Being more neurodiversity-friendly can benefit everyone

Why should more organisations make an effort to hire neurodiverse people? Kate Burnett discusses the benefits this can bring to both employer and workforce

Neurodiversity is a term used to describe people who think differently to the majority, and is often mentioned in relation to conditions including autism, attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD), dyslexia, dyspraxia, dyscalculia and Tourette’s syndrome.

A poll conducted by the CIPD in 2018 found that just 10 per cent of HR professionals in the UK considered neurodiversity in their organisation's people management practices. Alarmingly, 72 per cent said neurodiversity was not included.

The Equality Act 2010 made it a legal requirement for employers to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ for people with disabilities, an area that neurodiversity falls under according to the legislation.

Given around 10 per cent of the UK population is neurodivergent in some way, more businesses must start making a concerted effort to become more neurodiverse friendly.

It is important to remember that each neurodevelopmental condition is unique, with a broad range of strengths and weaknesses, so there isn’t a ‘one size fits all’ approach or solution.

Each organisation is on its own journey and has its own capabilities, so it may be a case of taking this one step at a time.

Perhaps the most important message to remember is that each individual is unique, whether they are neurodivergent or neurotypical, so it is important to set up a supportive working environment.

Helping businesses understand autism in the workplace

According to the National Autistic Society, there are around 700,000 people on the autism spectrum in the UK and just 16 per cent of autistic adults are in full-time, paid employment. Over three-quarters (77 per cent) of those who are unemployed say they want to work.

Using insights from NHS experts, case studies and best practice, our Autism Employer Guide helps organisations to understand autism and its potential to diversify and expand the pool of talent available to them.

Matt Davis, co-owner of London advertising agency Red Brick Road, recently discovered the range of benefits – as well as the initial challenges – that hiring someone with autism presents.

Matt connected with the charities Scope and Ambitious about Autism to see if there were any people they were working with who would like work experience in the data and marketing industry.

They suggested Chris Cooper, who was struggling to kick-start a career due to a lack of opportunities related to his autism. Together, they agreed for Chris to be part of a trial work experience initiative at Red Brick Road.

Despite some initial challenges with social interaction, Matt strongly believes that not only has Chris become increasingly confident and socially active, he is now essentially a ‘social glue’ that ties different divisions together.

Chris’s work extends across their finance and creative teams, so he has really helped to enhance communication between these departments.

In addition, Chris is incredibly punctual, loyal, focused, and efficient. His work on internal communications and finance transactions demonstrates excellent accuracy and efficiency. Chris also has a highly creative approach to his work, often recommending solutions that others may not have thought about.

Prior to Chris joining the team, all staff attended autism training, and this can often be essential for making any diversity project a success.

“Hiring an autistic employee is one of the best things we have ever done,” says Matt.

Perhaps Chris sums up best why companies should be more proactive with embarking on their neurodiversity journey: “For me, being seen as unemployed and disabled affected my mental health. It made me feel useless in society but at the same time I knew I had something genuine to offer, I just didn’t know where I could display my strengths. It’s made me believe I can have a normal life.”

Kate Burnett is general manager at DMA Talent