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The Neurodiversity Index Encourages Investment in Inclusion
CFP Andrew Komarow on the New, Game-Changing Financial Tool
Note: This post is not financial or investment advice, nor should it be treated as a substitute for the services of a certified financial advisor.
Certified Financial Planner Andrew Komarow brings even the driest topics alive, as with employer benefits at a recent Neurodiversity in the Workplace (NITW) event. Andrew is Founder of Planning Across the Spectrum, a special needs financial planning services firm, and he is autistic along with most of his team. With the recent launch of The Neurodiversity Index, they have invigorated the movement for neurodiversity employment.
Andrew explained, “We wanted to publicly state that neurodiversity is a business proposition.” The Neurodiversity Index (AU 79 Index) measures the performance of the top 79 US publicly listed companies that have committed to neurodiversity inclusion. Notably, the choice of the number 79 is a nod to autistic pride as it is the periodic table number for gold or Au(tistic).
The demand for this kind of investment tool is strong. In 2020, impact investments saw a jump of close to 50% in funds moving from traditional allocations (mutual funds and ETFs) to funds with a value proposition consumers care about. Andrew noted, “There are lots of trusts and endowments interested. Our clients were asking about it.”
In one fell swoop—granted, the index was a year in the making—Andrew and his team have created a highly visible, ongoing signal to the business community encouraging neurodiversity inclusion and tracking key metrics to back it up.
The Neurodiversity Index is calculated using eight weighted criteria:
- Advancement of neurodivergent leadership
- Standing behind stated beliefs
- Accountability through sound financial data
- Development of neurodivergent-accessible products
- Neurodivergent ownership of inclusion processes
- Overarching commitment to diversity
- Broad neurodiversity initiatives and sharing of support
- Ethical treatment of workers
NITW knows firsthand that detailed measurements of neurodiversity inclusion have been hard to come by. Rates of promotion of neurodivergent employees to leadership positions are largely unknown, for example. The Neurodiversity Index is a push for data and accountability, thereby raising the bar for inclusion initiatives.
Collecting these statistics is crucial but tricky work. “Autism and other diagnoses may not be disclosed under neurodiversity,” Andrew said. “Sometimes it’s categorized as a disability. We want to help increase disclosure. We’re working with companies that are gathering diversity data and helping them add neurodiversity in a good way.”
Much of the data collection comes down to networking, outreach, and staying in the loop on who is doing what. Andrew explained, “This is something we were doing already anyway. It took over a year to gather enough data for us to feel comfortable, and we are always improving. We wanted to do this first, so it could be done right.”
Whether in “60 Minutes” segments or corporate press releases and social media, neurodiversity hiring has a rising level of buzz. However, the scope is limited. “There are usually five big company names people mention for neurodiversity, but there are many more,” Andrew said. “So we wanted to show the ones that weren’t in the news. The ones that aren’t being talked about but are taking action.”
The Neurodiversity Index has been live for about four months, and is currently investable directly for clients who work with Planning Across the Spectrum. Andrew explained, “The goal is to make it totally accessible in the future.” We look forward to the impact and many ripple effects to come.
It’s time to expand and enrich the neurodiversity movement, which has historically focused on inclusion of autistic people. These efforts have made meaningful impacts, but qualified autistic job seekers still face high rates of unemployment while other forms of neurodivergence are routinely overlooked. By supporting the full range of neurodivergence, a significant minority representing 20-30% of the general population, we can build stronger momentum toward inclusion for all.
Together, on November 19th, we will open up the conversation on neurodiversity employment to honor all types of neurodivergence, including dyslexia, dyspraxia, Tourette syndrome, ADHD, OCD, and more. Neurodivergent experts, Rach Idowu, Tumi Sotire and Dr. Tracy Johnson (bios below) will share their personal experiences and knowledge. Join us as we look ahead to a new era of broad neurodiversity inclusion!
Get your free ticket, and use the social media kit below to help spread the word.
Rach Idowu (she/her/hers) is an ADHD advocate who was diagnosed in January 2020. Shortly after her diagnosis, Rach started a newsletter on adulting with ADHD and used Twitter to find and connect with other adults who have ADHD. Since then, she has grown to be a prominent member of the ADHD community on Twitter and has featured in the NYTimes, The Independent, and Mashable. Rach also runs a Discord channel for neurodivergent working professionals, where reasonable accommodations and managing workload is often discussed.
Dr. Tracy Johnson (she/her/hers) is the Founding President and CEO of Vessels of Hope, a non-profit organization that helps individuals with learning disabilities. Dr. Johnson’s remarkable story of perseverance begins when she was placed in special education classes in the sixth grade, but was not diagnosed with dyslexia until years later. Tracy’s faith and encouragement to other students with dyslexia helped to sustain her when she became discouraged over the course of her education. Tracy is a dedicated role model and a leader in the dyslexia community and other populations with learning disabilities.
Tumi Sotire (he/him/his) runs a social media platform called The Black Dyspraxic which aims to highlight the intersectionality of race and neurodiversity. Tumi has been featured in Forbes and sits on the board of advisors at the Centre for Neurodiversity at Work Birbeck University London University.
NDR2 Social Media Kit
EVENT TICKET LINK:
Neurodiversity in the Workplace – @4neurodiversity
Rach Idowu, “Adulting with ADHD” – @AdultingADHD
Tumi Sotire, “The Black Dyspraxic” – @TumiSotire
Neurodiversity in the Workplace – @neurodiversityintheworkplace
Rach Idowu, “Adulting with ADHD” – @adultingadhd
Dr. Tracy Johnson – @dr.tracyjohnson
Tumi Sotire, “The Black Dyspraxic” – @theblackdyspraxic
Neurodiversity in the Workplace – NeurodiversityInTheWorkplace
Dr. Tracy Johnson – tracyjohnson04
Tumi Sotire – tumi.sotire
SOCIAL MEDIA IMAGES AND ASSETS:
For general posting
Sized for twitter
Sized for Instagram
Sample post language (with a friendly reminder to tag)
Get your free ticket to “Neurodiversity Rising Two: Bridging Gaps in Workplace Inclusion” (#NDR2) on Nov. 19th at 1pm EST! Register: ndr2.eventbrite.com
Did you know that 20-30% of the population is neurodivergent? Together we can build a stronger movement for inclusion. Be part of the discussion at “Neurodiversity Rising Two” (#NDR2), a free virtual event on Nov. 19th: ndr2.eventbrite.com
Join “Neurodiversity Rising Two: Bridging Gaps in Workplace Inclusion” (#NDR2) for free on Nov. 19th. Hosted by Neurodiversity in the Workplace and featuring keynote Rach Idowu of Adulting with ADHD. Register: ndr2.eventbrite.com
What a line-up for “Neurodiversity Rising Two” on Nov. 19th! Don’t miss Rach Idowu of Adulting with ADHD, Tumu Sotire aka “The Black Dyspraxic,” and Dr. Tracy Johnson, dyslexia advocate and Founder of Vessels of Hope. Free tickets: ndr2.eventbrite.com
Phaedra: A Winning Idea to Make Work and School Neuro-inclusive
Q & A with our 1st place HackMIT team
Meet Team Kodkod: Carlos Pinto, Alen Rubilar, Sebastián Torrealba, and Noah Buccolini Sutovsky. A neurodiverse group of students, they joined HackMIT remotely from locales across Chile. This was their first hackathon—and they managed to win first prize in the Neurodiversity in the Workplace (NITW) challenge.
Team Kodkod’s tech solution is called Phaedra, “the inclusive reading assistant.” The software summarizes texts, distills key concepts, and allows users to ask questions or request supporting visuals, powered by AI. While aimed at intellectually disabled and neurodivergent individuals, Phaedra seeks to revolutionize the way we all consume knowledge.
NITW judges loved the simplicity of the concept and its wide applicability. We thought about ADHD and dyslexic minds that may have difficulty with dense texts, some autistic people who struggle with aspects of reading comprehension, and so on. We saw a potentially transformative impact in Phaedra’s goal to allow everyone to process information, and fill in gaps, in the ways that work best for them.
The bottom line, per Team Kodkod? “We want to make work and education more accessible to disabled and neurodivergent humans.”
Read on for the interview and stay tuned for updates as Phaedra development continues. (Note: Click here to learn more about HackMIT.)
NITW: Can you tell us more about what Phaedra does?
Team Kodkod: Phaedra generates knowledge that aims to modernize the way we learn and communicate. It uses AI for natural language processing, to extract the meaning. Phaedra is not only for neurodivergent and disabled people but can also be used to increase performance throughout the workplace.
Say you’re reading a paper to learn about a new technology to incorporate into your work—you could use Phaedra to dissect the paper, not only to read and gain knowledge but to ask questions. But it doesn’t have to be a paper. It can be a novel. You can ask technical questions or ask about what happens with a character.
Phaedra also uses external sources of information—currently it pulls from Wikipedia. The idea is to use the global net of knowledge to extract relationships and show interesting content, in your preferred form, related to what you’re reading.
NITW: What inspired you to create a solution to benefit disabled and neurodivergent people?
Noah of Team Kodkod: I’m the only diagnosed neurodivergent person in the group but we all have this feeling of wanting to help if possible. Making way for neurodivergent people to be more included is a way to improve all of our society.
We had already been thinking about solutions with AI that we were fascinated with. We were curious about using it for text analysis. Then we thought, “Hey, maybe we could use it to support the disabled.”
NITW: What problem does Phaedra address?
Team Kodkod: We think that Phaedra addresses the lack of accessibility of today’s learning and communication standards.
NITW: What is your hope in terms of how Phaedra will improve people’s lives?
Team Kodkod: We believe that this may be the gateway to a better understanding of how learning can work in different ways for different people, and how different neurotypes can get new ways to aid them in their knowledge.
It’s about giving new ways to obtain information, with different formats—and that it’s okay. We hope this will help eliminate the ableism that expects everyone to work exactly the same.
NITW: What do you see as the pitfalls of AI when it comes to neurodiversity inclusion?
Team Kodkod: With respect to neurodiversity and inclusion, we were very conscious of how bias could transfer in our project. With face recognition in early days, people of color had trouble because white people’s faces were used to train the model. So the model had trouble recognizing people of color.
In short, bias is in the data quality. The model must be trained and for that we need data. A model will only be as good as the data while training and learning. We thought we could approach neurodiversity inclusion from this natural language processing angle to avoid the bias issue.
NITW: What is the potential of AI in promoting neurodiversity inclusion?
Team Kodkod: Models are getting smarter every day. We all know that, but in particular AI is getting better at tasks traditionally done by humans. For tasks designed by and for neurotypical people, we can use AI to give neurodivergent people the tools they need in place of the mainstream modes of communication.
In short, we can use smarter and smarter models to empower neurodiverse people to find their place in today’s society.
NITW: Will you develop this solution further and if so, what are your goals for it?
[Note: At this point in the interview, Alen of Team Kodkod provided a quick demo of the Phaedra prototype using a technical paper on bitcoin, explaining that the PDF was processed by backend Google servers. An answer came back quickly on a question about the paper’s content. Alen pointed out that you could use Phaedra to generate the content for a presentation on the paper. You could ask for Wikipedia suggestions, ask for an image or any additional representation—to capture the main concepts behind bitcoin.]
Team Kodkod: We will make it more intuitive. The current version supports screen readers to make it even more accessible to more people including the visually impaired. We planned it for everyone we could think of. We want to incorporate as many accessibility features as possible.
We can use the tool to allow us to see a word in context to see what it means, to give a more accurate answer. It’s in Phaedra’s core, implemented in the back end. Currently it’s very manual but in the future we will make it automatic. We have the capabilities and means to make it so you don’t even have to request—Phaedra will learn what is helpful to pull.
NITW: You said you plan to make this project open source. Why is that?
Team Kodkod: The real question is, “Why not?” If we look backwards in the history of computing, tech today is possible from past contributions. So we want to get that technology out there.We want to encourage open collaboration and we believe such a tool [Phaedra] should be freely available to everyone.
NITW: So this was your first hackathon experience. Did you enjoy it, what did you learn from it, and would you do it again?
Team Kodkod: Yes, this was our first hackathon, 24 hours of frenetic developing and coding. We had one of the longest Discord calls ever, 30 hours!
As our first-time experience, we learned the importance of taking breaks. At 6am, we were all tired after coding 18 hours straight, so we were making mistakes in the code. We realized we have to take breaks to be productive.
Given that we weren’t together physically, effective communication was key so we had to really be, not just talking, but listening, being aware of what everyone else was doing.
Also, the day of the hackathon was a holiday in Chile, a historical day. We had to miss out from being with our families and at the parties. We learned that sometimes you have to sacrifice some stuff, but you also have to find a balance.
We had fun and would love to do it again.
Autistic and all neurodivergent job seekers, join us online on March 25th and unlock the potential of LinkedIn to reach your next career opportunity! Grab your free ticket today.
LinkedIn is more than just another social network—it’s the single most powerful online tool for job seekers. In fact, 87 percent of recruiters report using LinkedIn to find and vet candidates for their companies. But navigating the platform can be complicated, with its unspoken rules and etiquette, and standing out among millions of candidates requires some insider knowledge.
Join the Neurodiversity in the Workplace team, fellow neurodivergent job seekers, and inclusive employers for actionable tips to help you make the most of LinkedIn.
This webinar (tickets available on Eventbrite) is your in-depth guide to leveraging LinkedIn as a job seeker. Topics will include:
- Profile creation and the role of each component, from headline and summary to experience and endorsements
- Best practices for networking, including direct messaging, evaluating which connections to make, and how to engage your contacts in your job search
- Search algorithms and optimization to increase your visibility and opportunity to connect to recruiters
You’ll hear from a panel of experts including company recruiters, neurodiversity hiring program managers, and neurodivergent employees. They will share their first-hand experiences, ideas, and strategies on how to use the power of LinkedIn to launch your career or land your next job.
Danielle Biddick, Sr. Advisor, Diversity Talent Acquisition, Dell Technologies
Mandy Ching, Talent Acquisition Manager, Diversity & Inclusion, VMware
Sydney Fong, Event Sourcing Specialist, VMware
Robert Schmus, MSW, LCSW, Clinician, Youth Consultation Services
Click here to get your ticket, free for students and job seekers, and read all the event details.
Rebranding Massachusetts for Inclusive Opportunity
From Most Educated State to Home of Lifelong Learning
Neurodiversity in the Workplace (NITW) is growing a Boston-area hub, as a regional community of practice welcoming corporations, colleges and universities, NGOs and government agencies to network, learn together, and generate more neurodiversity hiring opportunities. Along the way, we are making connections to a larger effort aimed at turning Massachusetts into an inclusive ecosystem of opportunity.
At December’s Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce (GBCC) virtual event on diversity and inclusion, the case was made for expanding how we think about our state’s competitive advantage. The suggested shift ties directly to our work with neurodiversity inclusion.
Regarding the inevitable competition between cities and states, Jim Rooney, President and CEO of GBCC, touched on Massachusetts’ edge: “Some compete on weather, and we don’t win that game. Some compete on lower taxes and regulation, and we find ourselves in the middle there… What we do have—our advantage—is talent.”
He continued, “We want to nurture our talent, and want everyone to think of Boston and Massachusetts as where you can find the best talent. In doing that, we want to make sure we don’t leave anybody on the sidelines.”
Massachusetts prides itself on being the most educated state, and therefore a source of top talent. However, there is a huge disparity in educational attainment, and oftentimes, those who are disabled, neurodivergent, Black, Latino or otherwise identified as a minority are left behind. What if, in addition to efforts to expand equity and access to quality education, we could start closing that gap with a change in how we develop and evaluate talent?
Inspired by the GBCC discussion among Michael Tamasi of AccuRounds, Samantha Diliberti of Starbucks, Lucy Perez of McKinsey & Co., and Sabrina Antoine Correia of Year UP, Jim arrived at a new point of view: “Maybe it’s time for us to change the dynamic from ‘most educated state’ to a ‘state-wide culture of lifelong learners’ … to enable us to achieve that purpose of success for all within the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.”
We couldn’t agree more. Making higher education more accessible and affordable is a vital, ongoing effort. At the same time, college isn’t the right path for everyone. And there are many who are excluded yet still have so much to offer in terms of potential, perspective, and talent.
To help address this disconnect, Neurodiversity in the Workplace emphasizes skill-based hiring. We help companies implement alternate hiring paths centered on completion of a technical project, allowing candidates to showcase job skills. This process enhances the standard interview, making it more accepting of individuals with disabilities, allowing them to excel rather than being excluded. This shift is being embraced by our Boston-area partners including Dell, Thermo Fisher, and MIT’s McGovern Institute for Brain Research.
Other avenues to opportunity are opening up in Massachusetts. Examples include training and upskilling initiatives like the Madison Park Talent Pipeline and the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission’s cybersecurity training program for neurodivergent job seekers. It’s the ultimate win-win—skills gaps are filled while disenfranchised people are connected to rewarding career paths.
An emphasis on lifelong learning, including but not limited to college degrees, would elevate the baseline of opportunity. Paired with more inclusive evaluation and hiring of talent, we can build a more diverse and dynamic workforce able to spur innovation like nowhere else.
Note: If you’re interested in joining Boston hub events, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Neurodiversity in the Workplace Launches College Consulting Program
Imagine working hard, overcoming obstacles, and excelling in college–only to be left unemployed or under-employed after graduation as your peers secure promising careers. This is the reality for the growing numbers of autistic students attending college, and an issue Neurodiversity in the WorkplaceTM (NITW) is committed to addressing.
Despite successfully navigating campus life and rigorous academics, neurodivergent graduates are consistently left behind, struggling to get a foothold in the workplace. According to Drexel University’s National Autism Indicators Report, fewer than one in six autistic adults is in full-time employment. The cost of exclusion is significant, contributing to high rates of social isolation, mental health struggles and financial dependence.
NITW recognizes that autistic college students often require specialized support and access to opportunities as they explore and pursue careers. To meet this need, NITW launched our college consulting program with a focus on working jointly with disability services coordinators, career counselors, and other college professionals on a shared goal: to prepare autistic students for a successful transition to the workforce.
NITW’s consulting options incorporate years of knowledge and experience gained by working directly with talent acquisition specialists, hiring managers, and other stakeholders at enterprise companies nationwide. Our offerings address a variety of needs and include campus-wide and departmental trainings, a career development curriculum for autistic students, and a train-the-trainer approach to student support. We know each institution is unique and have created consulting options that can be individualized to meet each college’s specific needs.
Together, we can change employment outcomes for autistic college students and job seekers.
To learn more about our college consulting services, email Bridget McElroy at email@example.com.
Neurodiversity Hiring- Call for Candidates
Connect to career opportunities at upcoming neurodiversity hiring events, being held at companies nationwide in 2021. All are designed to remove barriers for qualified autistic and neurodivergent candidates. Programs include:
1. Professional Development Workshops
We offer a space to discuss workplace topics and expectations that are not always explicitly communicated, like how quickly you should really answer an email or how to navigate being friends with coworkers.
2. Alternative Hiring Process
We replace the standard interview and its emphasis on social communication with a project that showcases relevant job skills. Selected candidates are offered full-time positions at our partner companies.
3. Ongoing Support
We provide long-term job coaching to candidates who are hired. And we’re always there, with an eye to future possible career matches, for applicants who participate in a program but don’t get hired.
Be the first to hear about career opportunities and professional development workshops. Please email us with any questions at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’d love to hear from you!