Forbes - Leadership

How Elon Musk’s Neurodiversity Comment Showed The Power Of Getting Personal

Elon Musk’s every word and action makes a huge impact on business (witness the Bitcoin announcement recently). But even more interesting was his Saturday Night Live cold open, in which he revealed he has ‘Asperger’s Syndrome’. In mere seconds, Musk did what so many autistic people have tried to do for years, he built awareness of neurodiversity in business by the millions and then used his unmistakable humor and honesty saying, “that’s how my brain works…Did you think I was going to be a chill normal dude?” You could say he’s the poster boy for a radically new inclusive era of work. The question now is, how will his comments affect the average neurodiverse job seeker who is nearly twice as likely to be unemployed as the average candidate.

Could autistic, dyslexic, dysgraphic, and ADHD workers, known in general to be highly focused, intense, innovative, and creative, be the answer to filling tough-to-fill jobs? If people are willing to talk about their differences proudly, yes. Right now, most aren’t. One study showed that only 18% of employees have talked to their supervisor about their learning disability.

Getting personal during business meetings is counterintuitive for most leaders. Many say they avoid open conversations about invisible disability because they may open legal risks, raise complex problems and while well-intended, can pit employees against each other. Employees recognize that fear. Generally, studies show that only about half of people agree that their organizations have policies that promote diversity and inclusion.  

That’s changing. More and more successful attempts to amplify the personal and celebrate all kinds of minds has helped to boost awareness of how all kinds of minds can be an asset at work and that talking about a mental issue is not admission of weakness but a human reality. Here, three examples pulled from some of the biggest businesses in the nation.

1. A Big Reveal Is a Big Win For Neurodiversity When Elon Musk revealed his that he is neurodivergent, he sent thousands of people running to the web to find out what exactly Asperger’s Syndrome is. In fact, it’s just a fancy, outdated name for being on the autism spectrum, according to the American Psychiatric Association and other organizations. I can’t imagine many conversations about the difference between being autistic and Asperger’s taking place at the Monday morning all-hands meeting without Musk getting personal. 


2. The Strength Of Using Parenting Instincts At TD Bank, John Pluhowski says his dedication to inclusion initiatives is inspired by his son, JB, 33, who is on the autism spectrum. Less than 50% of adults on the autism spectrum are employed and many of those jobs are part-time, according to research. He set out to change that number, starting with his work as the U.S. lead for the Bank’s Individuals with Disabilities business resource group. Thanks in part to his passion “the bank launched a pilot program and began hiring top talent on the autism spectrum, extending a successful partnership with Specialisterne, alongside three teams at TD. 

The Take Home: If you are touched by neurodiversity, via a friend, neighbor, or family member, bring your knowledge and support to work. What you might think of as a personal footnote in life outside the company could make for some very strategic planning.

3. The Appeal of Personal Experience Joan Steinberg, president of the Morgan Stanley Foundation recalls how effective a leaders’ personal story can inspire change. She’s seen it happen in real time. During a pitch meeting to determine community investment strategies, one board stood up and boldly announced that he suffers from depression and would do anything to support mental health innovation and support. His enthusiasm was a game-changer, says Steinberg. The mood in the room changed and mental health care changed from a monolith problem to a very real human need.

Last month, Morgan Stanley launched a nationwide call for nonprofits to submit transformative mental health solutions that will help improve the lives of children and young people. Through this initiative, the Morgan Stanley Alliance for Children’s Mental Health plans to award $500,000 in grants and provide consulting and capital showcasing opportunities to non-profits focused on programs to combat adverse mental health outcomes such as stress, anxiety, depression, and disruptive behaviors. “Children’s mental health is vastly underfunded despite its high prevalence and far-reaching implications. Our goal is to support incredible solutions that are currently working without access to proper funding,” said Joan Steinberg, president of the Morgan Stanley Foundation, and CEO of the Morgan Stanley Alliance for Children’s Mental Health’s Advisory Board. The take home: Don’t hold back. The money goes where the storytelling is best.

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button