Unemployment rates for neurodivergent adults are at or above 40 percent — but it’s not just individuals seeking employment who suffer when networking and workplace opportunities are inaccessible. 

According to The Center for Neurodiversity and Employment Innovation, that rate —three times higher than for those with disabilities, and eight times higher than for those without a disability— is a conservative estimate, one that in all likelihood is higher. At the same time, job vacancies in a wide range of industries remain unfilled as employers struggle to connect with qualified candidates. 

But what if barriers to employer and employment access could be eliminated with simple, intentional steps to facilitate connections?

To address this disparity locally, The Enterprise Center has partnered with the City of Chattanooga’s Workforce and Human Resources departments and the Chattanooga Autism Center to offer a new inclusive networking event to be held quarterly: Networking & Neurodiversity — A Different Kind of Happy Hour.

On Wednesday, March 22 from 4:30-6:30 p.m., area organizations and employers like Chattanooga State, Unum, STEAM Logistics, and more will have tables in one space on Floor Five of The Edney, while Game On Chatt will offer interactive opportunities for attendees to engage with one another in an adjacent area. In addition to spaces for general conversation, separate breakaway rooms for smaller, focused exchanges will also be available, with considerations for lighting, noise sensitivity, and more. 

“Networking in a traditional ‘happy hour’ environment can feel overwhelming to many people, who then miss out on incredible opportunities to connect just because the space was not conducive to the ways in which neurodiverse people often feel most comfortable engaging,” explained TEC CEO Deb Socia. “With simple, intentional adjustments, we wanted to provide a different sort of experience, where both employers and potential employees feel the benefit.”

Although the event is geared toward those who are neurodiverse, Networking & Neurodiversity is open to anyone — employer or employee — looking to connect.

“The City of Chattanooga is proud to partner with inclusive events like Networking & Neurodiversity,” said Director of Workforce Strategy Quentin Lawrence. “This is an opportunity not just for individuals looking for work, but for area employers to engage with a wide array of talented individuals and to understand how together we can create a stronger workforce that’s more representative of our diverse and dynamic community.”

For more information or to RSVP to the free event, visit the Eventbrite page. Food and beverages will be provided by The Bitter Alibi. 

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