Disordered thinking? Or diverse thinking?

This is part of our series on biases in the workplace. A full list of bias blog posts can be found at the bottom of this blog or here: If you're biased and you know it clap your hands.


....my brain is not disordered. This is the way my brain works. This is the brain I was born with. This is the way that it thinks, that it processes.

This quote is from Morénike Giwa Onaiwu in an interview on Allusionist 152. Asperger.


Onaiwu was diagnosed in adulthood as being on the Autism spectrum, after having her children evaluated. While the diagnosis helped her make sense of her experience to date, it also created a new way for her to be diminished or insulted as someone with 'disordered' thinking.


She rejects the term Autism spectrum disorder, claiming her thinking and processing both as her own and entirely valid. And she's happy to be identified as autistic, as long as that identification comes without judgement. Her examples made me wince: being further labelled as 'high functioning', or being told she seemed 'normal'. These conjure up 'low functioning' and 'abnormal' as options.


I encourage you to listen to Onaiwu speak for herself in the podcast. You'll also get a chilling insight into the history of Asperger's syndrome.


For tips on why and how to embrace many kinds of thinking - keep reading!


Recognise the benefits of diverse thinking

Cognitive diversity (how we think) is one of the elements of diversity we encourage people to consider in workshops that focus on inclusion. This diversity extends beyond diagnosed conditions that impact thinking; it also comes from professional training, habits of mind, work and learning styles, and perspectives.


A wide generational mix leads to cognitive diversity, which generates innovation and new ways of communicating. Other benefits of cognitive diversity include increased engagement, better problem solving, and eliminating groupthink.


Work organisations have measures and targets for some aspects of diversity, usually gender, ethnicity, and age. These are elements of our personal diversity that are easy for us to recognise and for organisations to quantify. If the diversity is matched with inclusive practices, the richness of skills and experience become positives for organisations. Organisations that are both diverse and inclusive will inevitably have cognitive diversity, whether or not they report on it.


Create a supportive environment

Whether you are a colleague, an ally, or a leader, you can create an environment that supports diverse thinking.


You could apply Daniel Goleman's principles of emotional intelligence, using empathy to foster inclusion. People with high empathy understand others' feelings and perspectives, and recognise opportunities in diversity.


You could develop Deloitte's six traits of inclusive leaders, paying attention to your own bias and being genuinely curious about the views and perspectives of others.


You could implement 10 steps to creating a neurodiverse inclusive environment. These come from the Centre for Applied Autism Research at the University of Bath. The steps include actions for adapting the environment and for supporting individuals. Like many interventions designed to support equitable outcomes, they work for everyone. After all:

Neurodiversity includes everybody, whether they’re neurotypical (whose neurological functioning falls within the ‘average’) or neurodivergent (who fall outside this).

Bias blogs


We've been hearing a lot about unconscious bias recently (rightfully so). And we want to make this real and practical for you. There have been over 180 cognitive biases identified. Read the following blogs to explore specific, individual biases, how they show up in our lives/workplaces, and what we can do about it.