Half of managers uncomfortable employing a neurodivergent worker, report finds

Experts warn the valuable contributions of those with conditions such as autism, dyslexia and Tourette’s syndrome will be lost if businesses don’t do more

Half of managers (50 per cent) admit they would be uncomfortable hiring a neurodivergent individual, according to a study.

The report, by the Institute of Leadership & Management, revealed the highest level of bias was against employees with Tourette’s syndrome and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) – with one in three businesses (32 per cent) saying they would be uncomfortable employing or managing someone with either of those conditions.

One in four respondents (26 per cent) said they would be uncomfortable taking on someone  with dyscalculia, with the same number saying this about autism. One in five (19 per cent) said the same for dyspraxia, and one in 10 (10 per cent) cited dyslexia.

The report, which polled 1,156 managers, warned “many people who have neurodivergent conditions experience exclusion, discrimination and damaging stereotyping within the workplace”.

“It is a common misconception that people having one of these conditions, such as dyslexia or autism, are less intelligent and less able, whereas in fact there is no association between intelligence and neurodiversity,” it said.

One in seven of the population has some form of neurodivergence – a term for conditions such as autism, ADHD, dyscalculia, dyslexia, dyspraxia and Tourette’s syndrome.

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Kate Cooper, head of research, policy and standards at the Institute of Leadership & Management, said: “There are acknowledged benefits that neuro-minorities bring to our businesses, so we are calling for greater inclusivity for neurodivergent people in the workplace – or their valuable, diverse contributions will be lost.”

Diane Lightfoot, chief executive of the Business Disability Forum, said the report’s findings highlighted “the lack of awareness and even fear that can exist around recruiting and managing people with neurodiverse conditions”. 

“Senior leaders must challenge these perceptions or risk future discrimination cases,” she said, adding: “Employers that overlook – or worse, discriminate against – neuro-minorities are missing out on a huge talent pool. Too often as a society we see delivery valued over content and creativity and miss out on the many skills and attributes that people with neurodiverse conditions can bring.”

This was echoed by Abdul Wahab, diversity and inclusion adviser at the CIPD, who called for employers to prioritise neurodiversity as part of their diversity and inclusion efforts. “Creating allyship programmes, which has worked so well for other areas of inclusion, can have a major impact in supporting employees with alternative thinking styles, as well as ensuring employers have neurodiversity firmly on their agenda,” he said.

The research also revealed that only 30 per cent of respondents were certain that neurodiversity was cited in their company’s inclusion and diversity policy and procedures. Just 19 per cent were confident neurodiversity was explicitly covered in bullying and harassment policies and procedures.

One respondent to the poll, a team leader in the private sector, commented: “My brother, who has Asperger’s, has been subject to awful bullying and harassment in his industry because of the lack of understanding in his workplace on the condition. I would love to see more policies [and] training in place in the workplace to make people aware of neurodivergent individuals and how they think, feel and behave.”

The report said employers needed to provide unconscious bias and inclusion training for all staff and should “be open to the opportunities presented by employing neurodivergent staff”.

Lightfoot added that simple adjustments could be really helpful in supporting neurodivergent people. “Work trials rather than traditional panel interviews, exceptions to a hot desk policy or providing assisting technology – or just supporting the new employee to share how they communicate with their wider team – can make all the difference,” she said.

Neil Barker, director of HR at Specialist Autism Services, said: “Employers are missing out on a skilled and able workforce by dismissing people because of their diagnosis”

“There needs to be more done to educate people that being neurodivergent does not mean that someone is unable to perform a job role less effectively than someone who is neurotypical.”