Why you should embrace neurodiversity in the workplace
Embracing neurodiversity in the workplace is slowly but surely gaining traction. Neurodivergent people have historically been woefully underrepresented in the country’s workforce. However, given the right tools and support to flourish, neurodiverse workers can add huge value to forward-thinking organisations. Here’s our guide to supporting neurodiversity in the workplace.
What Does ‘Neurodiverse’ Mean?
Neurodiversity (ND) refers to how each person’s brain functions and interprets information differently. Although we all show some signs of neurodivergence, expressed in our different interests and personality traits, most people in the UK are considered ‘neurotypical’. In other words, they think, behave and process information in predictable ways. But an estimated 15-20 percent of the world’s population is neurodivergent.
That umbrella term covers a range of neurological conditions. Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is usually the most commonly associated because the neurodiversity movement grew from the autistic rights movement of the 1990s. But neurodiversity is broader than ASD alone. Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), dyslexia, dyspraxia and Tourette’s syndrome are just a few of the other conditions that also come under this category.
In the UK, around one in seven people identify as neurodivergent. That’s more than 15 percent of the population. According to the National Autistic Society, there are around 700,000 autistic adults and children in the UK. Or one person in every 100. Meanwhile, the British Dyslexia Association estimates that ten percent of Britons are dyslexic, with around 4% of those at the more severe end of the dyslexia continuum.
The neurodiversity movement promotes the idea that neurological differences should be recognised and respected, just like any other human difference. Far from needing to be ‘cured’ – a still common but misguided sentiment – neurodivergent people need to be accommodated better to flourish. Both in society and the workplace. For that to truly happen, there needs to be greater awareness, understanding and a willingness to help.
Neurodiversity In The Workplace
The current picture of neurodiversity in the workplace is stark. According to figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), just 21.7 percent of autistic people in the UK are in employment. In fact, of all the neurodivergent groups, autistic people are the least likely to be employed. This is despite the fact that neurodiverse workers are legally protected against discrimination in the workplace under the Equality Act 2010.
The glaring lack of neurodiverse workers is a massive missed opportunity for potential talent and employers alike. Just as gender and cultural differences bring a more diverse outlook to the workplace, neurodivergent personnel can also provide a different way of thinking. Quite literally. Rather than hindering performance and productivity, a challenge to the status quo through neurodivergent ideas and approaches can add a competitive edge.
This insight is not lost on the rising number of businesses now actively seeking neurodivergent hires. One of the organisations driving this step change is Neurodiversity in Business (NiB). NiB is a business-led forum that acts as an industry group for organisations to share industry best practices on neurodivergent recruitment, retention and empowerment. IBM, KPMG, AstraZeneca and Unilever are among their founding members.
“Businesses around the country are waking up to the enormous benefits that having a neurodiverse workforce can bring to the table,” NiB CEO, Dan Harris, told HRreview.
“Neurodivergent individuals can bring single-mindedness, attention to detail, innovative thinking patterns, diligence and creativity to bear on any number of practical business matters. But they need better support than is currently available.” – Dan Harris, NiB
Why Companies Aren’t Hiring Neurodiverse Workers
Many companies aren’t hiring neurodiverse workers because of entrenched recruitment practices and deeply ingrained ideals. Conventional interview scenarios, in particular, are a major barrier. Some neurodivergent people, especially those on the autism spectrum, may struggle to hold eye contact. They can also be prone to going off topic and being too honest about their weaknesses. One simple solution is to invite a supporter to help with communication between the candidate and interviewer.
An institutional and managerial shift in perspective is also needed to accommodate the needs of neurodivergent individuals. For the most part, workplace modifications like noise-cancelling headphones or lighting alterations are minor and inexpensive. However, any change to the norm takes effort (whether real or perceived). It also needs a willingness to change. Work trials are a useful tool to better understand a candidate’s abilities and needs early on.
Benefits of Hiring Neurodiverse Worker
Organisations that are willing to adapt and recruit talent from a neurodivergent pool of candidates can benefit in a range of ways, including (but not limited to) the following
Enhance the talent pool
Neurodiverse workers can bring a vast range of skills to the workplace. These qualities are often overlooked simply due to a lack of understanding and awareness. For instance, autistic people often demonstrate high levels of concentration, conscientiousness, attention to detail, technical ability, and detailed factual knowledge.
Many of the skills mentioned above, combined with non-linear problem solving, can boost innovation. An autistic person or someone with ADHD will likely bring niche interests, viewpoints and strategies to the table. Embracing non-traditional approaches can unlock creative new practices that make the business more efficient.
Enhanced leadership & management skills
Promoting a more inclusive workplace has top-down benefits for the wider workforce, particularly at executive and managerial levels. Those who are open to working with neurodivergent personnel and their ideas are likely to enhance many key leadership traits. Not least their communication and lateral thinking skills.
How Can Companies Accommodate A Neurodiverse Workforce?
There are various best practices that companies can adopt to accommodate a neurodiverse workforce, such as:
Promoting meaningful C-suite and management buy-in.
Assigning resources to integrate neurodiverse talent.
Optimising workspaces with a collaborative mindset.
Pivoting towards a long-term and strategic mindset.
Linking with ND advocates to fill gaps in expertise.
Training the wider workforce to improve awareness.
Developing support systems to assist neurodivergent staff.
Scaling and mainstreaming neurodiversity programmes.
All ambitious and successful businesses should aim for neurodiversity in the workplace. Neurodiverse employers can benefit from specialised skills and non-traditional problem-solving. The result is a boost in innovation, efficiency and productivity. Supporting neurodiversity in the workplace doesn’t have to be difficult, either. With a few tweaks to HR and everyday practices, neurodiverse workers and employers can flourish together.
Maybe it’s time we all started to think differently…
Red Diamond Executive Headhunters is dedicated to identifying, attracting, and recruiting the most talented executives who possess the vision, expertise, and leadership qualities necessary to lead and grow businesses in a rapidly changing and competitive landscape. If you are searching for exceptional executive talent, contact us today at 0845 643 2615 or [email protected] and let’s make your evolution a success together.