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How To Promote An Empathetic Work Culture That Supports Neurodiversity Inclusion

Rangam Sep 18, 2023 12:16:36 AM

Every individual is empathetic by birth; it’s the degree that varies. The degree of empathy depends on how far we are willing to extend our empathy: from our own children and family to friends, co-workers, community, city, state, country and the world. Empathy becomes more important when we are talking about neurodiversity inclusion in the workplace because the lack of it can pose significant barriers to organizational performance and growth.


Empathy On The Decline

The empathy that we have inside of us for a co-worker, or even for the society at large, is often influenced by our surroundings and the people we interact with daily. A study published in Personality and Social Psychology Review indicates a 48% decrease in empathic concern (EC) and a 34% decrease in perspective taking (PT) among American college students between 1979 and 2009. The study suggests that increased narcissism and growing materialistic values could be reasons behind a pervasive decline in social interactions and interpersonal relationships, which, in turn, has started to erode empathy in young people transitioning into the workplace.

Link Between Empathy And Innovation

On the other hand, increased empathy results in better innovation and customer experience. A study published in the International Journal of Entrepreneurship and Innovation Management suggests that innovators can put themselves in customers’ shoes to gain a deeper understanding of their problems and needs, which ultimately helps in formulating value-driven strategies in sales, service production and leadership.

Facilitating Empathy Through Leadership

Research tells us that empathy can be neither enforced nor taught. It can be facilitated by encouraging behaviors and attitudes that reflect self-awareness, nonjudgmental positive regard for others, good listening skills and self-confidence. It goes without saying that within an organization, leaders are the ones to facilitate empathy. When leaders — through repeated gestures small and big — demonstrate that they are capable of walking a mile in the shoes of another, it influences others to tread a similar line in accordance with their own degree of acceptance.

How Empathy In Leadership Can Help With Neurodiversity Inclusion

The question, therefore, is whether the corporate culture can be influenced to facilitate empathy, which creates openness in accommodating neurodiverse talent at work. Being empathetic has been recognized as a goal for C-level executives in various companies because when they show their humane side — along with their vulnerabilities — they are able to demonstrate authentic leadership, which is a prerequisite to recognize, nurture and empower neurodiverse talent.

A growing number of global organizations have recognized the benefits of strengthening their neurodiversity hiring programs. The key to the success for inclusive hiring programs in these companies is that the initiatives have been driven by their leadership teams. They promote empathy as a continuous process rather than a CSR agenda.


But leaders can’t do it alone. They need help from everyone in the workplace. Here are a few steps organizations can take to foster a culture of empathy at every level:

Start and participate in a mentoring program: The onus is on senior leadership to start a mentoring program and take part in it. The top-down approach not only ensures program continuity, but also encourages other leaders, managers and employees to participate and help each other learn and grow. A culture of mentoring across the board breeds a sense of camaraderie, respect and empathy.

Bring in external experts: Sometimes, fresh eyes detect underlying issues that nobody pays attention to. By bringing in external experts, a company can address those issues without any major structural reorganization. In order to lay the groundwork for cultural empathy through inclusion, an independent observer or consultant can use specific case studies and success stories as benchmarks and train all employees on how to implement those tried-and-tested practices in their organization.

Communicate and reinforce: Because empathy for many is still a “learned” behavior (as opposed to an innate one), it is critical for an organization to communicate and reinforce the culture that it strives to foster. Whether it be training plans and outcomes or periodic feedback on mentoring sessions, any and all means to communicate meaningfully with employees must not be missed. Effective communication and follow-ups help sustain a culture of empathy because it shows you truly care about your employees' professional and personal development

Bringing Everyone Together

With a general increase of three IQ points every decade since the beginning of the 20th century (known as the Flynn effect), the current workforce is far smarter than the ones from the past. If we use our collective smartness to work on developing emotional intelligence (EI), which is intrinsically tied to empathy, we can be more considerate toward our neurodiverse co-workers and help everyone achieve their career goals.

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