'Change the narrative' | The importance of neurodiversity in the workplace

The importance of neurodiversity in the workplace

Today marks the start of Neurodiversity Celebration Week, a worldwide initiative set up to challenge the stereotypes and misconceptions about neurological differences.

Created in 2018, the campaign aims to transform how neurodivergent individuals are perceived and supported by providing schools, universities, and businesses with the opportunities to recognise the many talents and advantages of being neurodivergent, while creating more inclusive and equitable cultures that celebrate differences and empower every individual.

Founder Siena Castellon, who has ADHD, dyslexia and dyspraxia, said the ultimate goal is to “change the narrative and create a balanced view which focuses equally on our talents and strengths.”

And it seems there is still much of the narrative that needs changing when it comes to UK workplace, for a new national survey of 2,000 people has revealed that just 16% of UK workers feel their employer is very inclusive to neurodivergent individuals.

The research, commissioned by global provider of workforce and advisory solutions, Resource Solutions, also suggests that among those aged 25 to 34 years old, only 11% believe their employer has created a workplace that is inclusive for neurodivergent employees. 50% of this age group think their employers are somewhat inclusive, while nearly a quarter (23%) are unsure.

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However, the capital has made more progress in this area, with almost three-quarters (72%) of people polled living in London believing that their employers take at least some form of action to accommodate the neurodiverse, compared to 41% in Wales and 45% in the Northwest.

Of the findings, Phill Brown, Practice Director – Data Analytics & Insights at Resource Solutions, commented: “Our data indicates that despite diversity of thought being crucial for growth and innovation, employers are still failing to accommodate the neurodiverse.

“Addressing the barriers neurodiverse staff face in the workplace has clear benefits. From reflecting the diverse profile of your customers to tapping into a valuable pool with a very different skill set, it’s crucial businesses build an all-inclusive workplace that caters for all.

“London is the most accommodating for neurodiverse employees in the UK and it is great to see employers in the capital implementing reasonable adjustment policies that consider the needs of all their current and future staff. It’s now vital businesses across the whole nation consider how to adapt their processes that typically cater to the neurotypical.”

‘It’s about time employers educate themselves’

Kate Palmer, HR Advice & Consultancy Director at Peninsula, said that with one in seven of the UK population now falling within the neurodivergent category, it’s estimated that 30-40% of neurodivergent employees are unemployed. That’s three times the rate of people with physical disabilities and eight times the rate of people without disabilities.

“It’s about time that employers educate themselves and ensure their workplaces are suitable to welcome neurodivergent individuals to their teams,” Palmer explained.

The risk of not doing so? There was a 40% rise in employment tribunals relating to autism and a 14% rise in dyslexia claims in 2021 compared with previous years, indicating that discrimination on these grounds is being brought to the fore.

Palmer said: “There is an abundance of benefits to hiring neurodivergent people, some of which include high levels of attention to detail, good memory, drive and passion, and creativity – which are usually much sought-after characteristics when recruiting.

“Studies have found that neurodivergent teams are 30% more productive than neurotypical ones and made fewer errors.”

However, there’s a wealth of reasons that may prevent a neurodivergent individual from thriving in the workplace – or from even applying for a role at all, as Palmer explains.

“To better open your arms to neurodivergent applicants, employers should consider amending their recruitment processes. Job adverts should steer clear of terms that might be too broad and open to interpretation like ‘good communicator’ and ‘team player’. Instead, focus solely on the technical skills required.

“It’s not uncommon for those who are neurodivergent to struggle with social situations, so instead of traditional interviews, a trial work period may be preferred, or allow a supporter to attend the interview.”

Once you’ve made your hiring processes neurodivergent-friendly, what next?

Well, the support needs to continue throughout the employment journey. You may need to make reasonable adjustments. For example, allowing work to take place from a quiet area; offering flexibility with working hours to reduce distraction, stress, and fatigue; managing any sensory issues which can be minimised by desk partitions, noise cancelling headphones, adjusting lighting, etc.; introducing mentors to support in social situations; and providing an explanation of any unwritten rules of the workplace.

But first, you need to establish a culture of open communication where your people feel comfortable and empowered to ask questions, raise concerns, and request support.

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Non-visible disabilities should be addressed by employers in the same way as visible ones, so consider rolling out equality and diversity training to your management teams to help them feel confident in approaching conversations about neurodiversity, so that they are better able to aid impacted staff and help them to thrive.

Supplement these approaches with robust policies relating to equal opportunities and workplace diversity which should tie into wider policies and procedures that communicate a zero-tolerance stance against any form of bullying, harassment, or discrimination.

Introducing a standalone neuro-inclusion policy, which can provide a description of the conditions and how they should be approached at work by colleagues and managers and should highlight the reasonable adjustments available, removes any ambiguity about the way that they should and can be supported.

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