Majority of HR professionals ‘do not cater for neurodiversity’ in their organisations

Businesses must reframe their ideas on how workers think to tap potential, experts say

Employers must take practical steps to ensure their workplaces are inclusive of neurodiverse employees, experts have said, as a new CIPD report revealed that just one in 10 HR professionals take neurodiversity into account in how they manage people in the workplace.

‘Neurodiversity’, an umbrella term that refers to the natural range of differences in human brain function, covers thinking styles including ADHD, dyslexia, dyspraxia and Asperger’s. A fuller list also includes conditions such as bipolar disorder and OCD.

According to the study, while around 10 per cent of the population is neurodivergent in some way, a lack of awareness and flexible HR structures within UK organisations means many are failing to enable neurodiverse individuals to perform to their full potential

More than 70 per cent of HR professionals surveyed said consideration of neurodiversity was excluded from their people management process, while 17 per cent said they did not know whether or not it was included. 

“We’re just scratching the surface of understanding how neurodiversity at work can help organisations be more creative and innovative, but the insights we already do have show the unique value that neurodivergent individuals can bring to the workforce,” said Dr Jill Miller, diversity and inclusion adviser at the CIPD. 

“However, even at a time when employers are under pressure to identify new talent pools to fill skills gaps, recruitment and development practices are screening out such individuals and the unique skills they possess.  

“Rather than measuring potential employees against a long wish list of capabilities, we need to be clear on the key skills each job requires and enable people who possess those to play to their strengths.”  

The report, released by the CIPD in partnership with neurodiversity training platform Uptimize, includes a comprehensive guide for supporting neurodiversity in the workplace, which covers areas including recruitment processes, workplace culture and management style.

A key recommendation urges companies to ensure recruitment processes – such as competency frameworks – do not filter out talented neurodivergent individuals, who may not respond to such tests in the same way as neurotypical candidates. 

Crafting job descriptions that signal that your organisation welcomes neurodivergent employees is equally important, Rosie Clarke, senior inclusion and diversity consultant at Inclusive Employers, told People Management

“Changing the language of job descriptions may seem like an easy step – but it can be a big cultural change for an organisation that has been writing them in the same way for years,” she said. 

“At the forefront, changing these behaviours will take a lot of resource time, but bringing talented people into the workplace will give the business, and society, a return in the long run.”

Clarke urged employers to scrutinise their competency frameworks and consider whether they are representative of the world today, and will bring in the right people -– remembering that there are particular jobs where someone with a neurodivergent condition may be better suited than a neurotypical one. 

The report additionally emphasised the importance of training line managers in feeling confident to assist neurodivergent employees at work, and ensuring senior leadership champion neurodiversity and create a workplace culture that celebrates difference. 

Catering for a neurodiverse workforce has recently come to the fore of current management thinking, with calls for leaders to recognise that learning how the brain works can improve employee training and help to combat unconscious bias – a factor identified in studies on discrimination.

Making this a practical reality goes beyond a clear business case for neurodiverse inclusion, towards tackling the mental and emotional biases some individuals display towards difference, Jan Hills, partner at consultancy Head Heart + Brain, told People Management. “Companies should make the business case to meet expectations, but you also need to tap into the ways our brains work,” she said.

“If people are ‘different’ to us we tend to firstly be less empathetic with them, and put them into an ‘out group’. Once someone is in that out group it is much harder for us to connect with them, and recognise their strengths.

“Changing this means helping senior leaders understand that when we see things that are different to us we mentally reject them – unless we can see what is in it for us.” 

She added that what is emerging as crucial is that many neurodivergent people are hugely talented but, as they display that talent in a way that is not ‘the norm’, the challenge is to reframe people’s thinking – from ‘this person is a bit strange’, to understanding that a person who approaches something in a completely different way should be celebrated.” 

The Neurodiversity at work report and guidance for employers is available to download on the CIPD website.