How your business can embrace neurodiversity

As Neurodiversity Celebration Week draws to a close, Mandy Ogle explains the simple steps HR can take to better support neurodivergent members of their workforce

It has been encouraging to see such a positive response to Neurodiversity Celebration Week and incredible to think of the progress that has been made over the last few years. The more progressive businesses are realising the benefits of a diverse workforce and are now looking to weave in neurodiversity considerations into their current talent strategies but with only one in 10 organisations focusing on neurodiversity at work, according to 2018 research from the CIPD, there is still much to be done. 

After years of realising I experienced the world slightly differently to others, I was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) as an adult. Like so many others, I experienced a real sense of relief at finally having a better understanding of why I experienced the world as I did. I am also fortunate to work at Green Park, which champions the power of difference. However, there are too many others who don’t feel comfortable disclosing their condition in their workplaces. Additionally, when thinking about the intersections between women and neurodiversity, it can’t be ignored that so many more girls and women are being excluded from this narrative. As Corine Sheratte, senior D&I consultant at Green Park, reflects: “Women tend to be more effective at social-masking than men, so can naturally assimilate themselves into social peer groups and wider society. However, it is important to understand that if an employee is diagnosed later in life, this should not be seen as a barrier to their success in the workplace.”

The term ‘neurodiversity’ refers to differences in the human brain relating to emotions, learning, mood, attention and development, representing our cognitive variability and the different ways we process the world. While we all have diverse and different brains, neurodiversity also encompasses the expected 15-20 per cent of people with conditions such as an autism spectrum condition, ADHD, attention deficit disorder (ADD), dyslexia, dyscalculia, developmental language disorder, dyspraxia and social anxiety disorders.

Clearly no two people are the same and conditions vary greatly with ADD, autism, dyslexia and dyspraxia often co-occurring and affecting a range of intellectual abilities. From an employer’s point of view, certain neurodivergent conditions may be regarded as a disability under the Equality Act 2010. However, many neurodivergent individuals, typically do not describe themselves as disabled, rather the expectations of a neurotypical world can make them feel this way. As Sheratte states: "In my work, neurodiversity has been referred to as an intellectual impairment or disability. As a result of this common conflation, I have seen some organisations include neurodiversity under disability within data collection mechanisms – or exclude it altogether. This is a problem as it serves to create further barriers for neurodivergent individuals across the talent journey.”

Not only does the inclusion of the neurodivergent provide access to hidden talent pools but talent retention rates are seen to be substantially higher. This acceptance and inclusion strongly correlate with employee well-being and mental health across the board.  

Leveraging the unique strengths of neurodiverse candidates has shown to facilitate greater innovation, organisational culture, talent retention and more effective decision making. Therefore, not only is a focus on neurodiversity both morally and socially the right thing to do, but commercially it can bring economic benefits for business. In fact, JPMorgan Chase reports that professionals in its ‘Autism at Work’ initiative make fewer errors and are between 90 and 140 per cent more productive than neurotypical employees.

With a focus on the strengths of neurodiversity, employers are empowered to feel more confident and employees to feel better supported. Leadership drives inclusion, so by making senior management teams aware of the benefits of neurodiversity and the critical contribution of diversity of thought to an innovative workforce, organisations can achieve greater competitive advantage. 

Rather than focusing on the labels, businesses can make a number of reasonable adjustments that would support various presentations across neurodiversity during the recruitment process and within the workplace. These include:

  • Having an awareness of the language used in job descriptions with clear distinction provided between essential skills and experience and desirable.
  • Including a diversity statement welcoming diverse talent in job adverts, as well as a clear explanation on the recruitment process and timelines.
  • Training interviewers. Virtual interviews can be made harder when visual cues of body language are taken away and with many struggling to read nuances. Interviewers should also be made aware that neurodivergent candidates will often literally answer the question asked rather than expanding their answer to highlight any additional skills or experience. This may, therefore, require additional prompting. 
  • Before considering how to retain neurodivergent talent, it is important to ensure the general workforce is educated so they understand differences and have a more empathetic approach to other’s differences. Biases need to be addressed head on throughout the recruitment process, career progression and assessments to ensure neurodivergent talent isn’t disadvantaged.
  • Simple reasonable adjustments can be made to help daily work life. For example, flexible working hours to provide quiet time to focus, not having to hot desk, ability to take short breaks or simply technology to increase accessibility of the work. 
  • Mentors and career support also play an important role to ensure employees are aware of career opportunities and can be offered guidance as they may struggle to network or recognise career development opportunities. 

If we throw away the one-size-fits-all approach by building a culture of understanding and empathy, the whole workforce will benefit. How many of us have heard colleagues and clients proclaim they find the workplace more tiring and emotionally draining since returning from lockdown? If workplaces recognise and leverage the strengths that difference can bring, they can create a culture that brings out the best in everyone and inspires the confidence and authenticity to maximise the potential of individuals, teams, and organisations.

Mandy Ogle is a director at Green Park