The Power of Thinking Differently Agencies are hungry for innovation. Neurodiverse workers can help. | Emerging Leaders Pro Dev DEI&A Blog

The Power of Thinking Differently Agencies are hungry for…

December 17, 2021

The Power of Thinking Differently
Agencies are hungry for innovation. Neurodiverse workers can help.

Attaining diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility (DEI&A) in the federal government, as outlined in Pres. Biden’s executive order of this past June, will require agencies to build workforces characterized by cognitive- and neurodiversity.

That was just one of the conclusions reached by prominent government and industry leaders who gathered this fall to discuss DEI&A issues in government. The forum, part of AFCEA Bethesda’s Emerging Leaders Professional Development Series, coincided with October’s National Disability Employment Awareness Month and Global Diversity Awareness Month.

Participants considered the president’s executive order, which sets as a national priority the advancement of equity, civil rights, racial justice, and equal opportunity across the Federal workforce. Panelists discussed the opportunities (and challenges) for creating diverse, equitable, inclusive, and accessible workplaces. To better cultivate diversity, the Federal Government must first remove equal-opportunity barriers that impede recruitment, hiring, development, promotion and retention of top talent.

Diversity vs. Diversity of Thought
Panelists encouraged federal managers to take a broader view of diversity, which typically focuses on ethnicity, race, gender and sex. Diversity of thought “is much broader and considers everything that compromises our perspective, including our religious beliefs, cognitive identity and abilities, training and education,” said Keith Jones, CIO, Department of State. “These are all factors that really shape how we think and how we perceive the world.”

People with diverse ways of thinking, learning and information processing cover the spectrum of non-cognitive diversity (race, ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation, and socioeconomic status), said Dr. Scott Robertson, Policy Advisor, U.S. Department of Labor. The “quirks” and thinking patterns of neurodivergent and neurotypical people with Autism, ADHD, Dyslexia can lessen their odds of being hired, even though they “bring a lot of benefit to the workplace … while supporting agencies and organizations’ efforts to achieve their missions,” said Robertson, who is on the Autism spectrum.

At a time when many federal agencies are focusing on improved customer service, Amanda Chavez, Director of Customer Experience (CX) at NuAxis, noted that human centered design is at the core of CX. “If you have the same people with the same ideas, you’ll continue to get the same answers,” said Chavez, who is neurodiverse with ADHD. “It is vital to have people thinking differently so we can solve problems differently.”

Perspectives on Diversity
We deal with very complex problems and we’re approaching them in very novel ways with representation from around the world. — Richard Crowley, Compliance Lead, Argonne National Laboratory

We hire diverse individuals that can communicate with people at the worst point in their lives. We want to make sure that we open the doors to everyone. – Lytwaive Hutchinson, CIO, Federal Emergency Management Agency.

It doesn’t matter whether they have a physical or neural limitation, you have to accommodate them at every step of the way because, in the end, it’s their ability to deliver thought diversity that is so profound to our creative process. – Richard Crowley

We need to evolve, be open, have equity and be bold, flexible, have humility, and be progressive. –Darryl Peak (moderator), Head of Federal Strategic Partnerships at Google

Be flexible. You’re not an expert in everything your organization needs when it comes to DEI&A. – Richard Crowley

Be open to new ways of doing business. – Lytwaive Hutchinson

Leave behind the assumption that the world looks the same to everybody else around you as it does to you. – Amanda Chavez

Have an open mind and the willingness to change. Don’t get stuck in one way of thinking but connect to resources that are already out there to help with your DEI&A efforts. – Dr. Scott Robertson

We need to look at things differently. Ask a question about neurodiversity in your organization. Start that conversation and you’ll be amazed at what happens. – Keith Jones


• The U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP)

Partnership on Employment & Accessible Technology (PEAT)

Job Accommodation Network (JAN)

Employers Assistance and Resource Network on Disability Inclusion (EARN)

National Center on Leadership for the Employment and Economic Advancement of People with Disabilities (LEAD Center)

The Center for Advancing Policy on Employment for Youth

To learn more about the second part of AFCEA Bethesda’s Emerging Leaders Professional Development Series on DEI&A, click here.


Thought Leadership