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Let’s Talk about Neurodiversity in the Workplace

Fostering a culture of diversity and inclusion benefits everyone, but while companies increasingly recognize the benefits of building and retaining a diverse workforce, some may inadvertently neglect “disability” in their diversity and inclusion practices.

Genesis10 recently received certification as a Disability Owned Business Enterprise. DOBE certification is granted to businesses that are at least 51% owned, operated, controlled, and managed by a person with a disability. Our CEO Harley Lippman, the founder and sole owner of Genesis10, is neurodivergent.

Diversity is All about our Differences

Often when we think about diversity, we think about gender, race, ethnicity, and sexual orientation. But diversity encompasses the infinite range of individuals’ unique attributes, experiences, and abilities. When we think about diversity, we need also to think about disability.

People with disabilities are the largest minority group in the U.S., making up an estimated 20% of the total population, or roughly 50 million people, according to the Office of Disability Employment Policy. Despite these numbers, people with disabilities are often forgotten. They face discrimination and exclusion. Although they have civil rights protections, they are not the same protections afforded to ethnic minorities and other protected classes. 

While the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act have made strides in disability rights, people with disabilities still face prejudice and stereotypes every day, including individuals with neurodiversity.

Neurodiversity describes the idea that people experience and interact with the world around them in many different ways; there is no one "right" way of thinking, learning, and behaving, and differences are not viewed as deficits. Judy Singer, an Australian sociologist, coined the term neurodiversity in 1998 to promote equality and inclusion of "neurological minorities."

Still, until recently, no one talked about neurodiversity. No one who is neurodivergent wanted to be different. Everyone wants to be “normal.” We try to hide our “deficiencies.” I want to bring to the forefront that people with disabilities, individuals who are neurodiverse, are not less. They can accomplish amazingly great things. I work for a guy, Genesis10 CEO Harley Lippman, who’s neurodivergent.

Why is this Important to Me?

Mark Parisi and his sonLike roughly 10% of dads in the U.S., my son is neurodivergent, and as he grows up, I want to show him that anything is attainable if he makes an effort and does the work. Harley is a successful CEO despite his neurodiversity. He’s recognized as an influential leader in the staffing industry and has launched two businesses: Prior to starting Genesis10, he was the founder and sole owner of Triad Data Inc., an IT consulting firm, which he sold in 1998 just before founding Genesis10.

Neurodiversity in leadership fosters innovation, creativity, and a fresh outlook on problem-solving, enabling Genesis10 to deliver unique solutions for our clients.

Positive Light on Neurodiversity in the Workplace

I want to shed positive light not on Harley, but on all the individuals who think that they must keep their neurodiversity to themselves or hope no one finds out. Won’t you join me? To mark the anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, we set aside the month of July as Disability Pride Month, which presents us with an opportunity to honor the history, achievements, experiences, and struggles of the disability community.

I am a lot like my son. Growing up, I would watch cartoons and mimic sounds. I realized people thought I was weird, so I shut my mouth and didn’t say anything. Instead of mimicking sounds from TV shows I mirrored what others around me were doing to “fit in.” I was also good at sports, so I used athleticism to mask my eccentricity. I did the same in my career, became good at selling, closing, and negotiating, to deflect people away from my quirkiness.

Calls for All of Us to be More Inclusive

Wired differently from “neurotypical” people, neurodiverse people may bring new perspectives to a company’s efforts to create or recognize value.

The behaviors of many neurodiverse people run counter to common notions of what makes a good employee—solid communication skills, being a team player, emotional intelligence, persuasiveness, salesperson-type personalities, the ability to network, the ability to conform to standard practices without special accommodations, and so on. These criteria systematically screen out neurodiverse people.

But they are not the only way to provide value. In fact, in recent decades the ability to compete based on innovation has become more crucial for many companies. Innovation calls on firms to add variety to the mix—to be more inclusive.

Stigma, a lack of awareness, and lack of appropriate infrastructure (such as office setup or staffing structures) can cause exclusion of people with neurodevelopmental differences. Understanding and embracing neurodiversity in workplaces can improve inclusivity for all people. It is important for all of us to foster an environment that is conducive to neurodiversity, and to recognize and emphasize each person's individual strengths and talents while also providing support for their differences and needs.

What do I tell my son? Be the best version of yourself, strive to be the best at what you do. Control what you can, your effort and your attitude. Exercise tolerance, be considerate, most important, be kind. It’s what we all should do—especially when it comes to thinking about creating an inclusive workplace and embracing others who may be different from us.