Panel to explore benefits of a neurodiverse workplace 

A panel of experts will convene this week to discuss how a more neurodiverse workforce could benefit employers and the broader economy. 

The Arizona Chamber of Commerce & Industry will host the meeting on September 7, which will feature speakers from the Southwest Autism Research & Resource Center, First Place Phoenix, Fine Timepiece Solutions USA, and restaurant Steak 44. The panel will be moderated by Monica Coury, the vice president of legislative and government affairs for Arizona Complete Health. 

Chamber President and CEO Danny Seiden says the discussion will give employers insight into how emphasizing neurodiversity in the workplace can prove beneficial to a company’s culture and its bottom line. 

“No matter the size of the company or its industry, not a week goes by when I don’t hear from a Chamber member who wants to hire but can’t find the talent,” Seiden said. “My hope is that this conversation will give job creators new perspectives and tools for identifying potential employees that they haven’t considered before.” 

Despite fears of a cooling economy and challenges like high inflation and interest rates, workers are still in demand. Arizona’s unemployment rate is 3.6%, slightly below the national rate of 3.8%. 

“Employers need workers, and my hope is the Chamber can help make the connection between job creators and job seekers,” Seiden said. “For the economy to reach its full potential, we want everyone to contribute. I expect that our panel will make clear that there’s talent on the sidelines that employers can tap.” 

Karla Phillips-Krivickas, founder of Think Inclusion, says promoting greater neurodiversity in the workforce could increase overall labor participation rates.

“There are many different ways to describe or define disabilities, but – regardless of the method – the group experiences some of the lowest employment rates in our state and across the country,” she said. “Only 39% of working age adults with a disability in Arizona are employed and the number goes down to 29% for those with a cognitive disability. This represents a large untapped market.”

Neurodivergent isn’t a rigid medical term. The Cleveland Clinic ascribes the term to people whose brains develop or work differently for some reason, resulting in different strengths and struggles from people whose brains develop or work more typically. Conditions that fall under the term can be numerous, but common ones include Autism, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and dyslexia. 

Arizona employers are embracing the benefits of a more diverse workplace. 

Boeing, which manufactures the Apache helicopter in Mesa, earned a Certified Neurodiverse Workplace (CNW) designation from the International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards for its electrical department and BDS Fabrication Unit. IBCCES provides credentialing and training for employers to help their workplace become more welcoming and accommodating to individuals with special needs and cognitive disorders. 

“Our neurodiversity certification is a big deal. Not only are we better able to work effectively with our neurodiverse fulfillment center partners, but we are also realizing that many of our teammates are not neurotypical,” Boeing BDS Fabrication Vice President Dave Rackham said. “The awareness we now have because of our certification allows us to more effectively communicate with and strengthen our relationships with our neurodiverse teammates. It is far easier to recognize when we interact with our people who think differently and work through communication challenges. Solving these challenges enables us to take advantage of their different perspectives, resulting in more effective solutions to the problems we face. For us, this certification is not just a plaque we hang on our wall but rather a tool that is leading us towards our ultimate goal of excellence.” 

Mesa in 2019 became the first ever Autism Certified City. Visit Mesa, which promotes the city’s tourism offerings to business and leisure travelers and meeting and convention planners, over several months encouraged businesses to participate in specialized autism training geared toward executives and front-facing hospitality and service staff to better recognize Autism Spectrum Disorder and to service the needs of ASD travelers from the planning stages of a vacation to when they arrive in the destination. More than 500 Mesa Parks, Recreation and Community Facilities employees and 1,200-plus Mesa Police Department public safety and law enforcement officers are fully committed to autism certification training. The panel will take place at the offices of the Chamber on Thursday beginning at 9:00 am. Registration information is available here.

Craig Ruiz

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