• Articles
  • May 2024

Beyond Accommodation: Advancing neurodiversity as a competitive advantage in the workplace

  • Madeline Elbe
  • Heather Pressler
  • Dr. Peter Farvolden
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A female employee wears red headphones and smiles at her computer
In Brief

By promoting neurodiversity and offering simple accommodations, employers can engage with neurodivergent professionals and tap into their unique and highly valuable skillsets - particularly those that could benefit the insurance industry.

Ableism refers to the discrimination or social prejudice against individuals with divergent working or communication styles, stemming from the belief that “typical” abilities are superior. The growing support for neurodiversity in the workplace challenges these assumptions and suggests that a work environment that better accommodates everyone leads to greater efficiency and inspires innovation.  

Still, the pervasive ableist structure of many corporate workplaces, including those in the insurance industry, creates barriers to entry and advancement for neurodivergent professionals -- professionals that the industry will strongly need as it approaches a global worker shortage.  

By promoting neurodiversity, offering simple accommodations, and acknowledging the mental health impact of discrimination, employers can engage with neurodivergent professionals and tap into their unique and highly valuable skillsets.  

What is neurodiversity? 

Neurodiversity refers to the diversity of human minds. It represents the differences in the way people process information, communicate, understand, move, and engage in society. It recognizes that brains naturally vary from person to person. 

Neurotypical describes a person with a brain that functions in ways that align with the central, most common range of the neurological spectrum. These individuals’ cognitive and social processing styles match what society generally recognizes and accepts as the norm. 

Neurodivergent refers to having a brain that functions in ways that diverge from the neuro-normative majority. The wide range of neurodivergent conditions can be broadly categorized as neurodevelopmental (conditions that typically manifest early in childhood development) and acquired (conditions that arise due to experiences, illnesses, or injuries).   

A chart describing the different types of acquired or neurodevelopmental neurodiversity


Because of the neuro-normative structure of many corporate workplaces and hiring practices, neurodivergent people are at greater risk of being unemployed or underemployed. A 2022 analysis by Deloitte[1] found that an estimated 85% of people on the autism spectrum are unemployed, compared to 4.2% of the overall population.  

In addition, many typical expectations for what constitutes a “good” employee —communication skills, teamwork, persuasiveness, outgoing personalities, and networking abilities – often do not align with behaviors seen in neurodivergent individuals. This mismatch in expectations can inadvertently exclude otherwise qualified neurodivergent individuals from being considered for employment or advancement. 

Yet those specific “good employee” traits are not the only way to provide value to a company. A strong capacity for innovation has become increasingly vital for companies looking to stay competitive. Diversity, including neurodiversity, drives innovation. As detailed in the Harvard Business Review[2], software maker SAP introduced an Autism at Work program that provides hiring and workplace support to professionals on the autism spectrum.  

Engaging employees who see things differently and maybe do not fit in seamlessly “helps offset our tendency, as a big company, to all look in the same direction,” an SAP executive told the Harvard Business Review.  

Diverse employees gather for a meeting
Inclusion starts with listening to every voice. RGA’s numerous Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) ensure all employees are heard.

The unique skills of neurodivergent workers 

Neurodivergent people often offer extraordinary or competent strengths in some areas, combined with significant challenges in others. Neurotypical people tend to have a more equal range of competencies.  

Thinking differently does not make me less able, less intelligent, or less employable. Rather, it gives me a competitive advantage. Having ADHD provides me with a unique perspective because I see and process the world differently than most.

Differences in how individuals process information or communicate ideas are not symptoms that need fixing but are strengths that need embracing.

– Maddie Elbe, Business Analyst, RGA Global Financial Solutions Co-Lead, EveryMind@RGA Employee Resource Group

Some scientists have connected the unique strengths of neurodivergent people to evolutionary advantages[3]. For example, the three-dimensional thinking common in people with dyslexia could have been useful in ancient cultures for making tools, planning hunting paths, and building shelters. Similarly, traits related to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), such as being active, easily distracted, and impulsive, could have been helpful in societies where survival depended on continually moving to find food, quickly reacting to changes in the environment, and skillfully approaching or avoiding prey. 

When viewed through this lens, neurodivergent conditions shift from a challenge to a significant opportunity.  

Neurodivergent employees can be: 

  • Detail oriented 
  • Retentive  
  • Punctual 
  • Reliable 
  • Academically smart 
  • Logical  

Many of these skills overlap with the specific needs of insurers and other financial services companies. According to the 2020 World Economic Forum report, the top three sought-after skills in the financial services sector are:  

  • Analytical thinking and innovation  
  • Critical thinking and analysis 
  • Creativity, originality, and value  

Researchers for the U.K. Institute and Faculty of Actuaries (IFoA), pointed to this overlap while suggesting[4] neurodivergent professionals could possess much-needed “superpowers” for the insurance industry.  

Challenges facing neurodivergent professionals  

Like other groups with non-majority identities, neurodivergent individuals may experience challenges in interacting with others individually or in groups. They may face unequal distribution of social power, limited social-cultural representation (or stereotyped and biased representation), and difficulty navigating environments tailored towards neurotypicals (differences in their education, work environments, or conventional social practices).  

For example, neurodivergent individuals may have less comfort with neurotypical social expectations for a workplace, such as engaging in “water cooler” talk, which, arguably, may often not be a positive or productive use of employee time.  

Challenges can even begin in the job application process, which is usually structured in a way that does not accommodate neurodivergent people. For example, during in-person job interviews, autistic individuals may not make eye contact and may have touch sensitivities, which place them at a disadvantage with an interviewer who expects eye contact or a handshake. Similarly, neurodivergent candidates with social awkwardness may be unfairly compared to socially confident candidates, as if confidence equates to competence.  

Strategies to engage neurodivergence in the workplace 

How can workplaces better accommodate neurodivergent individuals? Inclusion starts with awareness and acceptance. 

Give neurodivergent individuals (NDIs) a voice 

Providing a seat at the table for the NDI ensures that person’s experiences inform any workplace policies and communications around neurodiversity. Encouraging neurodivergent employees to form an employee resource group (ERG) is a great place to start.  

RGA’s ERG for neurodivergent individuals and allies, EveryMind@RGA, was founded to represent the interests of the neurodivergent community, raise awareness about the unique needs and talents of neurodivergent individuals, bolster career development, and support caregivers of neurodivergent individuals. EveryMind@RGA members provide resources and tools to the RGA community, host webinars about neurodivergence, and advocates for inclusive workplace policies.  

Acknowledge current barriers and adjust  

With input from NDIs or a neurodiversity ERG, companies can identify possible barriers throughout their organization, from the hiring process and employee evaluation criteria to formal and informal policies for communication, meetings, and work assignments.  

Many workplace challenges can be remedied through simple accommodations like the examples below:


The “curb-cut effect”: Named for the national effort to “cut” into street curbs with ramps to accommodate wheelchair-users – which ultimately also benefitted bicyclists, runners, walkers and stroller-pushers – the cut-curb effect describes how addressing the disadvantages or exclusions faced by one group of people fosters an environment that allows everyone to fully participate. 


A collection of RGA-provided fidget tools, including a squeeze ball, fidget spinner, and pop table

Celebrating Difference: To recognize Neurodiversity Celebration Week, RGA’s neurodiversity employee resource group introduced fidget tools to meeting spaces in our U.S. headquarters. The spinners, squeeze balls, and pop-boxes are not toys but tools that any employee can manipulate to reduce stress, anxiety, and boredom, and improve focus, memory, and creativity. 

Allow everyone to be their authentic selves 

How to Respond: When working alongside neurodivergent individuals, be aware of potential biases. Do not assume past experiences with people with disabilities will apply directly to another individual. Because each person is unique in their experiences and perspectives, the best way to engage with NDIs is to ask about their individual preferences and needs.


I tell anybody and everybody that I’m autistic. Disclosure for me is all about breaking the stigma and creating a safe space where everyone can be authentic. I’m proud to be on the spectrum.”

– Heather Pressler, Associate Marketing Underwriter, RGA U.S. Group Re Healthcare Turnkey Co-Lead, EveryMind@RGA Employee Resource Group

Pay attention to mental health and wellness/wellbeing 

Neurodivergent individuals do not automatically need mental health resources simply because they have a diagnosis. However, just as it can be for neurotypical individuals facing challenges, therapy can be beneficial in enhancing daily functioning at work and in community settings. Neurodiversity-affirming therapy emphasizes acceptance, respect, empathy, empowerment, and advocacy. 

From a mental health perspective, being "different" as a child or adolescent can trigger bullying by peers, including exclusion. Bullying results in anxiety, depression, perfectionism (including Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder or OCD), and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD. Some neurodivergent individuals adopt “masking” skills in response to this type of trauma. 

The 3 layers of masking:   

  • Compensation – Deliberate effort to learn social skills that are not intuitive.   
  • Masking – Active suppression of typical behavior to fit in.   
  • Assimilation – Presenting as someone you are not to avoid exclusion. 

NDIs can struggle with the mental health toll of “masking” in neurotypical environments. Masking is associated with anxiety, depression, perfectionism, and poor self-image, and can lead to burnout. Fostering neurodiversity in the workplace creates an environment where NDIs can experiment with unmasking, share their diagnosis with colleagues, and move closer to bringing their authentic selves to work.  



Fostering neurodiversity in the workplace is not just an inclusion imperative but also a strategic advantage for organizations. Neurodivergent professionals possess unique skills and perspectives that, when leveraged correctly, can offer substantial benefits to such industries as insurance and financial services. The challenges posed by ableist structures and societal norms can undoubtedly pose barriers. However, through such efforts as enhanced understanding and awareness, proactive accommodations, and genuine engagement strategies, these obstacles can be mitigated and neurodivergent employees can participate fully in the workplace.   

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Meet the Authors & Experts

Madeline Elbe
Madeline Elbe
Business Analyst, Global Financial Solutions 
Heather Pressler
Heather Pressler

Associate Marketing Underwriter, Healthcare Turnkey


Dr. Peter Farvolden
Dr. Peter Farvolden
Mental Health Consultant