While many employers recognise the value of neurodiversity in principle, a large proportion of leaders still believe that there isn’t a business case for hiring people with neurodiverse differences and that they hinder rather than augment and enrich an organisation.
Neurodiversity refers to differences in the human brain relating to emotions, learning, mood, attention and development and includes conditions like autism, ADHD, dyslexia, dyscalculia and dyspraxia. More than 1% of us are on the autistic spectrum and 10% of us are dyslexic, 10% are dyspraxia and the prevalence of ADHD in the adult population is thought to be between 3% and 4% which totals a considerable percentage of the working population, but these often talented individuals are still struggling to get good jobs. Over 80% of autistic adults are unemployed and 28% of long-term unemployed are dyslexic.
Many companies who are ahead of the game, such as GCHQ, Dell and Microsoft, actively seek neurodivergent talent for their unique abilities because their ability to think differently is highly valued, but Thom Dennis, CEO of Serenity in Leadership believes we are too slow at recognising neurodiverse talent.
“We see employers struggling to want to go the extra mile to support those who might have a few extra needs like needing more time to complete a project or wanting to work certain hours. However the advantages of employing those whose brains are wired a bit differently means benefitting from their abundant strengths, abilities, talents and ways of thinking, and seeing their talent as an opportunity, rather than some sort of drain or extra hassle.
“Colleagues who are neurodiverse often have increased valuable skills such as lateral thinking, analysis, consistency, and creativity. They may be more resilient, possess an advanced capacity to pay attention to intricate details, have a fantastic memory, and thrive at repetitive, structured work. Let’s not forget that some of our global past and present greatest talents were thought to have or have dyslexia for example, including Leonardo da Vinci, Napoleon, Winston Churchill, Carl Jung, Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison, Keira Knightley, Steven Spielberg, Whoopi Goldberg and Daniel Radcliffe amongst many.
“Ultimately businesses who value neurodiversity appreciate other viewpoints, attitudes, original ideas and innovative thinking. They want to be part of the fight against ignorance, prejudice and stereotypes and to lead towards improved understanding and respect. They also welcome people to bring their genuine selves to work and want to foster a healthier, more inclusive and creative work environment. Whilst benefiting from all of that, they are also likely to see a boost to company reputation and benefits to the bottom-line.”
How to be actively inclusive to colleagues with neurodiversity
- Avoid labelling As humans, we favour those who fit our ‘normal’ profile, labelling those who don’t as ‘different’ which can lead to individuals being excluded or treated unfairly. This belief must be consciously challenged. Keep intersectionality in mind to broaden your perspective. For example, someone with dyslexia will also have a variety of other identities and skills. They may be a great artist, a mother to three and a talented communicator.
- Recognise that neurodiverse applicants are premium candidates who should be empowered rather than being offered a position as some sort of symbolic goodwill gesture. Implement neuro-inclusive recruitment efforts to offer prospects for people who might otherwise be neglected or overlooked. Check for unconscious bias toward identikit employees and look for people who bring something new to your team.
- Create a neurodiversity support toolkit and clearly state who to contact for assistance. Offer training to employees who are unfamiliar with neurodiversity in order to help them understand the experiences of their co-workers. Use appropriate language to discuss differences to prevent causing offence or speaking out of turn.
- Encourage senior neurodiverse leaders to be open and transparent. Champion discussion and motivate people to talk about neurodiversity in order to raise awareness and foster understanding.
- Include neurodivergent co-workers in making changes. Don’t assume you know what is best for them. Develop mechanisms for identifying, meeting, and funding reasonable adjustments. Ascertain that flexible work arrangements are in place. Think ahead of time when encountering transition periods that come as a result of unforeseen change, changes to employment, or other factors, so that any potential hurdles can be addressed in advance. For people who thrive in a stable and predictable environment, unexpected changes can be quite disruptive.
- Create a friendly and inclusive workplace culture where all team members can grow, be respected and supported, and where stigma is challenged and discrimination, prejudice, victimisation, harassment, or a lack of inclusion is not permitted. Look after mental health and create safe spaces for all.