Published on 11 October 2021

Disability, cognitive diversity: how can digital technology become more inclusive?

More than 20% of the world’s population are thought to be cognitively diverse. These are people who process information differently or see the world differently – and these different styles of problem-solving can contribute positively to society. Knowing that cognitive diversity can improve their business performance, today’s leading businesses are putting in place dedicated inclusion programs. Here’s an overview of Orange’s actions, highlighting our employee integration and engagement initiatives.


What is cognitive diversity?

Cognitive¹ diversity is the inclusion of people who have different styles of problem-solving and who can offer unique perspectives because they think differently. It refers to the inclusion of people with different viewpoints, skill sets and other cognitive abilities. It is slightly different from neurodiversity, which describes the variation in human neurocognitive functioning and behavior and encompasses autism, Asperger syndrome, dyslexia, dyspraxia and ADHT. Each has different strengths and weaknesses that should be taken into account in the workplace. In a broader sense, this also includes people with OCD², or Tourette’s syndrome… Some people display several of the characteristics above, some of which are recognized as a health condition or disability (sometimes invisible except on a brain scan) that should be supported by a workplace’s equal rights policy. 

¹Cognition : all processes include thinking, knowing, remembering, judging, and problem-solving 
²OCD : Obsessive-compulsive disorder



Multi-skilled talent is a business asset

That said, few companies take neurodiversity into account and disability policies rarely include specific guidance. This can lead to discrimination, especially in terms of employment: 85% of people with a condition in France are long-term unemployed, with their talent going to waste. Work environments tend to be designed for the neurotypical; however, companies are beginning to change, and recognize that recruiting neurodiverse talent actually boosts performance. The ability to “think outside the box”, when combined with conventional thinking, can stimulate innovation, identify what might not be working so well within a company and design original solutions. It has been proven within the IT community, for example, that a diverse team leads to a greater number of patent applications, innovation and development.  


How do you promote cognitive diversity in the workplace?

Recognizing cognitive diversity is the first step to putting in place a proactive policy and a clear process for recruiting and supporting people over the long term. Raising awareness is also important, as are adapted recruitment processes, open spaces and working hours that are carefully designed to respect people’s different wants and needs. Like any inclusion initiative, this enriches the employee experience for everyone. 

By upholding shared values, the company benefits from close-knit teams while remaining flexible enough to welcome all types of diversity and foster a greater contribution and pride of belonging for the employees concerned.  

Our talent at Orange has no particular origin, and it is enriched through diversity. By pursuing a diversity and inclusion policy open to all profiles, we’re laying the foundations for attracting a range of potential candidates who will add great value to our company, particularly where we have gaps to fill.

Gervais Pellissier, Delegate CEO. Executive Director Human Resources and Group Transformation



How Orange commits to inclusion

Orange is committed to developing the potential of neurodiverse employees, and this is a key pillar of our equal opportunities policy, along with age, origin, sexual orientation and gender identity, opinion and disability.

Today I want to go beyond our philanthropic commitment, because I firmly believe that diversity is a catalyst for performance and growth for a company.” 

Elizabeth Tchoungui, Executive Director CSR, Diversity and Philanthropy.





Neuroteam : the Orange program dedicated to cognitive diversity

Launched to mark the Orange Foundation’s 30th anniversary in April, the Neuroteam program is the Group’s new initiative to make cognitive diversity an asset for workplace performance and well-being within the business. The initiative is proudly sponsored by Elizabeth Tchoungui and Gervais Pelissier.

The program relies on a multidisciplinary working group. This is because, to benefit the company and employees alike, it relies on all the Group’s various driving forces contributing to it. That’s why it includes representatives from different business functions along with members of the "Atypical Z" employee community. Led by the Diversity and Inclusion team, the ambition is to share experiences and update our policy to increase the recruitment, onboarding and retention of neurodiverse teams. Recruiting such talent means reducing candidates’ self-limiting barriers and reassuring them they are joining a progressive company in such matters. It also means raising awareness among managers that diverse teams are an asset that can stimulate positive change in our ecosystem, particularly among our partners and subcontractors, and promoting collective actions that can have a significant positive social impact.
The aim is to deploy Neuroteam across the Group.


The Z’Atypiques community, Orange’s internal social network

Often gifted with a high intellect potential, cognitive diversity (which broadly includes people with autism, the “dys” community, the hypersensitive and people with or without attention deficit or hyperactivity) represents around 20% of the French population. These so-called atypical profiles may think and behave in a range of different ways, sometimes lacking certain skills but sometimes offering strong creative potential and an abundance of ideas which can benefit both business and today’s society. To raise awareness, encourage discussions around cognitive diversity and break taboos, Mélodie Ardouin launched a new employee community in November 2020 – the Z'Atypiques – which has its own space on Plazza, Orange’s internal social network

“The purpose of the community is to promote cognitive diversity to benefit employee well-being while boosting the company’s performance,” she explains. “This is an open, inclusive community that welcomes people who are directly impacted or those maybe caring for someone who is, as well as people who just wish to become better informed.”
Cognitive diversity in the workplace generates creativity and concrete solutions. “Studies have shown that when there is greater cognitive diversity around a table, complex problems are solved faster and better,” she observes. 

From mentoring to support for people who are suffering at work or advice on getting a diagnosis: people can discuss, share ideas and ask questions during a monthly video call. “We want to raise awareness and promote discussion by making these subjects more widespread in the organization while improving overall workplace well-being,” adds the founder of this new community, which aims to dispel stereotypes and prejudices about neurodiversity.

More broadly, better inclusion of the different cognitive diversity profiles meets one of our four ambitions within our Engage2025 strategic plan: “creating a future-facing company together”. Members of the Z’Atypiques team are working closely with the Neuroteam program along with other companies within our workplace cognitive diversity networks, which were also co-founded by Mélodie Ardouin. “We must work hand in hand to develop soft skills and move forward together on all these subjects,” Mélodie Ardouin concludes.



SAP case study: success story

“Neurodiverse people are very diverse (!) in terms of their needs and expectations.” To avoid stereotyping, bring them on board and develop specific skills, various support structures are available including a buddy scheme run by employee volunteers. This pioneering global program led by SAP, which has been running in France for the past eight years, has shown how cognitive diversity is a real asset for the company.


Examples of support offered by SAP France 


  • A variety of workspace arrangements and equipment such as headphones or light-blocking glasses in open spaces  
  • Recognition of employees taking part in the buddy scheme 
  • Use of innovative solutions such as an @Asperteam smart watch that, on detecting high levels of stress in the wearer, can connect them with a nearby buddy
  • Working hours arranged to limit impromptu meetings
  • Delegation of work according to specific cognitive skills. This strengthens managerial skills such as empathy, listening, anticipation and workflow to limit stress and improve well-being and comfort for neurodiverse people (but in fact all employees end up benefiting) …  
Support for employees caring for neurodiverse children 

We also try to take any problems experienced by parents of neurodiverse children into account. They may need more time (even more than other parents!) along with flexible working options such as teleworking etc. This is useful, for example, if nurseries only accept their children for two hours a day 

Caroline Garnier, HR Director, SAP



The Orange Foundation is committed to helping people with autism and their families

30 years of commitment to people with autism spectrum disorders and their families
Since 1991, the Orange Foundation has been the only corporate foundation to make autism a key focus of its philanthropy (…) In three decades, €30 million has been provided to support more than 2,350 projects in Europe and Africa, including more than 200 research programs, 1,450 reception facilities and 24 inclusive housing initiatives. Every year, 3,500 people benefit from the support of the Orange Foundation in the autism sector.