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It is a great time to graduate college in America. Unemployment rates are hovering at around 3.7%, as low as they have been since the 1960s and approaching what economists would consider full employment.1 The hot job market not only provides a great sense of affirmation for newly minted college grads as potential employers woo them for their services, it also puts upward pressure on wages for these young professionals. On the other side of the coin, it is not a great time to be an employer trying to staff up in America. As the available pool of candidates shrinks, bringing in new employees takes longer and costs more.

Even in this employee-friendly labor market, however, there is a class of individuals, some of them among that happy pool of recent college graduates, who remain chronically underemployed. Human Resource Development professionals refer to this subset of potential candidates as “neurodiverse,” but you may have heard them called other names. They are sometimes referred to as “on the spectrum” or “autistic” but also by less-gracious names that we will not mention here. The term neurodiversity is evolving but may be understood to include individuals with autism, attention deficit disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, or other conditions that cause an individual’s mental activity to diverge from how neurotypical people perceive or process the world around them.

An estimated 20% of the world’s population is neurodiverse, and despite actively looking for employment, neurodiverse individuals are at least eight times less likely to be employed than their neurotypical counterparts.2 Furthermore, individuals with physical disabilities—a legally protected, marginalized, group—are 30% more likely to be employed than neurodiverse individuals.3 Simple factors (e.g., neurodiverse individuals being less likely to make direct eye-contact—a frequent rationale for disqualifying job applicants) contribute to these statistics.4 In the current workforce environment, strained by talent shortages, the underemployment of the neurodivergent poses an interesting opportunity, and temptation, for hiring institutions.

Some Christian scholars have sought to extend the protections of US discrimination laws to neurodiverse individuals to help offset the prejudice they encounter in the job market. Christians from different points on the theological continuum, such as Mark Eckel and Olivia Bustion, have argued both for the inclusion of neurodiverse people, and for their Christian identity.5 In part, the motivation for this work concerns the vulnerability of neurodiverse individuals. In keeping with passages such as Deuteronomy 16 and James 1, Christian scholars may feel compelled to extend the biblical mandate to protect widows and the fatherless to a more modernly described, but equally disadvantaged, group of individuals. We, however, think it is time to consider a different theological framework for promoting the needs and rights of neurodiverse people in the workplace.

Businesses have long focused on the inclusion of disadvantaged groups as a matter of regulatory compliance. The legal mandates of the late twentieth century have been followed in the twenty-first by a concentrated emphasis on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) initiatives.6 DEI training and expert personnel have been added to the workplace, both in businesses and in universities. Since neurodiversity was described in 1998, educational systems have begun to include it in instruction and scholarship.7

The DEI framework, however, may have failed the neurodiverse. We have collectively attended multiple mandatory DEI trainings in various workplaces, but we have yet to attend one that recognized neurodiversity within the DEI conversation. While allowances can be given for the fact that the scope of neurodiversity, and therefore training initiatives relating to it, are still ill-defined,8 our collective experience suggests there is a need to operationalize a more positive scholarship in this area, preferably Christ-animated scholarship.

A further concern about approaching the problems of neurodivergent individuals in the DEI framework is the multivariate complexity of those who experience double discrimination—e.g., being an ethnic minority and neurodiverse.9 These dual characteristics may be interactive and individuals within both categories may experience needs greater than those suffered by groups with either characteristic alone. The combination of these characteristics can lead to lower levels of motivation in achieving performance goals, further contributing to fewer available opportunities. A resulting lack of awareness and acceptance from academicians and businesspeople can contribute to the isolation and rejection experienced by those that are neurodiverse.10 While the DEI framework may be experiencing some level of implementation for ethnic minorities and other groups that have traditionally suffered from discrimination, that same experience does not translate into effective support for neurodiverse individuals, even those who also fit within these traditionally disadvantaged populations.

An alternative approach for addressing the chronic underemployment and social stigma of neurodiverse individuals with business students and businesses seems warranted. As noted by Eckel, neurodiverse individuals can bring valuable insights by seeing the world in a way that others cannot, and research indicates neurodiverse individuals are more productive than their neurotypical counterparts by as much as 140%.11

Indeed, business environments that have crafted job roles to fit the needs of their neurodiverse employees, rather than expecting their employees to fit their job role, have flourished. For example, the U.S.-based engineering firm Ultranauts has created a remarkable job-mapping program for its employees and proclaims on its public website that 75% of its employees are neurodivergent. Utilizing a Biodex intake form for all new employees that identifies working and learning preferences, as well as triggers and distractors, Ultranauts has successfully crafted an inclusive working environment for a diverse population and grown revenue by over 50% annually.12

The idea that vulnerable populations should be extended protection is certainly a biblical notion. The groups to which the Bible commands God’s people to extend special care represent multiple bases of diversity and nowhere does the identification of vulnerable groups claim to be exhaustive. Scripture affirms that we should care for poor people (Proverbs 29:7), virgins (Deuteronomy 22:19), foreigners (Exodus 22:21), widows and orphans (James 1:27), the accused (Numbers 35:12), borrowers (Deuteronomy 24:10), and those who are sick (Matthew 10:8). The Bible, however, never associates an individual’s value with his or her vulnerability, or lack thereof. Scripture provides that an individual’s value is based on the imago Dei, that we are all created by God in His image (Genesis 1:27). Unless one interprets the arguments of authors such as Baron-Cohen13 and Frith,14 to mean that neurodiverse individuals (particularly those with autism) are absent theologically, one should be prepared to extend the fundamental value of humanity to that population.

Approaching the neurodiverse as a vulnerable population, however, can carry an almost Victorian element of noblesse oblige, as if we are called to care for the vulnerable because they are less than we are. This approach can lead to patronization, leaving diverse individuals in the place of children who must be cared for but not accepted as equals, failing both to accept the neurodiverse population as full members of the community and failing to capture the unique value they offer.

If the equality of individuals arises from their being created by God, then one may assume that God, the master of efficient creation, has a unique purpose for all his creatures, including the neurodiverse. He intends for them to render value in their community (1 Corinthians 12:18). The Bible acknowledges that people can be gifted with various attributes, some of them rare attributes, which equip them to render valuable service to others (craftsmanship—Exodus 31:1–11, super strength—Judges 14:6, wisdom and understanding—Isiaih 11:2, and prophecy— Acts 2:18). We propose that Christian academics marshal these arguments to support the proposition that neurodiverse individuals are uniquely valuable, utilizing examples like Ultranauts, whose business experience supports the proposition with real-world data.

There is an inherent risk in applying this alternative theological framework that neurodiverse people represent a unique asset in the community. Emphasizing their unique value may lead to neurodiverse individuals being objectified to capture that value without the mutual relationship to which they are entitled. This outcome would leave neurodiverse individuals in a worse position than they are now. They would go from being protected but patronized to being valued but exploited.

The possibility of hiring minorities for exploitation is a very real problem but not a new one. Even before the Equal Pay Act was enacted in 1963, women were sometimes employed because organizations wanted the reaction female employees could engender among clients but never anticipated allowing the women to advance or otherwise contribute to the organization. Equally so with ethnic minorities: organizations may hire them simply to satisfy quotas or to allow the company access to minority markets without accepting them as equals within the organizational structure.

The biblical answer to this problem of potential exploitation is not to keep diverse populations in perpetual dependency. Rather it is to acknowledge their unique needs and their unique strengths as divine gifts. The differences that diverse populations bring to the workforce and the Body of Christ provide different insights into the character of their Creator. Just as the diversity of the Body of Christ in 1 Corinthians 12 reflects the diversity of the nature and character of God, neurodiverse populations reflect unique, and perhaps less understood, elements of God’s character that can give a whole new insight into the Dei of the imago.


  1. Niasse, Amina. “Unemployment rises in nearly a third of US states in December.” Reuters. January 23, 2024.
  2. Hutson, P., and J. Hutson. “Neurodiversity and Inclusivity in the Workplace: Biopsychosocial Interventions for Promoting Competitive Advantage.” Journal of Organizational Psychology 23, no. 2 (2023): 1-16.
  3. Hutson, P., and J. Hutson. “Neurodiversity and Inclusivity in the Workplace: Biopsychosocial Interventions for Promoting Competitive Advantage.” Journal of Organizational Psychology 23, no. 2 (2023): 1-16.
  4. Cortez, R., Marshall, D., Yang, C., and Luong, L. “First impressions, cultural assimilation, and hireability in job interviews: Examining body language and facial expressions’ impact on employer’s perceptions of applicants.” Concordia Journal of Communication Research 4, no. 1 (2017): 4.
  5. Eckel, Mark. “From ‘Stranger’ to ‘Neighbor’: Neurodiversity’s Visionary Opportunities as Public Intellectuals Promote the Common Good.” Christian Scholar’s Review 49, no. 4 (2020).
    Olivia Bustion, Autism and Christianity: An Ethnographic Intervention, Journal of the American Academy of Religion, 85(3), September, 2017, 653-681.
  6. Koenig, E., and M. Naughton. “Putting first things first 1: Ordering DEI (diversity, equity, inclusion) in light of subsidiarity.” Business and Society Review (2023).
  7. Azevedo, F., et al. “Navigating academia as neurodivergent researchers: promoting neurodiversity within Open Scholarship.” APS Observer 35 (2022).
  8. Dwyer, P. “The neurodiversity approach(es): What are they and what do they mean for researchers?.” Human Development 66, no. 2 (2022): 73-92.
  9. Moody, C.T., et al. “Hope in Neurodiverse Adolescents: Disparities and Correlates.” Advances in Neurodevelopmental Disorders: Multidisciplinary Research and Practice Across the Lifespan 6, no. 2 (June 2022): 166–77.
  10. Lebrón-Cruz, A., and O. Ariana. “I Am What I Am: The Role of Essentialist Beliefs and Neurodivergent Identification on Individuals’ Self-Efficacy.” Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, July 2023.
  11. Bury, S.M., Spoor, J.R., Hayward, S.M., and Hedley, D. “Supporting the mental health and well-being of autistic and other neurodivergent employees in the work environment.” In Neurodiversity in the Workplace, edited by J.R. Spoor and S.M. Bury, 241-266. Routledge, 2022.
  12. Praslova, L.N. “The Radical Promise of Truly Flexible Work.” Harvard Business Review, 2023.
  13. Baron-Cohen, Simon. Mindblindness: An Essay on Autism and Theory of Mind. Boston: MIT Press/Bradford Books, 1995.
  14. Frith, Utah. Autism: Explaining the Enigma. Blackwell Publishing, 2003.

Mandolen Mull

Dr. Mandolen Mull is the Founder and Principal Consultant at MullMentum Consulting, LLC, a firm that specializes in customized leadership and organizational development.

Jerome Lockett

Dr. Jerome Lockett is an Assistant Professor of Accounting of the McLane College of Business at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor.

Larry G. Locke

University of Mary Hardin-Baylor
Larry Locke is a Professor and Associate Dean of the McLane College of Business at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor and a Research Fellow of LCC International University.

One Comment

  • Felis says:

    “Unemployment rates are hovering at around 3.7%, as low as they have been since the 1960s and approaching what economists would consider full employment.”

    Do you actually believe this? I’ve got a bridge I’d love to show you.