Empowering Neurodiversity at KLAS - Cover

Empowering Neurodiversity at KLAS

Established earlier this year, the KLAS Neurodiversity Employee Resource Group (ERG) is coled by Chloe Jensen and Ciera Black Walker. Below, they share their perspectives on how the KLAS ERG came to be, what they have accomplished with it, and where they see the group going.

What is neurodiversity? In essence, neurodiversity highlights the natural differences in the ways people think. People tend to assume that their experiences are the default, but in reality, there are countless ways to process the same event. Neurodiversity heightens our awareness of how people perceive reality.

Neurodiversity flips the idea of a mental health “disorder” on its head. While we recognize that people with neurodiverse brains can certainly struggle to adjust to neurotypical environments, we don’t think that is because there is something “wrong” with them. In fact, the unique strengths of neurodiverse people can bring value and talent to any company. We can see this in people who have neurodiversities like ADHD, autism, BPD, and bipolar disorder. The trick is simply to recognize how to communicate with and make accommodations for neurodiverse people in a way that will allow companies to take advantage of their strengths.

Our Beginnings

Chloe’s Perspective:

When I first started at KLAS, there were some communication issues that led me to struggle to adjust to my role. Over a period of several months, my manager and I had some very frank conversations about my performance. Eventually, it became easier for me to thrive. Later, I came to understand that I had ADHD and autism. Addressing both my ADHD and autism helped me to understand myself better and how I could offer KLAS my greatest strengths. But I realized that there were others at KLAS who were going through similar struggles, and I didn’t want them to do that alone.

As other Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) began to form at KLAS, I saw an opportunity. I wanted to form a group that would help those with neurodiversity and the people around them better understand themselves and each other.

In the beginning, I had two concerns. First, there was already another ERG at KLAS, the Mental Health and Wellness ERG, that covered a similar topic. I debated within myself about whether the two groups should coexist or whether we could simply have a meeting or two within the sphere of the Mental Health and Wellness ERG about neurodiversity. The more I thought about it, the more I realized how big and encompassing the topic of neurodiversity really was. There needed to be more resources and time spent on the topic than the Mental Health and Wellness ERG could allow.

Another concern I had was how I could organize a group when such organization would naturally require good executive function. As someone with ADHD, my strengths lie elsewhere. But then, there aren’t many people with neurodiverse brains who also have good executive function. I couldn’t very well just wait for someone else who represented the neurodiverse community to start a group. Then I started talking to Ciera Black Walker.

Ciera’s Perspective:

My interest in neurodiversity began when my partner found out he was autistic a couple of years ago. Chloe and I had talked a lot about how important that journey had been, and I was really excited and honored when she approached me about coleading the Neurodiversity ERG at KLAS. 

As a neurotypical coleader, my goal is to never speak on behalf of an experience I don't share. Spaces where we can connect, validate, and learn are so important, and my job is to support and help facilitate. I take care of administrative tasks, like scheduling meetings. I am also a sounding board for Chloe as we decide what topics to cover in meetings.

Our Mission

Here is our group mission statement: The Neurodiversity ERG focuses on supporting neurodiverse adults, especially current and future KLAS employees. We hope to create a safe place for neurodiverse employees to be themselves and discuss how KLAS can better support and include these individuals. We also include those who want to learn more about how to best support their neurodiverse family, friends, or coworkers.

The purpose of the ERG is threefold. The most important function is to create a safe space for neurodiverse employees at KLAS to feel validated and to connect with other people who understand their experiences. The second function is to have a place where neurotypical people can hear the perspectives of neurodiverse people and understand how to better show support as family members, friends, and coworkers. The third function is to show KLAS how managers and recruiters can create a more inclusive environment for neurodiverse employees.

Our Impact

Since the group has started, we have done some great things to impact KLAS culture. For example, we discovered that many of us have trouble keeping up with and prioritizing certain tasks at work. So we have working sessions once a month where we all sit together and individually work on those tasks we have been neglecting. The scheduled time and social nature of these meetings provide a sort of collective accountability that helps us to be more productive.

One particularly impactful thing we have done has been to create what we call “user manuals.” These are documents that explain our individual workplace personalities, values, and communication styles, as well as how to best help us thrive. We have had a couple of working sessions where we have met together to create these manuals. Many of us have passed these documents on to our managers and coworkers to help us work together better.

We have also had multiple conversations with the people who do KLAS interviews and hiring about how to make sure KLAS is not discriminating against neurodiverse people. For example, people may assume that if someone doesn’t make eye contact or present excitement about the job that they aren’t confident about their role or passionate about the position. In reality, they may simply express themselves differently. We have seen changes where our people have started to move away from neurotypical expectations in interviews and consider alternative interpretations. Likewise, we have had conversations with KLAS leaders about how to approach the training of new employees in flexible and atypical ways.

Our Future

In the future, we plan to build on the momentum we have already created to spread even more awareness and understanding about neurodiversity. We want to welcome more people into our ERG, not for the sake of numbers, but to help more people receive the sense of validation and connection that the group provides. There are likely KLAS employees who may not even realize they are neurodiverse or who have tried to suppress or ignore their neurodiversity who could really benefit from that awareness and from our ERG community.

Our overall goal is to normalize neurodiversity across KLAS so that neurodiverse people don’t have to do extra work to be understood. We have been working with our Chief People Officer, Matt Giacalone, to find a neurodiversity-informed consultant to do a training for the entire company specifically on neurodiversity.

Neurodiverse people can be incredibly talented, smart, emotionally intelligent, creative, and wonderful people. But we can’t be put into a single box. There is neurodiversity within neurodiversity. The question we are always asking is, “How can we help make sure that KLAS is a place where people can thrive?” We are well on our way to creating such an environment, and we are excited to see even more growth as we continue to validate differences, challenge stigmas, and spread awareness about neurodiversity at KLAS.

Photo Credit: arloo, Adobe Stock



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