Research shows that approximately 15-20% of the U.S. population identifies as neurodivergent, highlighting the significance of companies embracing neurodiversity. How can companies effectively support neurodiverse employees in the workplace, and what advantages does such inclusion bring? To explore these inquiries, we speak with accomplished business leaders who offer firsthand experiences and invaluable insights on the theme of “Neurodiversity in the Workforce.” As part of our series, we were privileged to interview Alex Gilbert.

Alex is a mom, a New Yorker, a Mets fan, a yogi and a brunch enthusiast. She also happens to have been diagnosed with dyslexia and ADHD at the age of 8. Alex is the founder of Cape-Able Consulting, a coaching and consulting business that supports adults with learning disabilities and/or ADHD.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you ended up where you are?

I was diagnosed with ADHD and Dyslexia at a young age and was definitely privileged to have a ton of resources available to me as a kid. But in the workplace, I realized those resources didn’t exist and my self-advocacy skills really needed to be put to the test. I not only struggled with my daily tasks, but my mental health suffered as well. It was physically and mentally exhausting keeping up and I was always terrified that I would fail.

As I climbed the ladder in different organizations, the tasks grew more demanding and the visibility was that much greater. I succeeded beyond expectations almost every time but it was so frustrating that no one really knew how much effort it took for me to do something simple. And I was burning out quicker than everyone else.

While not everyone is comfortable doing so (and understandably so), I spoke openly about my disabilities because I feel like it gives me superpowers. I think out of the box, I can create programs out of thin air, and I can see the big picture and tiny details all at once. Understanding this about myself was one of the best things I could have ever done and it empowered me to help others do the same. So after almost 15 years in the corporate world, I decided the next best step for me was to create what I wish I had when I was in the corporate world…Support. This is why I created Cape-Able Consulting which supports adults with ADHD & learning disabilities in the workplace and at home while simultaneously helping businesses understand the benefits of supporting their employees with these disabilities.

You are a successful leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

The three character traits I believe were most instrumental to my success were being self-aware, confident, and an advocate. All three of these are best displayed in this one story:

In my freshman year of college, I was at a very large university and really struggled to figure out how to study and how to manage being in 400 person lecture classes. It was all extremely overwhelming. 

Thankfully, I understood myself and I understood what I needed. And I understood what was going to be important for me to succeed. This was all challenged immediately when in the first semester of freshman year, I took a class with a tenured professor who was very much stuck in his ways. I attended this class three times a week, attended his office hours three times a week and paid for a tutor for this class. So I was putting a lot of time and effort into doing my best. This extra effort was needed because of a policy he had that was truly awful for students with disabilities. He called it his homework policy: if you were to do the homework, and submit it, you only get credit if the answer is right.

After all of this effort I was putting in and not seeing success in this class because a homework answer wasn’t correct, I advocated for myself with confidence and confronted him. I told him that he is missing the entire point of this exercise. Understanding how to solve a problem is half the battle. If you only see the end results, then you’re telling everybody that the end results are the only part that matters. 

He looked me straight in the eye, and said “Wow, no one has ever said that to me.” I told him that I was spending hours and hours on homework and getting no credit for it. And it had nothing to do with my ability to make the effort. It was the policy that he had in place that was not supportive of someone like me, and he was actually deterring me from learning because if I was just looking for the answers, then I could have asked anybody else for the answers. I wasn’t actually learning anything at all with his policy. 

The next semester, this professor changed his policy permanently and I went about my way in every semester making sure that every professor that I worked with understood how they were going to make their class more inclusive to someone like me, who had learning disabilities and ADHD. 

This incident made me realize my ability to not only advocate for myself but help other people advocate for themselves. By my senior year, I created an award-winning mentor retention program for students with disabilities, to teach them how to advocate for themselves and help them navigate through large university systems and feel supported. Which later became the foundation of skills I needed to create Cape-Able Consulting.

Can you share a story about one of your greatest work-related struggles? Can you share what you did to overcome it?

In my first job after college, I openly disclosed my dyslexia and ADHD, assuming that people understood the implications. However, I soon realized the importance of entering conversations with clear objectives and solutions in mind. I struggled with my mental health because I lacked knowledge about what accommodations I could request and what support I needed to perform my job effectively. Transitioning from college to the workplace highlighted the disparity in support systems. Eventually, I identified my needs and requested noise-canceling headphones and a different office space, but my requests were denied. This experience taught me valuable lessons about advocating for myself in the interview process so that I could understand if I was going to be in a supportive workplace environment. I found myself in similar challenging situations in subsequent jobs due to a lack of clarity about the role and environment. One particularly toxic job prompted me to reassess my priorities and recognize the importance of aligning with a supportive work environment. This realization became the foundation of my professional journey, as I learned to identify my non-negotiables and advocate for accommodations that support my dyslexia, ADHD, and work style.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

Currently, one of the most exciting projects I’m involved in focuses on collaborating with companies, particularly their diversity, equity, and inclusion departments. The goal is to foster greater inclusivity for adults with learning disabilities or ADHD within these organizations. I firmly believe that individuals with these neurodiverse conditions possess unique skills, abilities, and strengths, and with the right support and environment, they can surpass expectations. My role involves helping companies understand neurodiversity, identifying suitable forms of support, promoting diverse communication strategies, and recognizing the variability in work styles. By implementing small, inclusive steps, we not only support neurodiverse individuals but also enhance productivity across the board. Additionally, I work with another ADHD coach in a podcast and community space dedicated to providing additional support for adults with ADHD or learning disabilities. This initiative fills a crucial gap, as there are limited resources available for adults in this demographic. Our community offers ongoing support, services, and learning opportunities to address various challenges these individuals may encounter.

Fantastic. Let’s now shift to our discussion about neurodiversity in the workforce. Can you tell our readers a bit about your experience working with initiatives to include neurodiverse employees? Can you share a story with us? 

One common misunderstanding about neurodiversity is the assumption that it indicates a lack of intelligence, which couldn’t be further from the truth. Unfortunately, these biases often shape how we perceive neurodiverse employees, leading us to overlook their unique strengths and abilities. Personally, I’ve found that my dyslexia and ADHD have actually made me a sought-after candidate for specific roles. My capacity to simultaneously grasp both the big picture and the finer details has allowed me to solve problems swiftly, sometimes even before they’re recognized. I frequently emphasize to employers the importance of embracing diverse perspectives, as they bring fresh insights and initiatives to the table. Adults with ADHD and learning disabilities possess a remarkable ability to simplify processes, a skill honed through personal experience. Many of my clients have been hired and promoted because of these invaluable skills, supported by workplaces that encourage the free flow of ideas and initiatives, thereby enhancing productivity for their teams.

This may be obvious to you, but it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you articulate to our readers a few reasons why it is so important for a business or organization to have an inclusive work culture?

Everyone, regardless of having a disability, is advocating for themselves in some way, shape, or form, whether it’s because they have children at home, or they’re commuting, or they have challenges in their personal life.. Employees are multifaceted individuals, not just mere workers. Treating them poorly, as replaceable commodities, leads to constant turnover and the loss of quality employees. Supporting employees not only in their professional journey but also in their personal lives contributes to their happiness, productivity, and retention. Constantly hiring and training new staff due to high turnover rates is detrimental to any organization. Recognizing that everyone works differently, implementing supportive measures to enhance productivity and well-being results in a more positive workplace environment.

Can you share a few examples of ideas that were implemented at your workplace to help include neurodiverse employees? Can you share with us how the work culture was affected as a result?

I typically like to start with the most approachable support available and that is in adaptive technology. If your company uses Zoom for example, have your meetings recorded with closed captions so that there is a transcript. Maybe even set up the summary to be sent out to everyone. Add programs such as Grammarly which help you with grammar and the tone of your emails and Speechify which reads all your documents. Many people enjoy audiobooks and podcasts so it’s not that different from having something read large materials to you. Everyone benefits from these programs.

I’ve also made plenty of suggestions to clients as well as my former workplaces that all involve considering the unique needs of their team, particularly with offering a variety of work environments. Some individuals prefer a closed-door setup, while others thrive in open spaces for free-flowing conversations. Additionally, having a cafe-style area allows for what’s known as “body doubling,” where individuals can work alongside others while maintaining focus. 

Providing amenities like noise-canceling headphones or loop headphones, which reduce sensory distractions, and adjusting lighting to minimize disruptions from fluorescent lights can also greatly improve the work environment. When these accommodations are available to everyone, overall productivity increases. Moreover, having policies in place that alleviate the need for individuals with learning disabilities or ADHD to constantly advocate for themselves not only fosters a supportive culture but also attracts higher-quality talent. Knowing that support and accommodations are readily available encourages individuals to join and thrive within the organization.

What are some of the challenges or obstacles to including neurodivergent employees? What needs to be done to address those obstacles? 

What is important to keep in mind is that most neurodiverse employees do not disclose they have a disability because they are afraid of their employers thinking they are incapable of their job, not as intelligent, etc. It is a disability that is not seen or heard and therefore if they do disclose their manager might dismiss them or label them as lazy. This adds to the many layers of addressing the issue that employees cannot ask. With that being said, I have found if we are setting up our environments to be more inclusive, everyone benefits, including managers/empoyers. 

For example, many companies and organizations have long meeting structures (hour-long meetings) where employees are not engaged in the conversation which can be difficult for employees (particularly those with ADHD) to pay attention to and cut down on productivity for the day. This happens regardless of a disability. Employees turn their cameras off, they are multi-tasking and only retaining part of what is being discussed. If agendas are sent ahead of time including possible timetables with follow-up summaries of major points discussed, it gives people a chance to participate in the parts that are relevant and have questions they can ask while the conversation is live. 

Another important piece to consider is that training and onboarding are particularly difficult because they are not accessible to neurodiverse employees. Most training is verbal without written instructions and iif they are virtual they do not provide recordings. And they do not allow for follow-up questions once the employee has done the job. If employees have follow-up questions after a training they often feel that if they were to ask questions the trainer might feel they are incapable of their job once again. This can be improved with simple adjustments including a pre scheduled follow-up after training. This gives the employee the space to practice what they have learned and understand what it is they may still be struggling with and sets up a different conversation that is more accessible. 

How do you and your organization educate yourselves and your teams on the concept of neurodiversity and the needs of neurodivergent employees? Are there any resources, training, or workshops that you have found particularly helpful?

This is what we love to help other companies do. While we love to provide the education, awareness and resources to other companies to make their workplaces more accessible and inclusive, we also practice what we preach. We foster an inclusive environment by providing necessary accommodations and support. We also attend conferences to further our education in the field. We also collaborate with other organizations and people doing great work outside of Neurodiversity to bridge the gap.

This is the main question of our interview. Can you please share five best practices that can make a business place feel more welcoming and inclusive of people who are neurodivergent? If you can, please share a few examples. 

The term “Best Practices” assumes everyone can do the same thing and end up with the same results. I highly suggest using “Best Principles” instead to determine what can be put in place for companies to make it more inclusive to neurodivergent people:

  1. Flexible Hours: Provide flexible office hours, whether in person or remote, to accommodate diverse working styles and needs. For example: Some people are more productive in the early hours of the morning when no one is around making noise. 
  2. Accessible Tools: Ensure access to adaptive technology for all employees to support their individual abilities.Utilize tools like Grammarly, Speechify, and Zoom to enhance communication and collaboration. Record meetings and provide summaries, notes, and captions to ensure information accessibility for all employees. 
  3. Varied Workspaces: Offer different office spaces for employees to work in, allowing them to choose environments that suit their preferences. This can include quiet enclosed office spaces, cafe and lounge style seating and more. 
  4. Communication Training: Train managers to understand and adapt to diverse communication styles, fostering effective team communication and collaboration.
  5. Provide Supportive Mentoring and Coaching: Pair neurodivergent employees with mentors or coaches who can provide guidance, support, and advocacy. By presenting this as an option available to not just Neurodivergent employees but ALL employees, you offer an additional level of support without making people feel alienated. 

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share a story about how that was relevant in your own life?

When people ask me about my favorite books for adults with learning disabilities and ADHD, I joke because its actually a children’s book: “We’re Going on a Bear Hunt.” On every page, the phrase, ” I can’t go over it, I can’t go under it, I gotta go through it,” resonates deeply. It reflects the experience of many individuals with learning disabilities or ADHD who are constantly confronting challenges and trying to overcome them. OR avoiding and suppressing their struggles rather than going through them and facing them head-on. By going through difficulties, individuals can reach the other side and achieve success. This principle guides my coaching approach and business strategies. Merely pushing down or trying to bypass obstacles doesn’t address the underlying issues. True problem-solving involves confronting challenges at their root. By understanding why companies may not support adults with learning disabilities or ADHD and addressing these issues from the ground up, we can create environments conducive to their success. 

Empowering individuals with learning disabilities or ADHD to recognize their needs and advocate for themselves enables them to navigate challenges effectively and find the supportive environments they require.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Having a learning disability or ADHD entails more than just a label; it’s a unique way of thinking. Never underestimate individuals with these conditions, as it requires exceptional intelligence to navigate a world that often lacks accommodations for them and still achieve success. They possess remarkable abilities that others may not perceive or understand. Many of the most accomplished individuals in various fields have these disabilities. It’s essential to highlight this fact and acknowledge that support for these conditions doesn’t end at a certain age, such as 18 or after completing post-secondary education. The support needed as an adult differs significantly from that required as a child. Understanding how to provide effective support for adults with these disabilities is crucial for societal progress, as individuals with these conditions possess incredible brilliance. Some of the brightest people I’ve encountered fall into this category, reminding us of their vast potential.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

I’d love to further connect with you on Instagram, LinkedIn and Facebook. You can also book a free consultation with me anytime to learn more about how I can support you. All information can be found on my website

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success and good health!