Neurodiversity in the workplace.

13th September 2021

People see the world differently, that is valid and vital.

Kiera Knightly

Actress with dyslexia

Inclusivity and diversity are now high on the agenda for organisations. However, often overlooked as part of this push is neurodiversity. What needs to be remembered when trying to achieve a diverse workforce – it is not just about sexual orientation, sex, colour, ethnicity or age. It also needs to extend to accommodate and celebrate the range of ways people process information in the workplace and how they see the world.

What is neurodiversity?

‘Neurodiversity’ originally focused on those who are autistic. However, in more recent years it has been used to describe those who think, behave, and learn differently to what is typical in society.

According to the CIPD, “Neurodiversity refers to the natural range of difference in human brain function, but in a workplace context, it’s an area of diversity and inclusion that refers to alternative thinking styles, such as dyslexia, autism, ADHD and dyspraxia.”

It is worth noting that some other conditions such as schizophrenia, OCD, anti-social personality disorder, borderline personality disorder, dissociative disorder, and bipolar disorder can be classed as a form of neurodivergence too.

Individuals who identify with having one of these alternative thinking styles are often referred to as ‘neurodivergent’ and those with multiple labels are ‘multiply neurodivergent’. Those who do not identify with any of these conditions are often referred to as ‘neurotypical’.

Why is neurodiversity important?

On a simplistic level, inclusivity and diversity is about making your workplace reflect real life – given they make up 10% of the workforce, this should include neurodivergent individuals. Here are some key stats in the UK from Genius Within, a social enterprise that specialises in supporting neurodiversity in the workplace:

  • 10%

    10% of adults are neurodivergent

  • 90%

    90% of disabilities are invisible

  • 22%

    Only 22% of autistic people are in employment

  • 5%

    5% of of the population have ADHD

  • 1%

    1-2% of the population is autistic

  • 10%

    10% of the population are dyslexic

  • 5%

    5% of the population are dyspraxic

  • 1%

    1-2% of the population have Tourette Syndrome

  • 7%

    7% of the population have mental health needs

  • 5%

    5% of the population have an acquired brain injury

Neurodiversity provides a competitive advantage

Most workplaces are set up with the neurotypical in mind. Neurodiversity can provide a competitive advantage when the individuals are in the right environment; an environment that makes use of their strengths, instead of constantly trying to overcome challenges. Forward-thinking organisations, particularly in the tech space, are working to create these inclusive workspaces. These enable learning and reduce disabling factors; they recognise the important contribution neurodiverse people make in business.

IBM for example, champion neuro diversity through Autistic specific hire programmes such as Ignite. “Neurodiversity is important because if there were no differences in the way that people thought […] new ideas would not be created”. Dyllan Rafail, Test Automation Specialist, IBM. Microsoft created an autism hiring programme with a unique interview process. Instead of relying on an interview, the first part of the recruitment process involves a workshop which allows potential hires to fully demonstrate their skills with less of an onus on the interviewing process. Once employed, the neurodiversity candidate is nurtured through specialist support as well as being allocated a mentor.

Educating the workforce

A large part of Microsoft’s success is the fact that there is a high level of internal engagement within the company. David Kearon from Autism Speaks, explains that educating colleagues is the key to supporting neurodiversity at all levels within an organisation:

Not every accommodation for people with autism needs to be a big deal. Natural supports are the kinds of things we do to help our colleagues every day at work, without having to fill out any paperwork and without spending any money. Helping managers and coworkers to learn how to work with a new colleague with autism is well worth a little bit of education and effort.

David Kearon

Director of Adult Services, Autism Speaks

So where to start in supporting neurodiversity in your workplace?

Some key things to remember when considering how to support neurodiversity in the workplace:

  • Neurodivergent individuals may have different preferences, particularly when it comes to communication. Clear concise feedback is useful as some may struggle with subtle hints.
  • Ensuring the physical workplace, and the tools that they are provided with suit their needs, is essential to ensure that they flourish. For example, standing desks have been proven to support those with ADHD.
  • Neurodiversity needs to be part of the culture of an organisation. Educating your people is key to understanding and facilitating a workplace culture where neurodiverse employees can thrive.
  • As an extension of this, there needs to be recognition that there is not one way of doing things and we all perceive the world in different ways. A good diversity and inclusion programme should celebrate and value these differences.

Want to boost your neurodiversity in the workplace?

Here are some useful links to support you.