Time for neurodiverse boards

Many directors recognise that diversity on boards is no longer a nice to have in today’s world. It is a vital element that ensures the board has access to a broad range of perspectives, which in turn enables better decision making and results.

Having a diverse representation on boards is more important than ever due to the current challenges and volatility facing organisations, largely exacerbated by the war in Ukraine.

Unfortunately, those boards that are taking diversity seriously are usually looking at it solely through the lens of demographics – such as gender splits and minority representation. While demographic diversity is important there are other vital areas where they need to have diversity to be effective.

The five drivers of diversity

When it comes to diversity every board should look at their directors through the prism of the five drivers of diversity™- demographics, skills, experience, thinking styles and circles of influence – and consider how well their existing line up matches up. They must understand that true board diversity is broader than any one of the five drivers™ and delivers wider perspectives, improved decision making and outcomes.

With diversity of thinking styles it’s cognitive diversity – ‘neurodiversity’ – that should be increasingly recognised as an important asset, because those who are neurodiverse can help generate new and different perspectives that add value. 


What is neurodiversity?

People who are neurodiverse have a range of differences in brain function and behavioural traits, regarded as part of normal variation in the population. The term is used mainly in the context of autistic spectrum disorders, including dyslexia and ADHD.

Because of their ability to think differently, the value to boards of having directors who are neurodiverse is enormous. They can offer attention to detail, visual thinking, visual memory, pattern recognition and creative thinking that can help illuminate ideas or new opportunities that others might otherwise have missed. Additionally, many have thought processes that can highlight areas of risk that might not have been considered, and that enable them to constructively challenge executive members.

Due to their ability to provide a creative contribution to the board, those who are neurodiverse can make excellent non-executive directors.

Many successful entrepreneurs are neurodiverse

There is an overrepresentation amongst entrepreneurs of those who are dyslexic, autistic and have ADHD, for example. This is possibly due to their frequent capacity for innovative, visionary thinking and taking risks.

Many well-known entrepreneurs like Richard Branson, Steve Jobs, and more recently Elon Musk, have changed the discussion around neurodiversity by talking proudly of how being neurodiverse has given them a distinct advantage and helped to drive their success.

The problem is when it comes to recruitment to the board the standard recruitment processes are tailored to neurotypical brains. Therefore, neurodiversity is often overlooked when it comes to board appointments, meaning the board is missing out on talent that can play a vital role in improving decision making and future growth. This makes it vital that boards look at, and where appropriate, change their recruitment processes to make sure they are not losing out on those who are neurodiverse and can help take their organisation forward.

How to deliver cognitive diversity on boards

For boards to gain an understanding of a director’s thought process a measurement tool such as Kolbe works well. It measures the instinctive way people do things, with the result called your ‘method of operation’. It is the only validated assessment that measures a person’s innate strengths. Then, once their strengths are understood, it’s possible to see how they can add value and how to maximise their potential. Kolbe is a tool which is particularly important to use as part of the appointment process to help ensure the board has cognitive diversity.

Having cognitive diversity on boards is the way forward in an age of volatility, uncertainty and ambiguity, when being creative in spotting opportunities for businesses to evolve and grow is more important than ever. Those boards that exclude candidates who have a neurodiverse thought process, and generally don’t take diversity beyond demographics seriously, will miss out on valuable talent, which could hamper board effectiveness and future long-term business success.

Integrity Governance works with boards, CEOs and chairs around the world. For almost 20 years we have delivered the best local insight, combined with a global perspective, to ensure effective governance at organisations.

For more information on how we can support your board with your boardroom and governance challenges, please contact one of our highly experienced governance consultants.

John leads a global team at Integrity Governance that is focused on making boards more effective. A boardroom expert working with multinationals, SMEs, trade associations and not-for-profits, he provides practical, impartial advice to directors, business owners, executives and CEOs, to help improve board performance. He has 30 years of experience at director level in the corporate world, having worked at blue chip businesses including: Mars, Schroders and Goldman Sachs.

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