Some aspects of diversity are more obvious than others, which has historically created some mixed consequences. More obvious differences between groups can make some groups easy targets for discrimination and marginalization, as we’ve seen throughout American history.
But in our relatively more enlightened modern society, there may be a benefit to obvious diversity, in that those with power and influence are more likely to address past wrongs and inequities when they stem from obvious divisions. Addressing historical discrimination against people of color and women is a great example.
When diversity is less obvious, however, there’s typically less impetus to account for it in everyday life and in the operation of institutions—out of sight, out of mind. One less-visible source of diversity, however, has been getting increased attention lately: differences in the processing of stimuli in certain scenarios and locations.
A Look at Sensory Differences
“For decades, zoos, museums and other venues have immersed visitors in multisensory experiences and exhibits,” writes Joanne Cleaver in an article for the New York Times. “Blending visual elements with sound, touch, smell, and movement lets visitors absorb information in the way they prefer and is widely considered to be more engaging than staid dioramas and wall labels,” she says. And, of course, that stimulation can be highly engaging for many people.
Unfortunately, what may be engaging for some can be off-putting—even threatening—for others, she says.
Business Lesson: Don’t Assume Others are Like You!
It’s an all too common, and all too human perspective. We all have the tendency to assume that others are like us. That they think like us. That they experience things like us. That they appreciate the things that we do.
As this sensory experience example from public displays in museums highlights, though, we are not all alike.
Cleaver points out that multisensory experiences “can be too much for those with autism, chronic migraines, ADHD and other issues.” It’s an issue that is gaining traction, with one movement taking steps to ensure that such venues offer “parallel, adapted options for those who have sensory-processing issues so they can mix and match their experiences any time they visit.”
These same types of issues may crop up in business settings. Consider the pervasive use of Zoom these days. Or video. Or podcasts.
Whether someone suffers from chronic migraines, ADHD, or similar conditions isn’t always obvious, meaning a great deal of thought isn’t always given to disparate treatment of those with such conditions. As Cleaver writes, however, some venues are taking a closer look at how the intense stimuli of their facilities and attractions may cause discomfort and even more serious issues for those with largely unseen conditions.
In what ways might you be inadvertently turning off—or even traumatizing—members of your workforce.
As we always say—diversity is for everyone! That includes those who may be neurodiverse. Their “differences” may not be as visible, but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist.