In the world of D&I (diversity and inclusion), unconscious bias training is more widely used than ever before to help people understand how managers are reinforcing societies long-held views on gender, ethnicity and sexual orientation, among other things. However, an areas yet to be embraced in the same way, due in part to its invisibility, is neurodiversity.
Our journey into neurodiversity started very recently at an event hosted by Creative Equals. We wrote about it here. It’s long been recognised that neurodiverse people have unique qualities that business can leverage, and they can excel in specific areas. Neurodiverse people can solve problems that their own staff often can't solve because they can see the whole picture.
Neurodiversity in the workplace refers to workers with autism, dyslexia and other non-visible neurological disabilities. Neurodiversity is a fundamentally an umbrella term that means you are not neuro-typical and that your strengths and weaknesses are extreme and juxtaposed.
People living with neurodiversity are specialists but have big disparity between things they are good at and those they are not. For example, a neurodiverse person can be a genius with an exceptional long-term memory (as autistic people do), but be less good at processing or working memory.
When it comes to neurodiversity in the workplace, there are some startling facts:
- A mere 16% of people in the UK living with autism have a job
- 25% of the UK’s prison population suffer from ADHD
- Only 1% of corporate managers have dyslexia yet the population norm is at 10%
Large and multinational organisations are finally taking action to create more inclusive working environments, from Microsoft to GCHQ.
Michael Vermeersch, Digital Inclusion Lead at Microsoft, has reshaped the corporate recruitment process and work place experience for neurodiverse people, to seek new autistic coders and to ensure that the tech giant would not miss out on this great talent pool. Similarly, GCHQ has been targeting dyslexic analysts who literally think outside the box.
Diversity has a strong business case. Greater innovation capability, increased productivity and cohesion being among them. Hiring people that do and think differently is key, and it is becoming easier to track their successes as employers capture the right data.
Nancy Doyle, a chartered psychologist with a specialism in neurodiversity, disability employment, coaching and assessment, recommends a wave of actions and adjustments organisations can take to create more inclusive working environments. Here is what she recommends:
Neurodiversity adjustments tend to fall into four main categories:
- assistive technology (such as speech-to-text or vice versa);
- workplace tools (such as dual screens);
- coaching for literacy; and
- coaching for “executive functions”, such as concentration and memory.
There are also low-cost / no-cost adjustments an organisation can make including:
- schedule flexibility, or avoiding rush-hour for example, for people who are overwhelmed by noise and being squashed;
- environmental flexibility, or allowing the buffering of open-plan offices by sitting people in the corner, working from a small room when needing to concentrate on an important report for example;
- feedback flexibility, or spending additional time on instructions or debriefs. While this one may seem unreasonable as it requires extra time – would you consider spending additional time working out an access into a building for an individual in a wheelchair? Sometimes additional investment is required but usually only in the induction phase and this makes it reasonable for most employers; and
- training flexibility – giving out handouts in advance, letting people know the structure of the day in advance, ensuring there are plenty of breaks.
Systemic inclusion is the way to go, and how organisations and people with neurodiversity will thrive and grow. It makes financial sense and pays dividends in terms of talent and loyalty.
Doyle suggests being proactive. “Don’t wait for people to start having problems. Ask: how can we support you to work at your best? Get into the ideas of flexibility, versatility, personalisation of working processes. When you have an organisation that insists everybody does something the same way, that's where you are going to start excluding people. And the workplace needs neurodiversity – because the world is neurodiverse.”