Neurodiversity @ IBM

Natalia Lyckowski: The Path to Empowering Actionable Acceptance

"Neurodivergent acceptance is the culture change needed to 'cultivate the soil' of the workplace. It will allow new seeds
(new neurodivergent talent) to take root, established plants (existing neurodivergent employees) to thrive, and the
environment better for everyone," 

- Natalia Lyckowski, Neurodiversity@IBM Global BRG Co-Chair

Tell me about yourself.

I’m a proud neurodivergent and parent to an autistic IT Professional. I have worked in the tech industry for more than 25 years and am based in Tafton, Pennsylvania. My passions lie in empowering other neurodivergent individuals to blossom and bring their whole selves to any room they’re in. For example, I teach others to embrace their differences as strengths. I also pride myself in servant leadership and have spent more than 10 years mentoring, coaching, and educating neurodivergent individuals and their caregivers.

What is your role at IBM?

I am an Application Developer on IBM’s Global Financing team and also serve as the Global Co-Chair to IBM’s Neurodiversity Business Resource Group (BRG).

As an application developer, I manage projects with global clients to determine scope, business processes and corresponding system solutions. I also work with Waterfall and Agile software development through all phases of its life cycle. This includes learning a client’s business process, translating procedures into system requirements, testing, installation, system maintenance, technical writing, and continued customer partnerships for future deployments.

As the Global Co-Chair of IBM’s Neurodiversity BRG, I empower members within IBM by promoting an inclusive workplace culture and neurodivergent acceptance. I also work closely with our allies to cultivate a place for all IBMers to feel welcomed to come out at work and externally in our global communities.

What are some interesting projects you’ve worked on during your time at IBM?

In 2015, I joined IBM’s “Autism as a Skill” Business Resource Group, that later rebranded as Neurodiversity@IBM to support all neurological differences. In 2016, I became the Co-chair, where I helped the organization reach over 1,400 members of both neurodivergent individuals and neurotypical allies. Since then, we helped launch neurodivergent targeted hiring programs in eight countries and enablement (acceptance) training in over 30 countries. Our motto is “Nothing About Us – Without Us” – which means neurodivergent individuals need to help guide the conversation and not only be spoken about by well-intentioned neurotypical allies.

One of my favorite initiatives was to develop a virtual safe space community, where neurodivergent IBMers can network with each other for support and rally to help create and vet programming to further help our mission. These projects are all important to me in that they help pave a more equitable society for me, my son and many other neurodivergent individuals.

How does technology or the work you do at IBM impact society?

The work I do is important because I provide the industry with a unique perspective, one that positively shapes the way we present solutions to our clients. Being neurodivergent enables me to think creatively, remain agile, multi-task and to be persistent. It helps me see the big picture and how things and people connect across different business functions and even culture. It gives me emotional intelligence qualities like empathy. All of these things combined seed into IBM’s broader mission, which is to provide inclusive, trustworthy tech to the world.

What does Neurodiversity Acceptance Month mean to you?

The 14th Annual United Nations sanctioned World Autism Awareness Day is April 2nd, but IBM is expanding this one day of recognition to the entire month of April and is celebrating all neurological differences. We will be sharing stories and providing opportunities to increase understanding and awareness, with a movement toward acceptance, leading to advancement of all neurodivergent people by fostering worldwide support for Neurodiversity. It is a time to celebrate the outstanding contributions neurodivergent individuals have brought to society. Neurodiversity@IBM is important to me because it's who I am. Having this acceptance month supported at a company level has created fertile ground where neurodivergents can blossom and bring our whole selves to work.

What is an interesting fact about you that not many people know?

Many people may not know that I’m a third generation Scout and have served in many leadership positions with the Boy Scouts of America for over 10 years, including National and World Scout Jamborees. I am the Scoutmaster and founder of Scouts BSA Troop 2619 for young women. I’m also a diversity champion in this space, helping to build an environment where anyone can be a scout if they choose to.

If you could give business leaders one piece of advice, what would it be?

My advice would be to shift the conversation from passive awareness to actionable acceptance. The first step in cultivating an inclusive culture is to be aware of diverse voices, but your work should not stop there. Organizations should play an active role in ensuring the neurodivergent community is not only included in the conversation but given key stakeholder and leadership roles and be respected just as any other identity group. This will help educate and develop initiatives that improve trust and allyship.