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Designing the Workplace for Neurodiversity

In this session:

Traditional work conditions were developed with a narrow vision of what kind of worker should succeed. Many organizations still operate with the approach that individuals who fall outside of these traditional ideals must seek individualized accommodations to help them adapt to the traditional work environment. However, when we design work environments specifically to support Neurodiversity, we not only foster a better sense of belonging for everyone on the team, but the design changes often benefit all employees.

For this episode, produced in collaboration with the Neurodiversity Employment Research Project and hosted by Bryan Benjamin, Executive Director at The Ivey Academy, we’re joined by guests: Jamell Mitchell, EY Global Neuro-Diverse Centers of Excellence Ecosystems Leader; Patrick Poljan, Board President of Arc of the Capital and Former Senior Vice-President, Finance & Executive Sponsor, Neurodiversity at Dell; and Chloe Cameron, Ivey HBA '12, Ivey MBA '21, PhD candidate in Organizational Behaviour at Ivey Business School. Together, our panelists explore how universal design elements that support neurodiversity at work often benefit all employees, delve into personal experiences on how design integrations can succeed, and share insights on boosting inclusivity in operations.


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Q & A

We were not able to address all of the audience questions submitted during the live recording of this learning event. Chloe Cameron, PhD candidate at Ivey Business School, answers some audience questions here in this Q&A segment.

Q: What is the difference between neurodivergent and neurotypical? 

Generally, the term “neurodivergent” refers to individuals who identify as having neurodevelopmental differences such as autism, ADHD, dyslexia, dysgraphia, or others. The term “neurotypical” refers to individuals who do not identify as having neurodevelopmental differences.  

That being said, a central concern of the neurodiversity movement has been how terminology often implies framing that disadvantages neurominorities. Terminology, then, has been appropriately debated and continues to evolve. In our work, we are now choosing the word “neurodistinct” rather than more historically common alternatives, such as “neurodivergent” or “neuroatypical.” We prefer neurodistinct because it removes (to the greatest extent of existing options) the reference to socially constructed and disputed notions of “normal” or “typical.” Everyone can claim to be distinct; “neurodistinct” simply references a type of distinctiveness. Similarly, “neurominority” is a statement about relative frequencies of types of neurodistinctiveness and does not inherently attribute privileged status to groups with higher relative frequencies.  

We acknowledge, however, that terminology continues to evolve, and that others may make different choices or object to ours. The fact that participants in this important debate disagree makes it impossible for us to choose in accordance with all preferences, so we ask for understanding in this matter from those who feel at odds with our choices. 


Q: The pandemic led to the sudden necessity for remote work, forcing even the most resistant organizations to embrace it. Has there been any research into the impact of the pandemic on neurodivergent employees? Did the move to remote work make it easier or harder to navigate organizations? There is an increasing push in many organizations to get people back into a group office space, but that might not be the best approach for all employees. Are you finding companies are less likely to hire with their push to return to the office? 

 We have touched on this topic in our research but it has not been a central focus. We find that, like most other topics in neurodiversity, individual preferences and impacts are a matter of personal preference. Some individuals prefer remote work while others find the lack of structure to be a hindrance. Likewise, organizational approaches in the “back to work” movement have varied. Management training and intentional management approaches remain a key variable in balancing individual and organizational needs.  

Some recent work from other institutions includes: 


Q: Given that we should think about employees less categorically - how then do we develop “strategies” that leaders and managers can use as part of their playbook? 

Managing neurodistinct individuals well doesn’t mean that leaders and managers shouldn’t seek to learn about different neurominorities or initiatives that organizations have implemented. Rather, it means that leaders and manager should not assume that specific approaches will suit individual employees just because they are part of a given neurominority. Education and training on neurodiversity is critical – this helps leaders and managers identify and overcome their biases and understand how to respond to individual situations.

For example, if a person with ADHD appears to be struggling with time management, a trained manager should be able to identify that this may be related to incompatibilities between organizational demands and the individual’s work style rather than assuming that the person is problematic or lazy. The manager then, rather than prescribing a solution that “worked with a different ADHDer once”, should discuss with the individual how they can move forward to meet both the needs of the organization and the individual. An understanding of neurodiversity here helps to sidestep a categorical misunderstanding of where the issue lies and enables the manager to work towards an individualized solution.  

The most successful “strategies” focus on setting up systems that managers and leaders can apply to identify and address individual needs, rather than imposing “off-the-shelf" solutions. You’ll notice that playbooks, such as the Autism at Work Playbook (Annabi et al., 2021) is focused on setting up broad structures that can then be relied upon to more systematically deliver these individualized solutions. 


Q: How can we understand to what level our business is ready to accommodate the specific needs of neurodistinct people? Do we need to hire a consultant? (similar Q: How can we support ADD/ADHD employees who struggle with focus and how does this differ when managing in office vs. remote teams?) 

Stay tuned – we are working on publishing a descriptive neurodiversity maturity model that can help leaders understand where their current practices fall in terms of neurodiversity inclusion. In the meantime, we suggest engaging in available training modules and reviewing some existing resources on organizational approaches. Some useful resources and papers are shared below, and training modules are available from several universities and other organizations. 


Q: I am thinking about how we can attract and support neurodivergent candidates/employees as a fully remote organization. What would say are the key principles to keep top of mind as I build out a strategy? 

Several organizations that we have studied have indicated that they have pursued alternative recruitment channels, including social media and other community groups that are neurodiversity-centric, universities, etc., to find and attract neurodistinct talent. Alternate channels are, in many cases, necessary because neurodistinct individuals have often “given up” on being able to find success through conventional application channels. If you want to bring neurodistinct talent in, you may need to go looking for it – and then you need to be prepared to be genuinely inclusive.  

As we discussed in the session, the most important thing is to align practices and organizational values. All organizations will make mistakes as they move towards neuro-inclusion, and that is fine, but there must be genuine effort throughout the organization. Thinking through hiring (e.g., are you using an algorithm to screen applicants? Do you rely on interviews rather than allowing individuals to demonstrate their abilities?) and employment practices from beginning to end to identify and adjust areas that may be discriminatory is essential, but so is mapping out organizational values and norms to manage how day-to-day interactions will occur. Identifying and adjusting the various elements of organizational experiences is essential to attracting and retaining neurodistinct talent. 


Q: I asked my employer to accommodate my ASD by giving me a heads up on any announcements or planned changes, they claim they cannot accommodate this need. How can neurodivergent individuals advocate for themselves in their workplaces who aren’t trying to accommodate them? 

Perspective-taking and understanding on both sides is critical. In the situation that you described, the organization is likely concerned about confidentiality but there may be another reason. To manage this (or any similar situation), you will want to understand exactly why a requested accommodation “cannot” be met. Once you know this, you will want to be very clear in your own mind about what it is that does not work for you about the way things are done now. For example, you may find that it is difficult to process change and know that you are thrown off when these types of general announcements occur. It is important to communicate specifically what you are seeking to manage. If the organization is, indeed, concerned about the confidentiality of their announcements, you may suggest that you arrange a non-disclosure agreement so that you can be given advanced notice about announcements. If the organization will not do this, perhaps you could ask if they could tell you the timing of announcements rather than the content so that you can at least mentally prepare for news. If not, you could ask that on days when change announcements are made, that you are excused from work to process the information before continuing with your day-to-day tasks. Clarity on both sides about specifically what needs to be managed is important and, in most cases, there should be a workable solution. If you have been specific about your needs, the organization will not share their reasoning or does not demonstrate an effort to find a workable solution, and you have tried seeking accommodations with different people, you may need to reevaluate whether this is the right organization for you. 


Q: How do you recommend navigating the self-reporting of neurodiversity when applying to a new company? The uncertainty of how the company/hiring manager would respond makes it feel like you’re only at a disadvantage when disclosing this. 

This will depend on the organization that you are applying to, as well as potentially the hiring manager. In organizations that are outwardly showing their efforts to be neuro-inclusive or they are well-known for being neuro-inclusive, it should not be a barrier to disclose in the recruitment/selection process. However, this is often not the case and then there are significant grey areas that need to be navigated. For example, how do you know if the organization is inclusive? What about the hiring manager? What about the functional manager? What about the functional team? Unfortunately, there are no blanket answers to these questions. Looking for signs that organizations are neurodiversity-friendly (or not), including external statements, diversity-related organizational values, the presence of neurodiversity employee resource or inclusion groups, or informal statements from existing or past employees in online forums, etc., could help you find positive or negative cues. Likewise, you could reach out to HR groups or employees in your target department about the organizational stance on inclusion to decide whether and when you should disclose. 

In addition, as we touched on in the session, the selection/recruitment process is a two-way evaluation. You may decide that you want the job regardless of whether or not you can disclose but this is also an opportunity to understand whether you will be accepted for who you are or will need to mask to be successful in the organization.  


Additional Resources:

We have collected some additional resources that were shared by our panelists as well as participants in our livestream.

Gartner Unveils Top Predictions for IT Organizations and Users in 2024 and Beyond

Neurodiversity at Work Playbook: Employee Engagement & Growth Series (Disability:IN)

The Anti-Planner: How to Get Sh*t Done When You Don’t Feel Like It by Dani Donovan (Recommended by a participant for individuals with ADHD)

Glean (Note-taking tool)

Episode transcript:

JAMELL MITCHELL: Many of our organizations started around neurodiversity to neuro inclusion to ultimately being able to drive workplaces that are inclusively designed. That means tools that are available for everyone and everyone has access to those tools.


SEAN ACKLIN GRANT: Welcome to the Ivey Academy presents Leadership in Practice, your source for insights, research, and advice on emerging critical issues in business. For most of its evolution, the modern workplace has promoted a fairly narrow definition of what kind of employee should succeed.

The system tends to sideline individuals with spiky profiles, who may approach work and problem solving differently. And yet, thinking differently is often credited by our most successful business leaders as a key ingredient for success.

In this episode, developed in partnership with the neurodiversity employment research project at Ivey Business School, we talk about designing workplaces that enable everyone to thrive, especially neuro distinct employees.

Joining us are Jamell Mitchell, a leader at EY's global neurodiverse center for excellence ecosystems. Patrick Poljan, board president at Arc of the Capital, and former executive sponsor for neurodiversity at Dell. And Chloe Cameron, Ivey HBA 2012 and MBA 2021, and current PhD candidate in organizational behavior at Ivey Business School.

Listen in as we explore how organizations can approach workplace design through a neurodiversity lens. This episode is hosted by Bryan Benjamin, Executive Director of the Ivey Academy at Ivey Business School.

BRYAN BENJAMIN: Hello, and welcome to our Academy live stream. My name is Bryan Benjamin. And I'm the Executive Director here at the Ivey Academy. Thank you so much for joining us. This is the third live stream we're delivering in partnership with the neurodiversity employment research project.

In the previous two sessions we looked at pioneering programs for neurodiversity hiring, and then explored how leaders can apply a neurodiversity lens to how they manage individuals on their teams.

Today, we're excited to dig in to how organizations can design their workplaces to support neurodiversity and increase inclusion at scale. We're joined by three amazing panelists who all have extensive expertise and experience in this field.

Our first panelist is Jamell Mitchell a leader at EY's global neurodiverse center for excellence ecosystems, where he oversees the strategy for increasing awareness, activation for securing talent, and identifying inclusive learning opportunities.

He manages teams across the Americas, and has worked to drive global adoption of inclusive sourcing, scaling, and sustaining efforts at EY, developing training procedures and implemented best practices within and outside the space of neurodiversity.

His integral role in EY's journey to neuro inclusion often challenges organizations to consider cognitive diversity as a competitive advantage to further drive business solutions.

Next up, Patrick Poljan is the board president at Arc of the Capital, a nonprofit organization focused on empowering and advocating for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, where he works as a strategic advisor for neurodiversity employment.

Patrick formerly served as the senior vice president of finance and supply chain operations at Dell technologies for 12 years. During this time, he was the co-chair for Dell's true ability employee resource group, focused on supporting team members impacted by special needs and disabilities with initiatives, including employee engagement, hiring programs, and assistive technology.

As part of this role, Patrick helped launch and served as the executive sponsor for neurodiversity at Dell.

Our third panelist, Chloe Cameron, is a PhD candidate in organizational behavior here at Ivey Business School. She's also an Ivey grad, having earned her HBA from Ivey in 2012 and her MBA in 2021. She is an integral part of the neurodiversity employment research project here at Ivey with a research focusing on the creation of organizational best practices for neurodiversity that will work to support a more innovative and productive teams and organizations.

Chloe, I'm coming to you first. So neurodiversity, a really big topic, a really broad topic, a really important topic. What do we mean when we talk about neurodiversity at work?

CHLOE CAMERON: Yeah. It's a good opening question. So for those of you who haven't been following the neurodiversity conversation for the last 10 or 20 years, depending on how long it goes back, the neurodiversity paradigm was established in the late 1990s as a way to understand various neurodevelopmental conditions or differences as just that differences rather than deficits.

So the neurodiversity at work movement really started with autism and individuals on the autism spectrum because they face or tend to face disproportionate barriers due to social factors and differences.

So more recently, organizational narratives have shifted to neurodiversity more broadly. So that includes ADHD and dyslexia, other differences, as well as autism. But still most of the organizational designs that we see are rooted in addressing the tensions that were observed in organizations and individuals on the autism spectrum.

So when we talk about neurodiversity at work now, really, what we're talking about is three different things in how we can progress. So one is about how to scale existing programs. The second one is on how to expand to other organizations and functions. And then the third one is to look at how we can address key barriers that are faced by different neuro minority groups as well.

BRYAN BENJAMIN: Well, thank you for taking something that is really quite big, quite broad, quite complex, and sort of boiling it down to some important pieces. I got to pick up on the very first thing that you mentioned around differences not deficits. And I think framing it in such a way as you did is so critical and sets the tone for really productive conversation.

Jamell, I'm coming to you next. Do we have any way to gauge organizational investment in neurodiversity and support programs? So we hear bits and pieces and we and we read about it, but how do we sort of gauge what's really kind of going on?

JAMELL MITCHELL: Well, Bryan, one, thanks for the question. And I think it's a really important question that really many business leaders, or those who are in attendance today, would be looking to really understand more around. I can tell you that there are lots of studies that continue to lean in on what is that investment from a business perspective.

And one thing that comes to mind really quickly, Bryan, and it's a recent report that Gartner actually had put out. And that report has the top 10 predictions over the next three to five years. And those predictions really speak to where Fortune 500 companies will invest where they will lean in on.

And one of the predictions from Gartner, for the next three to five years, is that a minimum of 25% of the Fortune 500, so that's a minimum of 125 companies, are going to heavily lean in on their neurodivergent hiring. And so I think that's just one example, one tool, one metric that we actually can go to that says that there is going to be an increase of the focus around neurodivergent hiring.

That's a great starting point. But that only covers those that are being hired into organizations. There is also going to be an additional level of investment with those who are already in these organizations. Because if we look at the global stats around neurodivergency as a whole, globally, we estimate that one in five individuals have a level of cognitive difference.

And that cognitive difference would be anything such as autism spectrum condition or ADHD, or ADD or dyslexia or dyspraxia. This is, again, for those who identify with one condition, not all so combining the fact that sometimes there's co-occurring conditions as well.

But these again, are just metrics that are being shared that let's the business world, as well as those that are in academia, that there is strong interest in this diverse amount of talent. And to, again, Chloe's point, the great way to kick off this discussion is that we're looking at difference and not focusing in on deficit.

BRYAN BENJAMIN: Great sort of leading indicator, maybe not the right phrase, perfectly, but the intent and sort of hopefully even more beyond intent a commitment to integrate sort of neurodiversity into the hiring practices and expectations.

You also talked about great in terms of talent that we're bringing into the organization, but need to also pay attention to the talent that we have within organizations. And then that kind of middle ground, which is once we hire in, how do we set someone up for success, individuals and teams, through the integration process within organizations.

I'd put you on the spot here. Any organization that you see as sort of leading the way or at least an organization that sort of made some visible strides in this space?

JAMELL MITCHELL: I think that teed that up so nicely for me. I would say EY.

BRYAN BENJAMIN: We didn't even talk about this beforehand.

JAMELL MITCHELL: Yeah. I could have answered it better. I would honestly would say that EY is one of the leaders within this field. And partially, I feel that EY is a leader is because we continue to iterate off of existing processes. We continue to leverage the neurodivergent voice in all of our customizations that we're making everywhere, inclusive of hiring, as well as what onboarding looks like and what general support may look like for anyone that's already within the organization.

I think another component to that is while we understand that EY is one of the leaders in this field, other leaders are Microsoft, as well as JPMorgan Chase and SAP and Dell and Travelers, as well as even some of our competitors, such as PWC or Deloitte.

Our program is very mature as we have been really working along this journey for almost about a decade, where we have some individuals who have joined our firm back then, who are now leading some of the different components to what we're doing both from an internal perspective, but also from an external perspective.

And this is, in my opinion, what makes EY unique is that we have a client base. And because we have a client base, we're helping our clients stand up similar types of programs and do a look at their practices more holistically to ensure that we are being inclusive from everything from that entry point through retirement within organizations.

And while it is a strong goal that we have and it is a long runway that we also have, it is something that we are challenging organizations to look at, again, more holistically.

BRYAN BENJAMIN: That's great. I'm glad you jumped on the opportunity, but also gave some shout outs and credit to other organizations. And what I really appreciate is the work that's extending as a global leader in sort of your ability to reach organizations as clients, supporting those efforts as well.

So Patrick, let's get your voice into the conversation here. We've talked about sort of intense. We've talked about journey and efforts that organizations are making and are looking to make. Let's talk about some of the outcomes.

And what are some of the outcomes that you've seen as a result of efforts that organizations are making to create more inclusive neurodiverse environments, where individuals and teams are truly thriving. So talk to us about outcomes.

PATRICK POLJAN: Sure, Bryan. Thank you. And maybe just to start, I could provide a little bit of context based on the introduction that you provided. When I, first of all, got involved with this whole world, it was with my son being diagnosed with autism when he was about five years old, four years old back in like 2008, 2009 time frame.

And that was just the time that I was making the move to go to Dell technologies and quickly became part of this employee resource group that you mentioned called True Ability, and quickly learned that there were a lot of folks in my shoes who had kids around that age that were diagnosed and trying to figure out what resources were out there in terms of how to navigate schools and support and therapy.

And ABA, like all these things that were novel and it really kind of changes your world in your community. And as that developed through time, it turned into what happens next. And you realize there's sort of a cliff after the school age years of the support and opportunity in many cases.

And we started studying this and found-- and I know it's a broader definition now, Chloe, with neurodiversity. But at the time, five, six years ago, it was the statistics were that people with autism were 80% to 90% unemployed or underemployed. Meaning, they were capable of doing so much more in what they wanted to do in their life and for their potential.

And that's what got us interested to learn what other companies are doing. And we started attending some of these workshops or roundtables. And this is when we had the chance to learn from companies like EY. And it's when I met Jamell, probably, five, six years ago to see what EY was doing and what Microsoft and SAP and others, and they helped us with a blueprint to get moving at Dell. OK.

And we started slow. We started with three hires up in the Boston area. And five years later, we're well over 100 hires and all sorts of different parts of the organization. And just to your point, being able to see the outcomes and success of this has been fairly remarkable.

And I remember when I talked to Michael Dell about this the very first time, he said, you know what I love about it is that it's entrepreneurial. Think about Michael Dell, quite an entrepreneur, starting in his dorm room. And now, having the company as now.

But he saw it as an opportunity to leverage diversity and to bring in new ideas and new thought. And it was always about the business case and never about because a good thing to do. It was hey, this, yeah, it's a good thing to do, but this is going to give us better returns on our investment in the company and provide better for customers and have better solutions and ideas and so forth.

So being able to bring in great talent that's extremely loyal and committed to be in the organization. And it enabled also new ways in the organization to support everyone. So once you start hearing about needs of the neurodiverse population that says, hey I could really do better if I had, I don't know, maybe a ball to sit on or the ability to walk around and between meetings or have this kind of environment that's going to let me be more successful, it enabled everyone to have that opportunity to find ways where they could be more successful.

Assistive technology, for sure, was a place that as we were rolling out, assistive technology, it wasn't just for those that were neurodiverse, it was for everyone that could use that. And now more and more people want to see the script, the captions on the screens, or look at meetings in a different way and how they can be more successful.

And our teams really appreciated bringing in the diversity. It built more community, frankly, across the teams. And so many times, we'd have employees say, hey, this is great. Like thank you for doing this. Or I have a neighbor I have a niece or I have an uncle, whatever it might be, that they can now talk to them about what Dell's doing and how this is working, and being successful.

And Jamell mentioned it, but the last one I bring up is just the opportunity for new conversations with customers and suppliers and stakeholders to talk about, hey, what is this? What are the myths around this? What are the-- how do you think about this from a business case perspective and why should we-- how can you help us get started. And I think those are all when we think about the outcomes, what comes out.


BRYAN BENJAMIN: Thank you. It's actually quite expensive when you start to talk about the intended outcomes. And then to some extent, almost unintended outcomes as it grows sort of exponentially.

I really appreciate your comment around the impact beyond the organization. So family members, friends understanding connections and giving people strategies and ideas.

I'm going to pop two questions here. What can organizations do to attract neurodiverse talent to the organization? And then the other one-- I'm saying both now because I want the wheels to be turning. Someone is neurodiverse, and how and what do they disclose at one point, not knowing how a hiring manager is going to respond to it?

So let's start from the organizational perspective. What can organizations do to ensure that they're attracting neurodiverse talent to express interest in joining the organization in the first place?

JAMELL MITCHELL: One of the things I think is important is to make sure that as an organization, that that is one of the things that is put out and not just put out from a disclaimer perspective or an advertisement perspective, but that we continue to connect with the broader neurodivergent community.

And that could be everything inclusive of but not limited to connecting with different social media groups, where you find neurodivergent people that would really connect from a social perspective. It's working with non-for-profits. It's working with providers.

And I think outside of just making the claim that you're interested in neurodivergent talent is having the organization. And this is where the work comes in, embodying what that looks like. Because hiring neurodivergent talent is one piece, but expecting that a person that identifies as neurodivergents to come into an organization and to assimilate to what's already there is where there's a lot of opportunity.

We are hiring individuals because of their uniqueness. However, we're not expecting that those sometimes excuse, or it's called spiky pieces or spiky profiles, are shaved away in order to assimilate to that current environment.

So I think, again, it's putting it out there, but also making sure that the organization is readied for that neurodivergent talent, for that uniqueness, and not a simulation.

BRYAN BENJAMIN: Yeah, that's really great. And I think it's a challenge to organizations. Words on a page or words on a website don't mean much if you're not following through and making those broader community connections and setting up the right kind of infrastructure to make this possible.

JAMELL MITCHELL: And Bryan, I would say just one thing to that point, in our work, we continue to realize that this is not a one and done. It's not a one time conversation. It's continuous work. And it's continuing to make sure that there's connection with the community as a whole, understanding that the community is going through evolution on top of evolution.

Because what was acceptable three years ago, three months ago, sometimes is not always with accept it now. And to make sure that you are ready for the work and committed to the work are key pieces.

BRYAN BENJAMIN: Thank you for that. So let's flip to the other question that I do think is almost like the other side of the coin to some extent. So neurodivergent talent, applying for an organization, and opening within an organization, what, when, how do I sort of share? Even asking the question, I'm not even quite sure exactly how to frame it because it's delicate on many lenses. But any sort of advice that you can give to prospective employees as they're approaching organizations?

JAMELL MITCHELL: I always tell candidates that it is a personal decision that you make. You decide when you are going to disclose whether or not that is something that you decide to do. The disclosure is one component, I think what supports are available for you is a different type of discussion and at different spin.

Because disclosure is not always what's required or even necessary in as much as the organization that you are looking to connect and to align with, should have things in place that helps you to bring your best self to whether it be that interview or to that organization.

So disclosure, again, in my opinion, is less of the discussion and topic. And as much as it is hey, what do you need in order to be successful here within this experience, interview, onboarding, or within the work environment as a whole?

And it may never get to a point where I want to disclose in as much I have the support necessary in order for me to be effective in the role in which you're hiring me to perform.

BRYAN BENJAMIN: And thank you for shedding light on the reality that the interview is a two way street. Organization is assessing a candidate. And a candidate should be doing their due diligence just as much on the organization. Chloe, Patrick, any comments on either one of those two questions?

PATRICK POLJAN: I would just chime in around it's so much about the employer having the open door, having the culture that will enable that employee to feel comfortable, whether they're neurodiverse or whatever they are.

It's like how do you-- and back to your point on it's a two-way street on the interview, like you can do research on who are inclusive companies or that are known for embracing diversity and being inclusive.

And those are companies you probably want to seek out if I was to recommend to individuals in terms of where to go. And oftentimes, when I have conversations with-- and we'll probably get into this later, like small, medium-sized businesses just around the area like how do I get involved, there's just so much education that has to occur to get awareness and understanding.

And then their own personal-- the companies need to evaluate where they are on this cultural assessment, if you will, of being able to appreciate bringing someone in and being part of the team.

So I think it's much about again the other side, the employer and having that be a careful-- or having that be a comfortable discussion on the other side.

CHLOE CAMERON: Yeah. I completely agree. I think that this was a very good question pairing on your part, Bryan. Like Patrick says, it's not just about whether the individual is willing to disclose and when.

But for example, do they even have the opportunity to disclose? Are we using AI-based screening that will never give them the opportunity to have a conversation about what their needs in employment are? Are we getting to the point where the culture has a role?

These are the questions, I think, that as we move forward in organizations, we really need to be aware of what kind of changes we're making and what the impacts of those changes are. So somebody I saw in the chat just said, I disclose in my CV.

That's great. If the organization is saying that they're inclusive and there's evidence that culture is there. But if the resume that goes along with that CV doesn't have whatever it is that the prototypical person in the role needs to get to the point where somebody looks at the CV, then that's an issue. And that's not going to matter. That's not neuro inclusive.

So we need to think about how people are presenting and what we're expecting, and making sure that those two pieces align between the organization and the individual.

BRYAN BENJAMIN: Thank you for commenting. The alignment piece is so critical. You also talked about different screening mechanisms. And organizations are always looking for new and creative ways to screen talent so that I can do it quickly, and hopefully be able to screen in the best of what I have. But we know that it's not a perfect science. And sometimes, a company misses out on some great talent for a myriad of reasons, and vice versa.

Sometimes, talent may miss out on an organization that's doing some amazing things, but maybe isn't actually vocalizing or sharing them in a way that people are picking up on it. I’m going to take us now to the role of leader.

What role-- and I'll get you to comment first, Patrick, on the role that a leader can play in empowering sort of neurodiverse talent within their organization. And I'm actually going to have a very broad definition of leader. So there's leaders in terms of formal people leadership, but many people can play leadership roles within organizations.

PATRICK POLJAN: Sure, Bryan. Look, I mentioned this earlier, but leaders, first and foremost, can set the culture and live the culture in terms of supporting neurodiverse hiring and support systems and mechanisms for success at the end of the day.

That involves getting educated, as I mentioned before, and getting teams educated how this works and what are the myths that need to be busted or fears. The legal team can help support this, HR team. Like supporting a manager is important to say, hey, look, what if this happens or that happens, to know that legal or HR has your back. Like, yeah, we get this. And this is how we're going to proceed if there's circumstances that might come up that are different than what may have been seen in the past.

The other thing is, thought about this a lot, it may require some sort of rethinking of what success traits look like in an organization. So a lot of companies value things like polish right or smooth communication, easy conversationalist.

Like maybe meeting norms, where everyone sits a certain way and acts a certain way. And these aren't necessarily published, but they are these unwritten kind of traits and norms that have to be reconsidered around what do we really need here in terms of ideas and outcomes and individuals that are going to help us advance the game in terms of our goals and our missions.

It doesn't mean that you move away from your values around trust and relationship or ethics and those sorts of things at all. It's more about do you have to reconsider or rethink some of the more behavioral things that have become part of the organization.

And then the other thing I'd just say is managers need to embrace, and I see some comments, and so forth too, around how to support with whether it's job coaching support, which is what the Arc of the Capital does a lot for companies with their hires is to provide these job. Coaching resources that can help customize, how they can be more successful.

And supporting budgets for technology assistance, where it might make sense. But a lot of this technology, frankly, is available today. Like if you look at the Microsoft suite of products that are out there that can help with all sorts of things with reading and writing and listening and messaging. And then you look at the power of these large language models like ChatGPT.

Like this is so beneficial for those that really struggle with clear, clean communication of their ideas. And to be able to leverage that AI technology to, then, help you with an email or help you with how to convey messages to team members.

Like being supportive of this say, look, use of this technology, leverage it, note taking technology like Glean is a super powerful tool to be able to get in a meeting and record that meeting and take notes and understand what someone said or what actions need to be taken. Frankly, it helps everyone.

And this is another theme that I've heard even from our chief information officer at Dell is like, all these things you talk about, everyone can benefit from. And all these things that managers can do, it's frankly what a good manager should be doing in the first place.

So these things aren't like necessarily new and unique. It's more like bringing us back to what is a good leader, what is a-- how do you manage your teams well to be successful.

BRYAN BENJAMIN: Great. Yeah, great perspective. Some of it's just regrounding in some common sense and common practices. And then recognizing opportunities to grow and stretch and learn as well.

I'm going to go to you next Chloe, and then I'm going to come to you, Jamell. So Chloe, you've obviously been researching a lot of organizations through the fantastic work that you've been working so tirelessly on.

There's some questions around best practices and maybe even leading practices. Want to comment a little bit about what you've seen in organizations as it relates to setting sort of that culture, supporting leaders that are really kind of creating the right conditions for what we've been talking about for the last sort of 30 minutes? What have you seen out there?

CHLOE CAMERON: The framing that I usually like to use is the individual meets organizations through all these tiny day to day interactions. So as leaders, what we need to be thinking about is how do we get over some of the things that are inherent or just kind of things that we take for granted that are causing barriers for other people?

So one of the things that seems to be really necessary is to get over the idea of archetypes or prototypes that we associate with different roles in our organizations. And that's a bit different if you think about it from the stereotypes that we assign to different social groups.

They're both important to be aware of and think about. But the first is really about the kind of person that we imagine for a given role. And the other one is about generalizations that we make about social groups. So when we think about the first one it's really important in neurodiversity inclusion to be open about how different people can add value in unexpected ways.

And to be open to changing what we think a job is, so that we really get at the core of what we need in that role, instead of things that we take for granted that have just become part of what we imagine that person will look like.

And one way, of course, that that happens is through trainings. In our research, we've noticed that neurodiversity training makes better people managers in general. And it really helps people to be intentional about managing specific people and specific situations rather than categorically.

And that's something, I think, that is really the main part, the main spirit of what neurodiversity inclusion is about, is being more about specifics and individuals and less about kind of categorical thinking and generalizations.


BRYAN BENJAMIN: Jamell, erasing the lines. So much of what we've hit on. And all three of you have done this. It's yes, we want to be sort of individualistic where it makes sense and recognize that all things are not the same and a one size fits all solution doesn't work.

Sort of this notion of programming that's going to support building a more inclusive work environment and focusing down on neurodivergent talent may actually benefit the broader organization and sort of good practices or good practices or good practices and same thing with good leaders and good people.

So let's talk about sort of erasing the lines and sort of around neurodiversity and neurodivergent sort of programming that organizations have. And what do you mean by that? Or what can organizations and leaders take away from that?

JAMELL MITCHELL: So one, love the question, Bryan. And I just want to piggyback off of what Chloe said and Patrick. Again, when we look at better practices for entire organizations, many times that those better practices are birthed out of what we specifically done for individuals that identify as neurodivergent, partly because it allows us to be that much clearer and takes away a lot of the ambiguity that's often associated with job descriptions and roles and organizations as a whole.

The embodiment of what those supports look like at the manager level, as well as even at the peer level are very important. Because as important is the manager to support a team member that's neurodivergent, I would say as equally as that person that will act as a buddy and/or as a peer.

Because oftentimes, the culture change actually occurs in the day to day of those individuals working together as opposed to it often, or I should say, coming from a top level directive of this is what you must do, and as much as it is this is how we are embodying this relationship that we are on, or that we are helping to design and cultivate.

When you start talking about the blurring or the moving of lines, Bryan, what immediately comes to me-- comes to mind for me is something that we are yet doing within EY, and other organizations are really taking a page out of the book. Wherein years ago, we wanted to make sure that the door was open for individuals that are neurodivergents to come into a organization where there was a level of psychological safety. They feel as though they can bring their best self to that organization.

But now, how do we take some of the guardrails off of what we've done to not just blur the wrong lines, but erase the lines such that now this becomes a part of the culture. It means really being able to have those individuals work with different teams across whether it be service lines and/or departments as appropriate, as well as providing those different teams with some knowledge transfer, so that they will understand how to best work with any individual.

So again, going back to our earlier comment that I made, this is less about a person coming out or disclosing their condition in as much as this is what works best for this team member. How do we make sure that information is being shared more proactively? How do we ensure that there are tools that are available for everyone? And that access to those tools become less of a bit of a chore, quite honestly.

Because some organizations have tools, but there are so many checklists and requirements in order to get the tool that I need to be successful, that it sometimes is daunting. And maybe a person decides, I don't want to go down that path. Or I choose not to have to communicate so much information in order for me to get a tool that is going to assist, not just with my day to day, but ultimately, it's going to make me more effective and more proficient and efficient, so the organization benefits.

And that's where we move from what many of our organizations started around neurodiversity to neuro inclusion to ultimately being able to drive workplaces that are inclusively designed. That means tools that are available for everyone, and everyone has access to those tools without me having to justify why I need read, write as a tool to make me successful. Me not having to justify why I work better with three monitors versus the one monitor that my colleague has.

This is less about what that person has in as much as it's about how do we make these tools available for anyone within the organization in order for them to be successful because the more successful the individual is, oftentimes, the more successful teams are, which ultimately benefits the organizations that you're aligned to.

BRYAN BENJAMIN: Fantastic way of bringing it together. Win for the organization, win for the team, win for the individual. I really appreciate you talking about don't need to justify. If it's going to allow someone to succeed and to ideally thrive, then let's look at ways to do that, and challenging organizations to get out in front of it, so we can respond to a request.

But what can you do to create the conditions and to create that environment, where everyone's able to bring their best and I appreciate your comment around psychological safety. And I appreciate you bringing that into our conversation.

Patrick, organizations are at different points along the journey. So we've heard some examples of organizations that have made significant strides in investments. I am using the word journey deliberately because it's not a OK, tick, I'm done and I move on.

This is an ongoing journey. And organizations need to continue to push themselves and to move forward. What about organizations that are not on the journey yet or at the very early stages of the journey? And I'm thinking even more so smaller organizations that might not have large infrastructure or a ton of resources. Like how do I get started? Yeah. Let's leave it there. How do I get started?

PATRICK POLJAN: Yeah. And I think you set that up well, Bryan. Because big companies like EY and Dell and Microsoft, like these leaders like they have a lot of money. And they can support infrastructure. They can support a role what Jamell plays or we have Daniel at Dell, and these program managers.

And that requires budget and so forth. And a lot of companies would look at that and say, well, we don't have money for that. And why would we or how could we even do something like that? And immediately, think that's not for us.

And then the other aspect is just the training and awareness. Like a lot of small and medium businesses, like the conversations I have, start with the culture. And many times, it could be an owner or someone on the team that somehow is closely involved with neurodiversity personally impacted. And that takes that kind of understanding or appreciation to have that door open.

So a lot of this happens in the community. The communities need to do more to build awareness and eliminate a lot of the fears around what it means to hire someone and where all those opportunities.

There are a lot of-- like I'm involved with the Arc of the Capital that helps companies through education and help support an internship. You don't have to just make your whole team neurodivergent, but like why don't we have interns, and why don't we learn with this, and if you're going to help us coach the individual to be successful.

You just take away those roadblocks or fears and create it that way. But look, it's our biggest opportunity in this space. Because the biggest companies in the world, if you add up all the hires of these companies that we've mentioned, maybe they've hired a couple thousand people.

We're talking like, we need millions of jobs across the country. And then think about the world. So a lot of this comes back to culture awareness training, understanding, and enabling it to be a good business thing to do at the end of the day.

BRYAN BENJAMIN: And I also appreciate your comment around so the organization's role in this, but part of a broader community and ecosystem as well and what can we do to support organizations as they make efforts to move these pieces of important work further.

And you're right. If you look in the makeup of Canada, how many organizations fall into small and medium as their size. And we need these organizations.

PATRICK POLJAN: And again, I would say there are a number of these-- whether it's community non-profit organizations or small businesses, like there's a whole community of resources that want to help. And it's how do you match these employers that are interested to get the help, get the training, get the understanding, identify where the individuals are that can benefit from better roles. And then those matching that happens in a community is what needs to happen.

BRYAN BENJAMIN: It's challenging if the need is there and the support is there, but the two don't know about each other, we missed the opportunity.


BRYAN BENJAMIN: Chloe, I think I'd be hard pressed to go an hour without talking about remote work as part of the conversation. Anything that you've come across in your research? Other panelists you can feel free to chime in as well.

But I want to start with you, Chloe, around supporting workers who are not necessarily physically in the same room all the time with other team members if remote work is either a big part or a small part of someone's role in an organization.

CHLOE CAMERON: Neuro minorities have been advocating for remote work capabilities and generally being allowed to work from home. For years and years and years, and organizations always came up with a lot of good excuses for why that wasn't feasible.

And then COVID happened and everybody was having to work remotely. So it's really interesting that now we, as organizations, are enabling more people to do so. I think in neurodiversity, that helps a lot.

It helps in terms of making workplaces more inclusive. And the way that organizations seem to be managing that has a lot to do with technology and mediating what needs to be done in terms of social interaction and instruction management and oversight through technology.

So one of our categories of data that we like to look at and talk about is how this technology is playing a role in that relationship. And it's not something was necessarily going to talk in depth on today, but it does play a major role.

And we see some really interesting technology in social enterprise in particular, where there's a lot of innovation going on in terms of employment design. And they like to use technology for different aspects of employment. And especially in remote situations.

So checking in with people and seeing how their mood is, how they're feeling in terms of their work and their orientation towards their work. But also, in terms of communication mechanisms and things that will help them communicate more effectively, not just with their managers, but with their teammates.

So we're seeing a lot of different applications and a lot of different ways of integrating technology to facilitate very productive remote work. So it's just very timely that we had a mass move to remote. And now kind of back, but it does seem to be sticking a little bit more in neurodiversity friendly organizations.

BRYAN BENJAMIN: Interesting. And I appreciate your comment on yeah, it was actually something that was happening pre 2020. 2020 gave the opportunity and now as the pendulum is trying to find where it's going to ultimately settle, something to look for in organizations who are sort of adopting some of these leading practices and creating the most favorable conditions.

Quick, any sort of additional comments, Jamell or Patrick, around sort of what organizations can do to support remote work in the context of inclusion here?

JAMELL MITCHELL: I think, Chloe hit on some really important pieces there. And one of the things I would continue to say is that we, as organizations, need to continue to look at the specifics around the expectations of the roles. I think that there has really created this ability for organizations to challenge themselves in light of COVID and things now being COVID light.

There is absolutely positively benefit in bringing teams together because that creates a level of synergy and a level of productivity, but also, I think, that the ability to work remotely, as well as again, to be able to check in with the team members, as well as to get really creative as to how can we even team within this virtual environment has challenged many leaders to think outside the box, if that's what you're comfortable with, or think inside the box if that's what you're comfortable with in order to bring those teams together. But outside of that, Patrick, I don't know if you have anything else you want to add there.

PATRICK POLJAN: Yeah. It just reminded me of a funny story back. This is pre when people were working from home, where we had one of our talented individuals was invited to their team's ice cream social. And they went back to their manager and said, I love ice cream, but I hate social. So I don't know what to do here.

But I think it really comes back to having flexibility in the workplace to be able to accommodate you know what's going to allow people to do their best work. And working with them, the individual.

BRYAN BENJAMIN: Yeah. Back that two-way street, the conversation openness. So we're getting close to the top of the hour. And I'm going to enter the rapid fire aroud here of questions. I'm going to ask you, final comments on sort of a takeaway for what a leader can do within an organization. Maybe one recommendation.

But before that, there was a great question earlier around what can I be looking for in an organization to see what they're doing. Maybe what practices they've adopted. Is this potentially an organization where I'm going to feel the support that I would hope to feel, whether I disclose or not. So I'm in the research phase, let's say, of my job search. What do I look for? Where do I start?

So one of the things I'll say quickly here is look for organizations that are embodying what they are saying. And when I say that, I specifically mean, if an organization is saying that they are in neuro inclusive. Look at what the examples of that neuro inclusivity looks like.

Do they have individuals that are neurodivergent in leadership? Do they have individuals that are neurodivergent talking about their experiences? Are there examples where neurodivergent and neurotypical employees are working together in order to create either whether it be best practices or work on different external type events, if applicable, because we need-- well, I would suspect, I should say.

We need to see examples of what that looks like. And that person would then be able to make a decision as to if the organization is embodying things that are interesting to them that also meet some of their specific needs. Because for some organizations, some individuals have had really dynamic experiences. And for others, not so much, even if it is an organizations that claim to be neuro inclusive.

CHLOE CAMERON: Yeah. I would just add, one of the things that we've noticed popping up a lot more are the EIGs and the ERGs that are neurodiversity related. And often, those are somehow documented in terms of either social media or press releases or other ways that you can track down whether organizations have these internal employee groups.

And if there are ones that appeal to neurodiversity, then I would suggest just reaching out to some of the people in there. And it's a great indication that the organization has people, and that they're supporting each other. But a lot of times, I think, probably depending on which department and who you're working with of course, the experience can vary.

But at least you can get a temperature check if you reach out to somebody who's actually there, experiencing it.

JAMELL MITCHELL: Yeah, I have to jump in there. I'm sorry, Bryan. And say, EY does have a large global neurodivergent ERG that is actually ran by our neurodivergent team topics. And all actually come in, lead, run by that team. So I have to do that plug. Sorry.

BRYAN BENJAMIN: No. You're able to. If we've got it, there's some practices that others can follow, this is great. So we're getting really close to-- I'm going to give each person 20 seconds, literally, on I'm a leader within an organization. And I want to make a difference. What's one thing I can do? What would you suggest that I do?

JAMELL MITCHELL: I would say act. There's something that's called a COI. And it's a cost of inactivity. There's a cost to your organization if you don't choose to do something. Oftentimes, we don't move because we don't want to do the wrong thing. Fail, learn from it, and grow.

BRYAN BENJAMIN: Fail, learn, grow. Perfect.

CHLOE CAMERON: I would say, be intentional. Be reflexive and focused on what you're trying to accomplish. And the rest of it, I think, is quite simple.

PATRICK POLJAN: Yeah. I don't have much to add. I think you guys said it well. Act, be intentional, and again, it's just being the culture. So living the culture.

BRYAN BENJAMIN: It sounds like inertia is going to be worse than not acting and learning and trying and being intentional about my ongoing development. So I want to thank Jamell, Patrick, Chloe. Fantastic conversation. I really appreciate you sharing your wealth of experience and knowledge on such an important topic.


SEAN ACKLIN GRANT: Thank you for tuning in to Leadership in Practice. We'd like to thank our guests, Jamell Mitchell, Patrick Poljan, and Chloe Cameron. Leadership in Practice is produced by Melissa Welch, Joanna Shepherd, and me, Sean Acklin Grant.

Editing and audio mix by Carol Eugene Park. If you like this episode, make sure to subscribe. You can also find more information by visiting or follow us on social media @iveyacademy for more content, upcoming events, and programs. We hope you'll join us again soon.



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