11 January, 2023

Neurodiversity in the Workplace: An Interview with Raj Tulsiani, CEO & Founder of Green Park

Raj Tulsiani can be described as an innovator, author and entrepreneur, and has become one of the UK’s leading figures in executive search and workforce diversification. He has been spearheading change across the leadership, talent and diversity industry for over twenty years and has built a reputation for driving ethical, inclusive, fair and transparent recruitment practices. He is the author of, ‘Diversity and Inclusion for Leaders: Making a Difference with the Diversity Headhunter and CEO and Founder of global talent advisory firm Green Park.

An industry pioneer in building diverse senior leadership teams and more equitable workplace cultures, Green Park’s mission is to change the face of leadership by helping organisations to think differently about talent. As CEO, Raj has enabled Green Park to become an award-winning global talent consultancy, which has featured in both the Financial Times’ list of 1000 Fastest Growing Companies and the Sunday Times Virgin Atlantic Fast Track 100. It is to no surprise that Raj has been awarded a Lifetime Diversity Achievement Award.

In this interview, Svetlana Chigozie Onye, Researcher in Green Park’s Civil Society & Government Executive Search Practice explores Raj’s experience as a neurodiverse leader, from his unique upbringing to becoming the CEO he is today. This includes Raj’s insights into the current market, his business tips on diversity, and why authenticity is the greatest life advice to receive.


1. At what age did you realise you were neurodiverse and in what ways has that differentiated your experiences and how you interact with the world around you?

I always knew I experienced things differently. For a long time, I thought it was because of my upbringing since at that time there wasn’t many dual-heritage people that I knew of. I also came from a background that had both alcoholism and violence, so I thought that the world was different because of these experiences. From an educational perspective, people didn’t see the things in the same way that I did, and, in those days, we didn’t have as sophisticated recognition of the early signs of neurodiversity, so whether it was detention or punishment or being told off, I was always being told that I was lazy. I probably would have been in my early teens when I found out that I had a learning difficulty, but the result was just getting extra time in exams, so it didn’t make a difference to me. So, like many other people, being neurodiverse became about finding other ways to cope.


2. How did finding out you were neurodiverse influence the way you perceived yourself?

It had a massive effect on my self-esteem and anxiousness towards education, but it also made me resilient when it comes to not relying on other people and looking at things in a different way. Some of the great geniuses and artists were neurodiverse, there’s nothing to be ashamed of.


3. Have you ever experienced or witnessed stigma towards neurodiversity in the workplace and how have perceptions of neurodiversity changed throughout your career?

I’ve always had difficulty with my written work, even when I had my first job in recruitment. I write gibberish but I enjoy writing. In some corporate environments they didn’t like how I talked, how I wrote and how I expressed myself and non-visible diversity was not recognised or valued. It’s better than it was when I started in this industry in 1996, so we’ve definitely progressed significantly.


4. Throughout your career, how has neurodiversity shaped you as a recruiter and a leader?

What I’ve learnt from being a recruiter, head-hunter and a business owner is that you must stand for something, so I think the most important advice I could give people is to be authentic. Seeing the world differently shouldn’t be viewed as a negative but instead it should be a business tool. In Green Park, we are fortunate that the world has turned toward us and now recognises the beliefs we hold valuable and have done since our inception in 2006; that diversity is a source of competitive advantage. However, the truth is that we’d be standing here and fighting this cause anyway even if organisations weren’t ready to listen.

Since we began, many firms have jumped on the ‘diversity bandwagon’ without taking action in their own business or in their own leadership team. But you can’t get anywhere, in terms of real progress, without trust and transparency and unless your actions are authentic and backed up with lived experience and data. Most of all, it’s about honest communication because, as a head-hunter, one thing that makes the big difference is relationship capital.


5. Has being neurodiverse influenced your drive for innovation?

I wouldn’t call myself a natural innovator; innovation is driven out of necessity or frustration, and I was frustrated that people that I knew that were really good at what they do weren’t getting opportunities. If I wasn’t neurodiverse, I don’t think I would look at the issues in the industry as differently. Instead I would likely fall into the same patterns and behaviours of thinking that many head-hunters in executive recruitment are still compelled to  defend.


6. You are the CEO of a firm that spearheads Diversity, Equity & Inclusion. DEI conversations have in the past focussed heavily on gender and more recently on Race and LGBTQ+. Why do you think it’s important that we also consider neurodiversity as another core part of our DEI conversations?

As a business leader diversity should be viewed in terms of  profit and loss, not a situation where you are doing people a favour. Business is driven by self-interest and although the murder of George Floyd caused an outcry about race inequality, my reality is that no one really wants to change unless it’s in their best self-interest. I believe that diversity in the workplace is like a renewable fuel but the only way to create an engine that gives you benefit from that fuel is to make clear, understandable, incrementable improvements toward inclusion. Businesses can’t do that by leaving people out. Also, most of us wear more than one hat, particularly when we talk about disability, so the whole way we look at intersectional inclusion within our workplace cultures needs to move away from a box ticking exercises in order to minimise risks.


7. What practical steps can organisations take to be more inclusive?

I talk about this a lot in my book, Diversity and Inclusion for Leaders: Making a Difference with the Diversity Headhunter, but one thing especially worth highlighting is career equity. How does someone build equity in their career through your organisation? When it comes to relationship equity, opportunity, pay – what are the disparities for people with different lived experiences in your organisation?  Ultimately, is it a fair organisation?

A lot of organisations don’t really think about diversity in a way that can drive great benefit because they are focused on problems on the demand side and are subject to groupthink in leadership. Now with a move toward greater social capitalism, pressure around DEI is building and it’s important organisations recognise that inclusion is more than a marketing gimmick. However,  most businesses don’t even know what quadrant they are in in terms of diversity maturity and without knowing that they can’t credibly take steps towards building a more inclusive organisation and driving competitive advantage for the future. So, understanding where your organisation is in its diversity journey is the first step.


8. How can organisations ensure that their commitment and intersectional approach to DEI is long-term and stays at the top of the business agenda despite changing social and economic trends as we enter a new recession?

We should look at diversity as a business tool, a recession is irrelevant. There’s still plenty of opportunities for businesses and I would argue that the less money you have then the more you need to be innovative and relevant to your customers. The UK has one of the most dramatically changing demographics in the G7, and if businesses want to tap into these talent pools, they must be able to engage with a broader range of people and build their trust. That is why we have a real problem in the UK of exporting diverse British talent, particularly among black leadership where we lose more Black British leaders to other countries than we employ in our own FTSE250.

Diverse candidates now have a greater expectation of equality from their employers, so they expect businesses to be inclusive when they say they are. Leaders vote with their labour and will go to places where they believe in the businesses’ purpose and values because, as generations pass, people believe business should be a force for good.


9. For those who may experience the world differently or have a different lived experience to the ‘majority,’ what advice would you give to help them utilise their difference as their strength?

Seeing the world differently is an advantage, but it will only feel like an advantage if you take control over it. You’ve got to own it. That’s really difficult if you are a natural introvert, but like with anything, it is a managed skill. The workplace is not a meritocracy, so for me it is about mindset: I am what I am, and I’m going to try to do the best that I can do. If that means I can work with you then great, if I can’t that’s okay too, I’m still going to try and do the best I can do. Therefore, the best advice I can give you is to do your best; you can only control the controllables so focus on what is important for you and be the CEO of your own life.

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