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Maureen Dunne, PhD: Promoting Authentic Inclusion of Neurodivergent People

Maureen Dunne, PhD: Promoting Authentic Inclusion of Neurodivergent People


Ladderworks is a publishing platform of diverse picture books and online curriculum with the mission to empower over a million kids to become social entrepreneurs. Our current series features interviews by our interplanetary journalist Spiffy with inspiring Social Entrepreneurs, Entrepreneurship Ecosystem Builders, and Changemakers who are advancing the UN SDGs.

Hi friends, it’s Spiffy, back again on Planet Earth with an eye on entrepreneurs making the world a more equitable place! I have one more interview for you this week. Today I’m excited to cruise around with Maureen Dunne, PhD, author of The Neurodiversity Edge. Are you ready to be inspired?

Spiffy: Thanks for joining me, Maureen! Tell me, what challenges are you addressing through your work?

Maureen: It’s great to be here, Spiffy! My purpose is to get up each morning and contribute to making the world a more inclusive and welcoming place for people, who, like me, may possess uncommon skills and ways of perceiving the world. My goal is to do my part in uncovering the extraordinary beauty and richness of diversity of minds all around us for all to see and appreciate.

Spiffy: That’s great! What motivated you to do it?

Maureen: I have encountered countless examples where there is a huge disproportionality and lack of alignment between the capacity of neurodivergent people to contribute, on the one hand, and tangible opportunities for meaningful employment, on the other hand. Even with a structural labor shortage, 30-40% of neurodivergent people (those with Attention-Deficit / Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), dyslexia, autism, etc.) remain unemployed. Countless contributions of skilled people are being forsaken and sidelined. It is a failure of human capital, not to mention a moral plague of injustice.

Spiffy: How would you say that your work is contributing towards a more equitable world?

Maureen: I wrote my book, The Neurodiversity Edge, to help leaders understand how to authentically include neurodivergent people using a values-driven approach rather than “tick the box” techniques that have so strikingly failed organizations and neurodivergent job seekers in recent years. To work, companies must commit to deeper work at the foundations of organizational culture. This requires more than cosmetic adjustments. The highest levels of leadership need to buy in with the goal of reinforcing a neurodiversity-friendly culture at all levels of the organization.

Spiffy: Tell me about a recent milestone or initiative. What impact does it make on your audience or community?

Maureen: When I served as president of the Illinois Community College Trustees Association (ICCTA), I spearheaded the first neurodiversity inclusion values statement to drive policy and organizational change. The mission was to facilitate more welcoming cultures for neurodivergent people on campuses. Our efforts led to the passage of new state legislation in the form of HR 219, “Neurodiversity in Higher Ed.”

Spiffy: Amazing! Tell me about an inspiring startup that you have helped to advance its impact.

Maureen: As the co-founder of the Neurodiverse Entrepreneur Program, I am proud of the work we have done to help neurodivergent entrepreneurs like Nick Lehecka, the founder of Wove—a high-end bicycle parts company. In his words, “As an autistic adult facing challenges in corporate and academic settings, entrepreneurism is vital for my self-sustainability. The capital and mentorship provided by the Neurodiverse Entrepreneur Program were critical to getting my startup off the ground. My company has become profitable just after a year.”

Spiffy: Thanks for speaking with me today, Maureen—it’s been an honor!

Maureen Dunne, PhD is the author of The Neurodiversity Edge. She is a cognitive scientist, neurodiversity expert, global keynote speaker, board director, and business leader with over two decades of experience helping organizations build thriving cultures. Her work has been featured in Forbes, Bloomberg, MIT Sloan Management Review, Chicago Tribune, DiversityQ, Salon, UNLEASH, People Management magazine, and Inside Higher Ed. (Nominated by Josef Scarantino at Hubspot Ventures. First published on the Ladderworks website on January 30, 2024.)

The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the interviewee and do not necessarily reflect those of Ladderworks LLC.

© 2024 Ladderworks LLC. Edited by Sujit Kunte. Spiffy’s illustration by Shreyas Navare. For the Ladderworks digital curriculum to help K-3 kids advance the UN SDGs, visit Spiffy's Launchpad: Creative Entrepreneurship Workshops for K-3 Kids and their caregivers here.