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Five things business leaders can learn from people with disabilities

As you may know, December 3 is International Day of Persons With Disability. Personally, I’ve never been a fan of the term “disability.” I have always thought of them as “abilities” that make us unique.

As a young child, I was diagnosed with dyscalculia, dysgraphia and dyslexia. Each of those impacts learning in a different way. Dyslexia affects my reading ability, dysgraphia impacts handwriting and fine motor skills, and dyscalculia makes processing numbers, time and space difficult at times.

I have dealt with these challenges my entire life and I use them instead as a superpower. As the General Counsel of Atos North America, overseeing a staff of more than a dozen people, I lead by example — showing others it’s okay to be perfectly imperfect. I like to show my team how every vanilla cupcake can be improved by sprinkles, gummy worms, fruit and chocolate shavings.

In my decades of experience, I have learned that being neurodiverse is powerful. It’s not something to be viewed as a liability, but as an asset that we should look for in the candidates we hire. In this spirit, here’s a look at the top five things business leaders can learn from people with disabilities:

1. Neurodiverse people experience and interact in the world in different ways.

Neurodiversity looks different in every individual, and each person will bring their own unique outlook to a situation. People with neurodiversity also tend to be more creative and have strong problem-solving capabilities that can make a company more successful. According to a Deloitte study, a neurodiverse team is 30% more productive than a neurotypical one. Neurodiverse individuals tend to pay more attention to detail because we know there may be areas that our disability affects. Neurodiversity can take a company from good to great.

2. You can’t judge a disability by its visibility.

Looking at me, you would never know that I am neurodiverse. Just because you can’t see it, doesn’t mean it doesn’t impact the way I think and learn. Neurodiversity is common, but it’s not always obvious. Hiring people who are neurodiverse can shape the way business leaders evaluate talent and look at the capabilities of a whole individual. As a side benefit, it can change how the public perceives disabilities and help end the stigma associated with it.

According to Deloitte, neurodiverse teams are 30% more productive than neurotypical ones.

3. Working with neurodiverse people teaches you to lead with empathy.

Hiring neurodiverse staff or employees with disabilities teaches you to listen and to provide your staff with the resources they need to thrive. Whether it’s a new software tool or an accessible employee portal, you will learn to be more understanding and look for people’s individual talents and how to help them succeed. Focusing on our strengths in all areas of the workforce means we can focus on what every individual brings to the table — not what they have difficulty with.

4. Improving accessibility boosts loyalty, retention and morale.

Creating an accessible workplace and hiring people with disabilities helps attract and retain employees. People want to work for organizations that value their employees and do good for others. Given the appropriate resources, neurodiverse individuals and other people with disabilities, are more likely to stay at a job that gave them the best chance for success.

5. Embracing diversity creates more agile, adaptable businesses.

For most people, the best way to enable a neurodiverse leadership team is to craft roles that suit a wider variety of minds, then balance them across the company. The power of a leadership team is more important than any one personality or any one cognitive profile. Flexing the rules allows colleagues to remove stumbling blocks, relate to each other better, and raise our game collectively.


 

Over the years, accessibility and inclusion requirements and laws have been growing, but it’s more than that. Having the right support and tools in place along with hiring people with disabilities is the right thing to do. I am speaking out about this now because I want others to feel empowered to embrace neurodiversity and hire people with these special abilities.

I am fortunate to work for a company that truly values accessibility and inclusion. At Atos, we have a wonderful team of people that doesn’t just make resources available within our company — but helps other enterprises do the same. Our IT and accessibility teams work together to enhance accessibility and inclusion in any business. You can learn more about our services here.

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About Trudy Fountain-James
General Counsel, North America
As General Counsel for Atos North America, Trudy leads legal affairs as well as participating in Atos’s businesses and growth strategies. Trudy rejoined Atos five years ago as the Global Negotiations Leader after a four-year sabbatical to care for her father. Earlier, Trudy spent ten years as SVP Deputy Global General Counsel/Head of Software and Business Management for ACS/Xerox, where she was responsible for global commercial legal, software and contracts management. Trudy has also held leadership positions at Northrup Grumman Ship Systems and Park Place Entertainment (currently known as Caesars). She resides in Dallas with her husband, nine children and rescue dogs. When not working, she likes to run, does Lagree fitness, and is a Pilates instructor. She is a member of the National Arts Club in New York, and is a strong advocate for the neurodivergent population, having learned to thrive and excel with neurodiversity herself.

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