring programs, if you hire people just to say so, I know specialist Anna quite well, for example, who started it happens to be also diagnosed like I am. And so we've been chatting about this for some years. But hiring us is not in itself enough if we're not already inclusive within the business because we will come in, and it will be a struggle potentially.

So the big issue that we have in many places is xenophobia or fear of differences. And it's that fear that makes it happen that we get like excluded or bullied. I mean, I got relentlessly bullied as a child in school, even though I was virtually non-speaking til I was 12. I literally got beaten up to and from school on a regular basis.

Came home with bloody nose, what have you, by people who didn't know me but they felt I was different. There's this feeling of difference. If we can't have a culture that is low on fear of differences, we're going to have a problem. As humans, we're not that different. We are more the same.

It's actually relatively small differences in the bigger scheme of things. But such as why is this person not looking into my eyes? Is anybody interested in why what we see when we look into people's eyes? I all feel what it is, but actually, our band of sensitivities and senses is a lot wider than your average human being. So we see, feel, smell, taste everything a lot more intensely.

I would say that we have more developed senses, but some people want to turn that into a disability. But it becomes that when you get dis-enabled by society overwhelming you. But when I look into people's eyes, I feel that person intensely. And I feel a lot of things about that person might not want me to feel.

In a sense, that person is sort of naked in front of me. Is everybody happy with that, or can we stop and think about actually is that a reasonable request for someone who feels things so intensely? So it's just like we got to turn things upside down, by all means, have the hiring programs, but sort your employees out first and your culture to ensure those hiring programs will be a success.

You don't want us to come in and be having issues because, actually, it's just something that takes a box, but it's not real.

BRYAN BENJAMIN: I think you are exactly what we needed is we need to be very direct on something like this and place such a high importance. Neil, anything that you'd sort of add onto that?

NEIL BARNETT: I agree with Charlotte. I think hiring programs are one thing. And it's historical, especially since it started. It's a good thing. But I always remind employers and everybody that at every employer, the majority don't have these hiring programs. There are neurodivergent employees there today.

Whether you have an ERG or not, they are a lot more at your company than ever that you'll ever hire through these dedicated programs. So you really need to start there. And then I often talk about finding those red threads, which is because of these programs, what are the things that you can learn and pull back across your entire company that will impact so many more people. That's the real benefit.

But the vast majority of folks are not through these hiring programs. They're your existing employees today. That the culture has to be hopefully that either people feel comfortable self-disclosing or that your process is and your entire business is inclusive for everybody to get the most out of everybody. And so yeah, I totally agree with Charlotte. You can do both, but your existing employee is, by far, that's your biggest bet.

ROB AUSTIN: So just to add to what Charlotte and Neil are saying, one of the things we've seen at a number of companies where they've established, Microsoft would be an example, where they've established sort of very successful hiring programs, we see that people look at this and make the decision that the cost-benefit in disclosure has changed now.

So one of the things we're seeing happen is first, I mean, Neil, you're right. It should be the other way. But first, the hiring program happens, and then the people who are actually there at the company see that the company is doing all these things, and then they start to come forward in and organize.

I know it's happened at Microsoft. It's happened at a number of the other companies that we've studied that suddenly, there are these large networks that weren't there before of people organizing around their neurodiversity. So I can only see that as hopeful and favorable.

I know Neil, maybe you've seen this happen in your own company that people come out of the woodwork suddenly. You knew they were there.

NEIL BARNETT: Yeah, one of the impacts is we have existing employees not hired through these programs raise their hand and say, hey, I want that same training that you're offering for my manager. Can you come train my manager? Or how do I get involved in my Employee Resource Group? I want to be a mentor from folks that are coming into the company.

So it's a cycle, but it's great to see, and that's really how you scale the impact more than just these dedicated programs.

BRYAN BENJAMIN: And I love that concept of scaling the impact or how do we get exponential benefit when we're talking about feedback and more feedback and the idea of how do you give meaningful feedback in a way that it is actually sort of received. I'm a big proponent of intent and perception. So I'm going to give you a piece of feedback that my intent is to be genuine with my feedback.

Maybe it's not landing in a way that it resonates, and maybe it's even off-putting potentially to someone. So as we're exponentially kind of growing within organizations and creating more awareness for something like feedback, how are we supporting leaders to be able to have effective sort of coaching and feedback conversations with neurodivergent workers?

CHARLOTTE VALEUR: With feedback, with everything, there's always two things that I like to see out front, which is respect and kindness. When you have that underlying, any feedback you give or any communication you have. I can see how some people can feel that directness is not respectful, but it's kind of often from which side do you see it because when someone says something in such an indirect way that I don't actually understand what they mean, that's significantly difficult where actually sort of saying it as it is. It's a lot easier.

So I think training we've asked our members what would people like to see and a large amount of saying training for people by neurodivergent people to anyone else, for example, certainly all public facing institutions from government, teachers, nurses, prison wardens, what have you, so to understand these different ways of operating. Not one is right, and not one is wrong.

And I think, again, if we start from a premise that says it's not one is right, and another is wrong, it's just that it's different and be curious and open about these differences, not insist that someone has to do it your way because we all have our different ways. Much like cultural training, if we could have neuro-type training. There's culture training.

The North Star is that we don't need any of this because, actually, we don't mind if we have different colors of skin. If we are tall or short, if we have different neuro types, we actually just accept all of us as human beings that needs, too, human respects.

BRYAN BENJAMIN: Thank you for jumping on a really important sort of question, and I think hitting on culture which is critical.



I would like to, and we've hit on a few assumptions. I think each of you at various points in your comments. But let's spend a few moments on what are some of the common assumptions about neurodiversity that leaders and organizations need to be aware of and ideally avoid.

NEIL BARNETT: I'll just say one thing and then open back up. I think one of the things when I talk to other employers, and I spend a lot of time with other employers, the stereotype around STEM and technology. One of the things I'm trying to ensure it's every job is a good job. It's not necessarily coders or developers or data scientists-- yes, for sure, but there are all types of jobs, and they're all types of employees throughout the entire spectrum of employment.

And so I think a lot of times you see this topic around neurodiversity and work around STEM, and I think we need to continue to have that broader conversation that is not just stem, and it's not just big tech companies. It's small businesses. It's retail. It's customer service. It's all type of roles.

CHARLOTTE VALEUR: I just think that there are some really common assumptions that we just need to stamp out misconceptions. We are not all white men in technology, but we're not automatons, and we're also not all rain men, so if we can just take that out of our heads completely.

We're not something to fix. We're something to be appreciated and accepted as we are. So I think if we can start with that, we've moved quite a good way.

BRYAN BENJAMIN: Very simply powerful. Thank you, Charlotte. Neurodiversity in the context of work and we know that right now work is in office, virtual, hybrid. We're experiencing all of it depending on the organization. So if there is an office scenario where individuals are now coming back into the office more and more, how do we support this return from a neurodiversity aspect?

I imagine some of what we've covered before already applies to this scenario. But is there anything, maybe more specifically, we could be doing or thinking through or be cognizant of as we're kind of creating maybe a changing expectations in terms of where and how people are working?

NEIL BARNETT: I'll start first, Rob. It's Neil. I think a couple of things. So one of the things we've seen is, as everyone's heard, everyone is different. So there's not one size fits all, and I think that's really important. So I saw during the pandemic that there were folks that were neurodivergent that really enjoyed working from home.

And then they were folks that would basically ask for an accommodation to be able to come into the office because they like the structure of coming into the office, and they liked their own space and all the other things that are part of coming into to work. So everyone is different and being able to have some flexibility.

And I think one of the other things we realized, but it seems obvious, is that anytime there's change, so moving from remote to in-office, giving notice, giving ample time, ample support, letting people know what's going to happen, the expectations and why is really, really important. Again, that's good for everybody, but it's been really interesting over the last few years to see all the different work styles and how to best support them.

CHARLOTTE VALEUR: Could I just add to that? What is the goal of having people returning to the office? Is it to make them more or less productive? Is it to control them? Is it because there's no trust? I think we have to go below some of that a little bit.

I would know a lot of neurodivergent people who are more productive if they can work at home by some. It might be that a 150% when working from home 100% when working at the office. Why is it that businesses wouldn't take 150%, or is it that they are not having good enough systems to measure what is being delivered to actually see why the productivity is?

If they don't have that, maybe they should have it. Otherwise, how do they measure whether their workforce is productive enough or not? So I think we should go just below it a little bit and see why is the goal because if you get more productivity when people work from home, and you can save on office space, from a pure business, I mean, I'm a banker, from a pure business perspective and bottom line, it doesn't make sense to make people come back in then.

BRYAN BENJAMIN: And I think you talk about the element of understanding the rationale behind it. And then if there is a scenario where individuals are coming back, in a lot of the practices, are going to work for all employees. I think it's sort of being cognizant though of different scenarios and how do you get the best. One of the areas that I'd like to dig into a little bit more, and I think all three of you are going to have great perspectives on this, so you can arm wrestle to see who goes first.

We've talked about the ability to take different approaches in different scenarios and appreciate it, and understand differences. So being a good leader, good leaders need to appreciate different scenarios and recognize differences in the individuals that they're interacting with. In terms of advice and suggestions and, ideally, practices that have worked, is how do you go about building a better understanding and helping leaders recognize and appreciate differences? Because they are in a really critical role, some of them being neurodiverse themselves.

I'm going to pick on you, Rob. I feel like you're going to want to jump in first here.

ROB AUSTIN: Well, you're talking to Neil and Charlotte, two people who have direct experience. One of the things I always like to remind people of is that, as academics, I'm pleased and proud of what we do, but we're kind of reporting what's going on in the front lines. We're not on the front lines.

But that said, I'll tell you some of the things that we hear. So I think one of the things that we've heard from a number of organizations is that for leaders, a willingness to learn and a willingness to realize that you're not going to always get it right the first time. Another thing that kind of goes along with that is we heard at one organization, and I think Neil, you, or Charlotte alluded to this moment ago.

There is a saying that if you've met one neurodivergent person, you've met one neurodivergent person. I mean, one of the biggest things to diffuse is the idea that this can all nicely be categorized. People who are neurodivergent are as varied as people who are not neurodivergent. And so one organization that we talked to said we've stopped assuming. We don't assume. We ask. And it's because everybody's different.

As we transitioned into work remotely from work in the office, we've seen certain adaptations that are kind of interesting. So Charlotte's right. Why bring people back to the office if they're more productive at home? One thing that we have seen people worry about is if people were able to kind of check in with people in the office. We need a way to do that remotely.

So sometimes, Neil said it, not everybody wants to work from home. Some people value the relationships. Just mechanisms for saying how are you doing this morning? How are you doing at noon? How are you doing this afternoon? Throughout the day can be pretty important.

And so you ask about leaders, leaders willing to manage people as individuals because that's not part of the traditional-- if you think back to the Industrial Revolution, you had a position people were supposed to conform themselves to it. They were supposed to conform to roles. This is different.

This is what is it that this person needs to be really valuable to us and to themselves, and how do we create those conditions? It's probably harder work.

BRYAN BENJAMIN: Thanks, Rob. And yeah, the formula here doesn't necessarily work over here, and a willingness to recognize that need to appreciate differences. So for leaders who are up for it, it's an exciting challenge and a great opportunity, and you can really make a huge impact on individuals and teams and the organizations you work for.

Neil or Charlotte, any comments you'd like to share on how we can support leaders to lead in this increasingly complex environment and get the best out of individuals?

CHARLOTTE VALEUR: So, for me, there are three levels of leadership. We lead ourselves when we are born. Then we lead ourself with our team. And then the third level is where a good leader will create the environment for other people to be successful.

A leader that leads at that level will have curiosity, will have respect, will have interest, will understand what it is that will make their people successful. So when you are leading at that level, it comes automatically because your interest is other people's success, not your own success. And when we can get leaders like that, and it's very easy to see whether people are at that level or not because it's basically people who ensures that the environment for other people is appropriate, and they will do whatever it takes to understand what that environment should look like to make other people successful.

BRYAN BENJAMIN: I love that notion, too, of as a leader, my success is the success of others. I derive a lot of my success from them thriving.

NEIL BARNETT: You both said it really well. I think Charlotte, your last point around leaders are only as successful as their people. It's not about the leader. It's about their team, which sometimes people get confused on that. And Charlotte, your point about curiosity, I think that is a key thing for a leader or a manager is to be curious. We talk about at Microsoft, the growth mindset.

But a leader that's asking questions, not assuming, listening more than talking, those are some things, again, it's good for everybody, but I think in this space, more than ever, it's so important to be an effective leader.



BRYAN BENJAMIN: I do want to go to a couple of questions here. How can we progressively persuade our current leaders to change maybe their style and adapt and grow? And persuade could be encourage, could be incent, could be recognize reward. So it's one thing to coach kind of new leaders. It's another thing to, Rob, to pick up on your comment.

Maybe a leader has been in the workforce for a number of years, and the expectations have shifted pretty significantly over the last while. How do we support a leader to-- do we shift their style?

CHARLOTTE VALEUR: So I also work in governance. I'm a professor in governance in University in Scotland and leadership, and we talk a lot of this. And I've been thinking a lot about it myself, having served in boardrooms for almost 20 years in Italy, the only woman in the room, but now it's luckily a lot more balanced, at least here in the UK. But not when you go sort of below the larger companies.

But I came to a conclusion when I started looking at something called spiral dynamics, which is about cognitive maturity. And actually, there are different levels where people are very young cognitively and in the maturity. And the levels that 80% of the population operate on is sort of its about seven levels. This has been research about 75 years.

You can also put it onto countries and organizations. You can see it in the differences in countries between, for example, Scandinavia and the UK. It's just different in how we naturally look. So in Scandinavia, we've looked at the environment and the social as opposed to the governance in ESG for 50 years. And it's been the other way around in England.

That's a cultural difference. So how do we influence people that are cognitively at a certain maturity level to be at a higher maturity level? And my answer to that, unfortunately, is with difficulty because people can get very stuck. And it takes self-work to work your way up the staircase of your cognitive maturity, and some people have no interest in that.

If there is no natural driver for that, we can have very successful people that are completely homophobic and sexist, and what have you, but they're so successful that they don't care, and they have very little reason to be anything else. But if they operated at a higher conscious cognitive level, they would not be that because they would understand how being bad to someone else means being bad to part of yourself because we're all part of the whole.

So I think with that cognitive maturity, in certain areas, my conclusion has become that with certain people, you can't. It's stuck. They're stuck because they have stopped learning and stop having an interest in lifelong learning. And that there is nothing you can do with that. You've got to just put them aside and focus on the people that are interested in learning.

Otherwise, I think we're spending a lot of time on people that will make no difference.

BRYAN BENJAMIN: Thank you, Charlotte. It's one thing when I'm working with someone, and they've been very clear. Charlotte, you've been so open and genuine with us here today. What are you seeing in terms of self-disclosure? Is it going up? Is it not?

CHARLOTTE VALEUR: Yeah, it's slowly going up. But what we need is more leaders actually to step up and open and lead through vulnerabilities. It feels vulnerable. We know that neurodivergent people exist at all levels. We have Richard Branson dyslexic in the UK. We have Elon Musk recently. I mean, you can be successful and neurodivergent.

And we need the successful ones to actually stop being so hidden and allow themselves to be those true leaders that can also lead through their own vulnerabilities. Then we open the door and allow other people to come along because, actually, it becomes more acceptable. To expect people from the grassroots to do that, I think, is steep when we have leaders that could.

ROB AUSTIN: To pick up on what Charlotte was saying. An experience just about three weeks ago, we have worked together with Neil and others at Microsoft to create an audio case that we used in the classroom three weeks ago with about 800 students at our school. After we had discussed that case and very productive discussion, I was going to refill my water bottle after class or actually between that class and the next class, and one of my students tracked me down, and he said very quietly so no one ever could hear him said I'm diagnosed, and I wonder if you can give me advice on whether I should disclose this.

I was no way prepared to provide-- I mean, she should have been talking to Charlotte or Neil or someone, but I told him some of the things that people sometimes consider. But that's his to decide. But the thing that it hit me with is how people struggle with this question that he was so earnest in so needful of an answer to how he should manage this.

And you know, I came away, I was kind of blown away by it.



BRYAN BENJAMIN: 30 seconds each from our panelists in terms of final thought or recommendation for either an individual who is neurodiverse, a leader leading neurodiverse teams, or an organization looking to sort up their game and create a culture that is truly inclusive of neurodiversity. I know it's a tough one, but I gave you three options. Pick one that resonates with you and 30 seconds each. Who's going first?

NEIL BARNETT: For employers that are out there, I think two things from today. One, you don't need to have a dedicated hiring program to have an impact in this space. So take a step back, look at your job descriptions, look at the way you structure your interviews today, and think about how inclusive it is for everyone. Whether they disclose or not is a first step that everyone can do that can have a big impact.

And then, for employers that want to do more and have these hiring programs, you can start small. There's a lot of people in the ecosystem that can help you. There's a lot of experts out there that can help you. You don't need to know everything yourself. But sometimes, just taking the first step forward is the thing that is best.

BRYAN BENJAMIN: Terrific. Thanks, Neil. Rob or Charlotte.

ROB AUSTIN: Maybe I'll take next just because what I was going to say is really related to what Neil just said, which is we were just having a research session this morning with a doctoral student where we were doing what we call within-case analysis. We were looking at a particular program and trying to understand what was happening there.

It's a more recent program than the one Neil runs, so one that's been established fairly recently. And one of the things that's clear is, as Neil said, there's a playbook now. And one of the things that we're seeing in our research is that companies are quicker at getting this up and going and scaling it now partly because of the hard work people like Neil have done back in the day and other companies like SAP, like Eli, like Microsoft, like JPMorgan Chase.

People were who kind of they were on the ground floor and with Neil on the roundtable. And I think I've exceeded my 30 seconds. So I'm just going to stop there.

BRYAN BENJAMIN: Thank you, Rob. Charlotte, very appropriate. You get the last word. I'd love to hear your 30-second comment.

CHARLOTTE VALEUR: Thank you. I would just very quickly say, and this goes across all intersectionality is, hire someone who doesn't fit in. When people are not the same as you, you achieve true diversity. When people disagree with you, you have an opportunity to learn and grow. And that's what we should all be more into, in my view.


SEAN ACKLIN GRANT: Thank you for tuning in to Leadership in Practice. We'd like to thank our guests, Rob Austin, Charlotte Valeur, and Neil Barnett. Leadership in Practice is produced by Melissa Welsh, Joanna Shepherd, and me, Sean Acklin Grant. Editing and audio mix by Carol Eugene Park.

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