Building a better workplace through neuro-inclusivity
May 18, 2023
By Lisa Colledge, DPhil, Rachel Carpenter
Employees shared their neurodiversity experiences with peers worldwide to strengthen everyone’s understanding of neurodivergent needs in the workplace.
From a young age, Stephanie Viggiano knew she was different, but she wasn’t sure why. “I have high empathy and a stutter, which came with difficulties growing up,” she wrote recently on LinkedIn(opens in new tab/window). “Most people liked me, but sometimes I’d experience pushback. Somehow, during those interactions, I left people entertained, confused, or visibly uncomfortable. This left me stumped, as I didn't know what I was doing wrong.”
Like many of her neurodivergent peers, Stephanie became very good at masking her traits, which ranged from ADHD to auditory processing challenges, demand avoidance(opens in new tab/window), and difficulty sensing the passage of time or how much time is needed to complete a task. Still, she graduated from college and has become a successful professional, all the while struggling with challenges she managed to keep hidden.
Employees organize neurodiversity events for their peers
Stephanie was one of three employees to speak on a global panel before her peers at Elsevier, where she is a Manager of Digital Communications while pursuing a PhD in Global Leadership & Change at Pepperdine University Graduate School of Education and Psychology(opens in new tab/window) in Los Angeles.
The panel, which focused on the unique experience of neurodivergent women, was part of a series of events hosted by employee resource groups Elsevier Enabled and Elsevier Thrive in recognition of Neurodiversity Celebration Week(opens in new tab/window). Neurodiversity is a term used to describe different preferences in how we take in, process and communicate information due to developmental differences. This umbrella term includes autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), dyslexia, anxiety/panic disorder and dyspraxia. Sessions explored the neurodiverse experience and practical ways we can all be more inclusive of neurodivergent colleagues to benefit the whole team.
Other events included:
Short, interactive sessions on different styles of thinking: pattern, object or verbal.
A brief discussion on “Neurodiversity Confidence: including people with autism in your teams.”
A session with Prof Amanda Kirby(opens in new tab/window) of the University of South Wales, a leading expert in neurodiversity, exploring neurodiverse definitions and language, why this understanding is relevant for everyone, and practical tips for including neurodiverse colleagues in the workplace.
In these sessions, attendees learned that 15% to 20% of the world’s population(opens in new tab/window) experiences neurodiversity. For them, the modern workplace can present significant challenges because of common factors like background noise, cameras-on web meetings, new social settings and the use of nuanced and indirect language. Taking simple, purposeful steps to include neurodivergent colleagues can yield tremendous benefits, including enhanced individual and team creativity, focus and productivity for neurotypical as well as neurodivergent team members.
Sharing their experiences
On the panel, colleagues talked candidly about their experiences: “Like many of my neurodivergent peers,” Stephanie said, “I face challenges in the classroom, workplace and daily interactions simply because of how I exist.”
Finally, a decade after college during the COVID-19 lockdown, she learned something that shed light on her challenges and turned her into a passionate advocate for neurodiversity awareness: “I received a diagnosis and treatment for ADHD, which then allowed me to recognize the autism peeking through.”
Panelist Shruti Desai(opens in new tab/window), a Global Partnerships Manager for Elsevier in London, also received a recent diagnosis (ADHD) and grappled with whether to share it at work.
“My diagnosis was incredibly enlightening as an adult woman,” she said. “I struggled with whether or not to share my diagnosis with my team and the company because of how it might change colleagues' perception of me or impact future career opportunities or my annual reviews. However, I have found my immediate team to be supportive and curious.
“Participating in the panel was the single most gratifying and fulfilling thing I have done this year. The amount of people who have reached out to me privately to thank us for being so open with our stories and to share their own stories made me both proud and emotional that we may have played a role in helping others on their journey and helping Elsevier on their journey to being more neurodiverse-inclusive.”
As for accommodations, she said these are in line with good meeting and work etiquette: “For example, when someone pings me with a request, I ask for the urgency and any deadline they have so I can prioritize better without feeling overwhelmed.”
In reflecting on Neurodiversity Celebration Week, Stephanie said: “I’m grateful for the outpouring of support received from the Elsevier community as I shared my story of late diagnosis.
“As a panelist, I enjoyed learning more about my colleagues’ lived experiences and how integral intersectionality is in creating safe spaces and cultivating the feeling of belonging. Knowing the positive impact this year’s celebration has made on our community helps sustain me as we continue our work for a more neuro-inclusive future.”
Elsevier Enabled is grateful to the employees who coordinated this important event and to those who attended with open minds and a commitment to improve the Elsevier experience and workplace for all colleagues.
Maria Aguilar Calero and Fran Kennedy-Ellis contributed to this story.