Being Our Whole Selves
In 2000, we were preparing to adopt a little boy from Vietnam. We couldn’t wait for this exciting new chapter in our lives to begin.
When you’re an expectant parent, you don’t quite care about things like height or eye color. As long as they’re healthy and you guess correctly on the front/back side of the diaper, you’re off to the races.
Garrett was not yet 12 months old when he joined our family. We wouldn’t know there would be considerable challenges until a few years later when school became problematic. He was having trouble with impulse control and processing information. The traditional school setting was just…hard.
Garrett was ultimately diagnosed with anxiety and ADHD, two common neurological conditions that are often misunderstood and viewed as “challenging.” Like many families, we had never heard of the term “neurodiversity” until Garrett’s diagnosis. To oversimplify it, neurodiversity refers to variations in the brain that can affect memory and concentration or the way people socialize and learn.
Whether we realize it or not, we all know people who are neurodiverse. Aside from being creative, outside-the-box thinkers, they also tend to be incredible employees—talented, hardworking, and positive. They help us build better teams, better products and better companies. Sadly, however, neurodivergent individuals are significantly underrepresented in the workforce and remain an underutilized source of talent.
We often talk about ways our industry can better optimize the talent pool and be more intentional about diversity, equity and inclusion, but we don’t always reach beyond the obvious when determining what that means.
There are individuals, like my son and others you will meet in this issue, who are neurodiverse and have found difficulty entering the workforce. There are folks in community colleges and four-year programs who don’t have the connections or the funds to finish their education or score a valued internship but would bring to their employer great intelligence and innovation that comes from their life experiences.
Confronting our unconscious biases, rethinking how to screen and recruit potential employees, and modernizing the way we interview can help expand our pool of applicants. How many times have you tossed a résumé because it didn’t meet a certain arbitrary degree, major, or time frame of experience? How many times have you walked away from an interview thinking the person isn’t a “cultural fit”? Might it be time we reevaluate the “requirements” section of our job postings?
It’s more than that, of course. You have to live inclusivity, from top to bottom, for people with diverse characteristics to come together and feel safe and protected and ready to collaborate with their whole selves. And that, for sure, will be the hardest part. But worth every ounce of effort.
Today, Garrett is working for Amnesty International, an organization headquartered in the United Kingdom focused on protecting human rights. He passionately goes door-to-door raising dollars for human justice causes he cares deeply about. He’s got a regular schedule, he’s making his own money, and he’s happy.
Having a better grasp on Garrett’s neurodiversity has been rewarding for all of us. Thanks to myriad programs and resources, we’ve learned to support him in ways that best match his needs and experiences. We’ve watched him mature and become more confident in himself. We knew he had it in him, and now he knows it, too. It’s only a matter of time before the business world catches on.