Ok, this is creepy. I’ve been reading and thinking about this topic for more than three years. I’ve amassed a collection of more than 100 articles, books, videos and other resources about it. I even started drafting a blog post about it so long ago I wasn’t even sure I’d saved it. For some reason I decided that TODAY was the day I was finally going to at least take a crack at writing something about it, and did a search through my drafts to see if I happened to save it–which I did. The date of that original draft? Exactly two years ago today. Hm….
I can’t remember how I first stumbled on the topic originally–probably had something to do with reading about mental health in the workplace, a topic that, if you read this blog, you know is one I’ve written a lot about. The past few years of my life have been at once the hardest and the best, most transformative ones of my 52 years, with neurodiversity going from a glancing interest to kind of a full-on obsession, for reasons it will take more than one blog post to explain. So instead of focusing on the why or me aspect of neurodiversity, I’m going to try to just stick with the aspect I started drafting two years ago: neurodiversity as it relates to diversity and inclusion, especially in the association space.
Specifically, how neurodiversity seems to be essentially non-existent as a concept or aspect of diversity and inclusion in a sector that talks a LOT its commitment to about diversity and inclusion. Just as it talks a lot about innovation and disruption…and then generally is too risk averse to do more than talk. I don’t know if it’s because neurodiversity relates more to staff/HR/management than representation on boards or in other high-profile ways–that at least makes sense to me and also I guess resonates most with me.
Ok, sorry–maybe four paragraphs in I should move on to what is neurodiversity and why should anyone care? Stanford’s Neurodiversity Project does a good job of describing it much more succinctly than I ever could:
“Neurodiversity is a concept that regards individuals with differences in brain function and behavioral traits as part of normal variation in the human population.
The movement of Neurodiversity is about uncovering the strengths of neurodiverse individuals and utilizing their talents to increase innovation and productivity of the society as a whole.”
The most mainstream example of neurodiversity in the workplace context tends to focus primarily on autism, especially in the tech industry, as many people with autism spectrum disorders have extraordinary pattern recognition, memory, data analysis and math skills which enable them to add value in ways that neurotypical people can’t. ADHD, dyslexia, dyspraxia and other neurological differences–or disabilities as they’re more commonly considered. Rather than ramble on, here are a few resources that, again, get to the point a lot quicker/more clearly than I can.
Back to why it matters in the context of associations: I’ve spent most of my career in associations, the past 21+ years in new digital roles…while also being neurodivergent (ADHD, depression & anxiety). I’ve spent essentially this entire time being hired because I have skills and abilities (and, I only recently realized, capabilities related to ADHD…that’s a whole other post for another time) that both make me someone associations want to hire/work with but also someone who makes them uncomfortable because of my communication style; my persistence; my seeming inability to just go with the flow like “regular” people who get frustrated but still manage to stick around for the paycheck, benefits and job security. I’m not trying to say that this is all about me–it’s not at all–I see the same dynamic play out in various ways with other “difficult” or “creative” or “flaky” or “negative” people in the association world all the time. Which, the more I become aware of it, the more it drives me crazy because if there ever were a time when associations need different thinkers with creativity, entrepreneurial skills, out-of-the-box perspectives and other “divergent” ways of thinking and doing, it’s now. But I also know from firsthand experience that the very things that make divergent thinkers particularly valuable now that business as usual will never be the same again are the exact things that hiring managers and association execs do NOT want. They also have no idea that their attitudes towards people whose brains work differently are discriminatory and counter to any stated commitment to diversity and inclusion.
So it’s literally like six hours later and I’m not sure this makes any sense, but at least I can finally get some of this out of my head and hopefully find out that there are others out there either thinking about this already or interested in chatting about this or learning more about why neurodiversity is needs to be part of the diversity and inclusion conversation.