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Neurodiversity an answer to speedier business recovery?

Neurodiversity an answer to speedier lockdown business recovery?

New Zealand businesses that are again considering how they will pivot once the country emerges from the latest lockdown may recover more quickly if they learn from other 'pockets of innovation' and embrace disruptive thinking, says one of the founders of Brain Badge, Richard Rowley

Rowley – who is working to develop a New Zealand neurodiversity certification programme that aims to help unlock the enormous value that the neurodiverse community offers – says that it's never been more critical to have employees who are innovative and disruptive thinkers.

"Neurodiverse employees can help identify the opportunities that businesses need to be open to in these uncertain times."

Rowley says New Zealand businesses have pockets of deep excellence and innovation within their organisation.

"But equally, all businesses have areas where they are not excelling but could do so if they were willing to be honest and open about the less than stellar corners within their organisation and learn from other businesses which do excel in that realm.

"Unfortunately, New Zealand businesses are not sharing and learning from each other nearly enough."

It is challenging, he concedes, but if organisations won't talk about the areas where they are struggling, it is hard for them to find another group doing excellent work in that particular area that they may learn from.

Rowley says too that in the current environment, New Zealand businesses need to make room in their organisation for employees who work well in a 'chaotic' situation, as do neurodivergent employees who can bring a whole new set of skills to a workplace.

He says embracing these employees requires a conscious effort on the part of employers as neurodiversity may be one of the most challenging areas within diversity and inclusion – complex, nuanced, and often invisible – yet it offers a business an upside "that has proven to be culturally and financially priceless".

Neurodiversity is a broad term used to describe how neurological differences, such as autism, dyslexia and ADHD, are a natural variation in the human population. It is conservatively estimated that one in 10 New Zealanders is neurodiverse.

Rowley says complex times, such as this pandemic and lockdown, call for complex minds and globally, tech and software companies have been the first to recruit neurodiverse employees for their innovative thinking.

Global tech companies have recognised the skills match between the complex systems and networks they are building and the unique abilities of these employees in pattern recognition, memory and mathematics.

SAP began its neurodiversity programme in 2013 and proudly declares autism as its superpower; other tech giants have followed suit.

The Brain Badge, which Rowley is helping develop in conjunction with New Zealand's corporate sector members, will be awarded to organisations that have gone through a neurodiversity education and awareness programme.

It demonstrates that the workplace recognises, welcomes and supports neurodiverse employees.

In New Zealand, the first two companies to come on board to work with Rowley's and the other founders of the Observatory Charitable Society to collaboratively develop the Brain Badge are Auckland Transport and The Warehouse Group.

Rowley is now actively recruiting more organisations from both the corporate sector and the SME market.

For more information visit:


Brain Badge co-creation project is an initiative of The Observatory Charitable Trust and created to push the boundaries of workplace and school diversity and inclusion to include neurodiversity.

In addition to supporting neurodiverse individuals in the workplace, Brain Badge is also a multi-purpose business innovation model that supports the trust's founding values of collaboration, co-creation and reciprocity:

  • Mitigating risk by daring together
  • Having the end-user involved from inception
  • Exchange for mutual benefit.

With that in mind, the trust's position is that it makes no sense to talk about diversity and inclusion without collaborating, co-creating and creating reciprocity.

The Brain Badge is partnering with New Zealand's early-adopter companies to collaborate and co-create a Neurodiversity certification programme through corporate innovation. This creates a win/win for all concerned. The Brain Badge gets a certification programme, businesses get the benefit of an efficient HR rollout, early adopters get six months’ worth of capability training and if that's not enough, the programme gets rolled out to schools and education facilities for free - all thanks to the early adopter organisations that jumped on board at the outset.

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