Embracing Neurodiversity

How can engineering unions better support their neurodivergent members? In our recent workshop in Copenhagen, we explored this question by sharing strategies for fostering inclusivity. A standout example was IDA’s implementation of peer groups that support their neurodivergent members.


Diversity and inclusion (D&I) are essential for creating a thriving and innovative engineering community. That is why we recently hosted a workshop in Copenhagen, where representatives from our engineering unions across the Nordics shared their best practices and initiatives to promote D&I among our members and workplaces. 

One of the topics that sparked a lively discussion was supporting neurodiversity, which refers to the natural variation of human brains and the different ways they process information. Neurodiversity includes conditions such as autism, ADHD, dyslexia, dyspraxia, and others.  

Neurodiverse people can bring unique skills and abilities to the STEM fields, such as creativity, innovation, problem-solving, attention to detail, and analytical thinking. However, they may also face some challenges in navigating the social and organizational aspects of their work environment. 

Marianne Ehlers, IDA’s Program Developer
Marianne Ehlers, IDA’s Program Developer

To support our neurodiverse members, we learned from the example of IDA, which has established peer groups for members who have been diagnosed with a neurodiverse condition. 

Marianne Ehlers, IDA’s Program Developer, who facilitates IDA’s networks and peer groups explained that the idea came from two neurodivergent members who approached IDA looking for a network where they could connect and share experiences with other neurodivergent professionals. 

Marianne’s interest was piqued, as she estimates that IDA has more than 10,000 neurodiverse members, based on various analyses, including data from Copenhagen University and DTU on students who apply for Special Educational Support (SPS). 

After an analysis phase, IDA launched two types of peer groups for neurodiverse members: one small (3-5) and very structured, and another larger (no more than 15) with a more dynamic agenda. Members are assigned to those groups based on a start-up interview.  

As Marianne stresses: “Neurodiversity is a very broad term, and we did not want to make assumptions about the needs and desires of this group, so we made a thorough analysis to find out how we can support this member group. We learned that despite the great variation of diagnoses, many of our neurodiverse members experience similar challenges. They might haven’t met any trouble at the beginning of their careers but as they move up on the career ladder and complexity rises at work and in their personal life, they start experiencing troubles which affect their well-being.” 

The peer group gives them a safe, confidential space to meet regularly to discuss these challenges and solutions. The themes are decided by the members but can include topics such as how to handle job interviews, navigate unwritten rules in the workplace or school, collaborate with colleagues, balance work and life, and the level of openness about diagnosis at the workplace. 

Marianne also shared some of the learnings from facilitating the peer groups. She emphasized the importance of structure in meetings, as well as the need for clear communication and a culture of mutual feedback. 

In addition to empowering neurodivergent members, the peer groups also provide valuable insights to IDA on how to foster a more inclusive workplace environment.  

We hope that this initiative can inspire other unions to embrace and support neurodiversity among their members. By doing so, we can foster a more diverse and inclusive engineering community that benefits from the talents and perspectives of all its members.