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Specialisterne Canada

Specialisterne Canada Inc., a charitable not-for-profit Canadian organization, focused on building a bridge between neurodivergent job seekers and employers. We support employers to tap into the talents of a neurodiverse workforce and build inclusive organizations through education, training, and advisory.

Specialisterne Foundation

Specialisterne Foundation is a non-for-profit organization that works to enable one million jobs for people with autism and similar challenges.

In the previous article posted on April 22, 2024, I discussed the role of national-level and organizational-level cultures in neurodivergent experience. This experience, along with the success of neuroinclusion interventions, are situated within cultural dynamics such as individualism and collectivism. In this article, I will focus on another cultural dimension identified by Geert Hofstede: masculinity-femininity, and its potentially significant impact on neuroinclusion.

THE CULTURAL DIMENSION OF MASCULINITY-FEMININITY

The cultural dimension of masculinity-femininity, as conceptualized by Hofstede, refers to valuing achievement and competition vs. relationships and the quality of life. Masculine cultures value competitiveness, assertiveness, ambition, and the accumulation of wealth. In contrast, feminine cultures prioritize relationships, quality of life, and care for the less fortunate.

These cultural attitudes can significantly interact with and influence the experiences of neurodivergent individuals.

Neurodivergent Experience in Masculine Cultures

In masculine “live to work” cultures, such as Japan, China, or, largely, the US, the emphasis on achievement and competition can create opportunities as well as significant challenges for neurodivergent individuals. On the one hand, a subset of neurodivergent people who exhibit exceptional capabilities in specific areas may find that their talents are highly valued, particularly if they contribute to competitive advantage or innovation. On the other hand, the pressure to reach traditional success metrics and to compete in a high-stakes environment can be daunting. Moreover, internalizing the implicit message of human worth being conditioned on accomplishment can be detrimental to mental health. Neuro-minority individuals might also struggle with the social dynamics of highly competitive workplaces, including forceful communication and cutthroat internal competition, which are often prized in masculine cultures.

Masculine Cultures and the Risk of Burnout

In masculine cultures, the high value placed on competitiveness and achievement can lead to a work environment that encourages long hours, high levels of commitment, and a strong focus on results at any cost. For many neurodivergent individuals, such environments can be particularly challenging.

The pressure to perform and compete may exacerbate stress and anxiety, especially for those who might need more time to process information or who may have different productivity rhythms. The emphasis on success and the stigma associated with failure or showing vulnerability could discourage neurodivergent employees from seeking support or accommodations, increasing the risk of overwork and burnout.

Moreover, the competitive atmosphere in “winner-take-all” masculine cultures might push individuals towards roles or careers that have “competitive value” associated with pay and prestige, but are ill-suited to their abilities and needs. This can be particularly taxing for those with “spiky” profiles of abilities. Such career vs. abilities misalignment can contribute to frustration, decreased job satisfaction, and increased stress, all of which are risk factors for burnout.

Neurodivergent Experience in Feminine Cultures

Feminine “work to live” cultures such as Sweden, Norway, and Costa-Rica, with their focus on care, cooperation, and quality of life, as well as organizational cultures embracing these values, might generally offer a more supportive environment for neurodivergence. Among the more affluent countries, feminine values are associated with higher levels of well-being. The value placed on relationships and social support can lead to a greater understanding and acceptance of neurodiversity. Nations and organizations with feminine cultures may be more likely to implement policies that support work-life balance, flexible working conditions, and collaborative work styles, all of which can benefit neurodivergent employees by creating a more adaptable and understanding environment.

In feminine cultures, the success of an individual is often seen in broader terms than mere financial achievement or status. This broader perspective can include the well-being of the community and the individual, potentially providing a more inclusive and supportive setting for neurodivergent people to contribute and thrive.

Feminine Cultures and Work-Life Balance

Feminine cultures prioritize work-life balance, well-being, and the quality of relationships. These values can engender a more supportive environment for all employees, including those who are neurodivergent. In such cultures, there is often a greater emphasis on creating flexible work environments that accommodate individual needs, which can be particularly beneficial for neurodivergent individuals. The acceptance of diverse working styles and the recognition of the importance of mental health can help reduce the risk of overwork and burnout.

Feminine cultures may also promote collaborative work environments that value contributions from all team members, providing a platform for neurodivergent individuals to showcase their unique skills and perspectives. This inclusive approach can lead to increased job satisfaction and engagement, further protecting against the negative effects of overwork and burnout.

NEUROINCLUSION IN HIGHLY MASCULINE CULTURES

Cultures are not uniform, and even within highly masculine cultures it is possible to create lower-stress work environments that support flexibility and work-life balance. Promoting neuroinclusion in highly masculine cultures, whether on the national or organizational level, and preventing burnout among neurodivergent individuals, may require strategies that both respect the cultural emphasis on achievement and address the human need for well-being. One strategy organizational practitioners and advocacy groups could use is empirically based reframing of concepts aligned with masculine values to also align with the needs of individuals. This may seem counterintuitive, but working with existing cultural values can be a tool of cultural change.

Reframing Well-being: In extremely masculine cultures, well-being is often seen as a luxury and a want rather than a need. However, there is much evidence that well-rested, happy individuals are much more productive. This reframe can be used to discuss changes that benefit well-being from a non-zero-sum perspective of supporting both individuals and organizational outcomes.

The non-zero-sum perspective can be extremely valuable when communicating across deep cultural or ideological divides. In the case of cultural masculinity and femininity, those whose personal belief systems are aligned with feminine values see the importance of well-being is self-evident. For them, framing it as a utilitarian tool might be unnecessary or even distasteful. Yet, those who have internalized masculine values are more readily convinced by a practical argument. Framing an argument as non-zero-sum helps bridge these worldview barriers. It also helps avoid the commodification of humans associated with the more extreme forms of business case arguments that focus solely on organizational outcomes and do not consider the effects on humans.

Moreover, because the relationship between attitudes and behaviors is reciprocal (both can serve as causes or effects), after group behaviors start following patterns associated with higher levels of attention to well-being, group members are also more likely to adopt valuing of well-being for its own sake.

Reframing Resilience: A similar logic can work for reframing resilience from an individual trait and an individual responsibility to a collective characteristic and responsibility. The work on the social ecology of resilience argues that individual resilience is significantly influenced by the availability of resources that the environment can provide. In the organizational context, resilience is increasingly seen as a characteristic of teams and organizations as a whole, not just the individuals within them. Research has shown that organizational culture plays a significant role in shaping resilience, and organizations with cultures that promote adaptability, teamwork, and shared leadership are better equipped to respond to challenges and uncertainties. This suggests that resilience can be cultivated through organizational practices that emphasize collective problem-solving, flexibility, and mutual support, rather than through individual intervention. Moreover, group diversity, including neurodiversity, can serve as a source of group resilience.

Reframing Success: Encouraging a culture that recognizes diverse forms of achievement, including creativity, problem-solving, and unique perspectives, not just traditional metrics like sales targets or billable hours, can also benefit neuroinclusion, collective well-being, and organizational success. For example, research in organizational psychology and innovation management has shown that valuing diverse forms of achievement, including creativity and problem-solving, can significantly enhance innovation. For instance, research on group creativity emphasizes that diverse cognitive styles and problem-solving approaches can lead to higher levels of creative output. By recognizing and valuing these diverse contributions to collective success, organizations can foster environments conducive to innovation, productivity, and neuroinclusion.

Reframing Competition: Many managers in masculine cultures erroneously assume that internal competition results in external competitiveness. In fact, cutthroat workplace environments are toxic and are likely to harm external competitiveness rather than support it. Re-focusing competition externally while encouraging internal collaboration and mutual support, just like the previous reframes, will also benefit neurodivergent employees, all employees, and organizations.

None of these reframes need to focus on neurodivergence to be effective. Most humans are likely to benefit from changes associated with these reframes.

In sum, supporting neuroinclusion in contexts with highly masculine values can be challenging. However, reframing some of these values using the available research evidence can effectively create positive change. Moreover, this change will benefit not only neurodivergent people but all individuals within organizational and cultural systems, as well as productivity and those tangible results which are highly valued in masculine cultures. Over time, it can also help support the increased appreciation for human well-being as a value in itself.