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Thriving in the project management profession as a neurodivergent individual

Published on: 8 Apr 2024

When we think of diversity, we normally consider physical, social or cultural attributes such as age, race or gender, but there are many dimensions of diversity that exist. Within the umbrella of diversity sits neurodiversity, which encompasses a spectrum of cognitive differences, for example, autism, ADHD, dyslexia, and more.

 Thriving in the project management p

Neurodivergent individuals have a range of strengths and talents that can enrich project teams and drive success, but they often navigate the professional landscape with distinct challenges. According to the Association for Project Management (APM) survey conducted by Censuswide, it was revealed that one in seven project managers identifying as neurodivergent have opted not to disclose their condition to their employers. This shows how essential it is for all of us to make an effort to cultivate an inclusive environment where individuals feel empowered to disclose and embrace their neurodiversity, without fear of stigma or discrimination. Employers and organisations can play a pivotal role in breaking down barriers to create a culture of empathy and support for neurodivergent professionals.  

Why inclusion matters

Fostering diversity and inclusion is vital for organisational and project success – in fact, diversity is recognised as a condition for project success according to research by APM. Research has consistently shown us that diverse teams outperform significantly similar teams, because brains with different ways of thinking are better equipped to tackle complex problems, foster creativity, and drive innovation. By embracing neurodiversity, employers and organisations can tap into a rich pool of talent, unlocking new avenues for growth and success.

It’s therefore crucial to create a supportive and inclusive environment where neurodivergent professionals are empowered to thrive. There are legal obligations too. The Equality Act 2010 outlines various, proactive steps that organisations should take to ensure compliance. And in recent years, there has been a growing awareness among employers about the importance of making reasonable adjustments to accommodate the unique needs of neurodivergent individuals in the workplace. The APM survey with Censuswide, mentioned earlier in this article, illuminated a pivotal trend where a significant majority (81%) of employers have proactively made reasonable adjustments to accommodate neurodivergent individuals upon being informed.

Moreover, fostering a neurodivergent-friendly workplace is a strategic necessity in the competitive business landscape. Organisations that prioritise and encourage diversity and inclusion are better positioned to attract top talent, enhance employee engagement and retention, and foster a culture of innovation and excellence. The significance of encouraging a neurodivergent workforce is about harnessing the diverse perspectives and capabilities that neurodiversity brings to the table. Professor Adam Boddison OBE, Chief Executive of APM explains that “the importance of encouraging a neurodivergent workforce cannot be overstated. Individuals must feel empowered and supported to do their best work, and once employers have created optimal conditions, they are more likely to be engaged and motivated, leading to higher levels of job satisfaction, retention rates and overall success.”

Project management is increasingly becoming a cornerstone of organisational success, so the ability to leverage neurodiversity as a source of competitive advantage becomes all the more critical.

How are employers supporting their neurodivergent team members?
By making reasonable adjustments and providing necessary support, companies mitigate barriers to inclusion so that neurodiverse individuals can thrive. To facilitate a more inclusive environment, it’s essential to embrace an approach focusing on awareness and action.

  1. Cultivate openness When we build a culture of openness and acceptance, individuals feel empowered to disclose their neurodivergence without fear of judgment to their manager and sometimes the rest of their team. Creating a 'curious and courageous space', as advocated by Amanda Kirby, allows individuals and teams to not just accept, but celebrate cognitive diversity and harness collective strengths. By embracing a culture of empathy and respect, all team members, regardless of neurodivergence, will feel valued, supported and empowered.
  2. Train and educate everyone Reframing perceptions surrounding neurodiversity allows the culture of empathy to grow. One of the key challenges that neurodiverse professionals in project management face is misconception surrounding their conditions. Professionals often hesitate to discuss their neurodivergence out of fear of discrimination or misunderstanding. Addressing this stigma requires a lot of effort in raising awareness through email campaigns, newsletters, meetings, presentations and mandatory training about neurodiversity in the workplace.
  3. Ask neurodivergent colleagues what they need Different people need different things, and once the barriers are lifted, team members will feel more comfortable to share their needs. Most of the time, neurodivergent individuals are aware of what works for them to complete their tasks in a comfortable way. It’s important to offer tailored support and accommodations to meet the unique needs of neurodivergent individuals. Having those conversations one-to-one or in group settings is a great way to figure out what must change and where.
  4. Implement adjustments Being proactive to accommodate the unique needs of neurodivergent employees is a vital step in the journey to workplace inclusion. It’s also important to regularly check in with colleagues and employees to find out how things are working or if they need something else. Here are very simple but impactful measures that organisations and leaders provide:
    • captions in Teams calls,
    • sharing information prior to meetings,
    • flexible hours and working time arrangements,
    • assistive technology,
    • digital tools and software,
    • sensory-friendly workspaces, e.g. rooms with dim lights,
    • remote and onsite work opportunities,
    • inclusive language guides,
    • noise cancelling headphones,
    • written and verbal instructions,
    • ergonomic equipment,
    • and more.

Efforts to support and empower neurodivergent professionals are gaining traction, reshaping the landscape of project management and fostering a culture of inclusion. By embracing the unique strengths inherent in neurodiversity, organisations unlock unparalleled potential to drive sustained success. When employers recognise the value of neurodiversity and inclusion, projects benefit immensely from the diverse perspectives and capabilities that neurodivergent professionals bring to the table.

Through concentrated efforts to raise awareness, implement reasonable adjustments, and cultivate a culture of empathy, we can pave the way towards a future where neurodiversity is celebrated as a catalyst for innovation and growth.