How Neurodiverse Is Your Workforce and Why Does It Matter?
It’s estimated that around 1 in 7 people are neurodivergent in the UK1.
So why aren’t we talking about it more?
Discussions around diversity and inclusion in the workplace have increased considerably over the past few years, yet neurodiversity is often overlooked.
The challenges that neurodiverse people face when it comes to employment can’t be understated.
17% of HR professionals aren’t even sure if neurodiversity was included in their people management practices2, meaning that there’s a need for better workplace practices for neurodiverse employees.
More importantly, it’s essential that employers to know how to make neurodiverse employees feel comfortable disclosing their condition – without this, change can’t happen.
What is neurodiversity?
Neurodiversity is defined as the viewpoint that brain differences are normal, rather than deficits – conditions such as ADHD and autism aren’t ‘abnormal’, as there isn’t a ‘right’ type of neurocognitive functioning.
Types of neurodiversity can include Attention Deficit Disorders, autism, dyslexia and dyspraxia, all across a spectrum with a range of associated characteristics.
Acknowledging neurodiversity isn’t about finding a ‘cure’, it’s about finding harmony and being proactive rather than reactive in supporting employees that are neurodiverse..
How does this present in the workplace?
Only 1 in 10 HR professionals say that their organisation is focusing on neurodiversity at work3, and only 52.1% of disabled people between the ages of 16 and 64 in the UK are in employment (compared to 81.3% in non-disabled people)4.
Supporting neurodiversity in the workplace has never been more important, and it’s essential in ensuring a workplace is meeting a high standard for diversity and inclusion.
Here’s how the CIPD defines diversity and inclusion:
Diversity: recognising difference and acknowledging the benefits of having a range of perspectives in decision-making and the workforce.
Inclusion: valuing people’s differences and enabling everyone to thrive at work, with an inclusive working environment being one in which everyone feels that their contributions matter regardless of their background, identity, or circumstances, without feeling the need to conform.
Having a more inclusive workplace isn’t just necessary, in some cases, it’s a legal obligation.
Under the Equality Act 2010, being neurodivergent can amount to a disability, meaning that there is a legal obligation for organisations to ensure that they are removing all potential barriers that neurodiverse individuals face.
It is worth noting though that not all neurodivergence is legally defined as a disability, and making that kind of assumption is non-inclusive.
How many organisations are actively asking themselves how neurodiverse their workforce is?
Could you answer if you were asked how many neurodiverse employees there are in your organisation?
If not, here are a few ways you can start to promote an environment in which employees can feel comfortable disclosing their neurodiversity.
Keep in mind that it’s not about approaching someone based on indicators, it’s about creating an environment that fosters the trust necessary for these conversations to take place.
Without making a clear commitment to neurodivergent inclusion, neurodivergent employees may never feel comfortable or safe enough to disclose their condition at all.
(As the CIPD states, neurodiversity initiatives create a more neurodiversity-aware culture in which existing neurodivergent staff feel more comfortable disclosing and also when seeking adjustments later on.)
- Have a maintained commitment
Having an inclusive workplace isn’t just a one poster, job done deal.
It needs to be embedded into the culture of the workplace, from the hiring and onboarding process to a continued commitment to diversity and inclusion.
If an organisation has clear markers of genuinely promoting neurodiversity, an individual will be likelier to feel comfortable disclosing their condition.
This commitment will take time – a lot of businesses still have words such as ‘deficit’ in their forms throughout the hiring process and other official procedures, so trying to build up inclusivity will, in most cases, require a clean slate.
It’s a commitment that will benefit an entire organisation, but in order to be effective, change needs to be consistent.
- Adjust your HR processes
When you think about HR processes, the first word might be ‘scalability’.
This can cause a conflict when it comes to inclusivity for neurodivergence in the workplace, as the processes rely on dated, generalisable ideas of a stereotypical employee.
Communication skills, emotional intelligence, ability to work in a team – these are all benchmarks indicative of a neurotypical workforce, not an inclusive one.
You don’t want to screen out neurodiverse individuals before they even have a chance.
Interviews can be a huge barrier for neurodiverse people, particularly those with autism who may struggle to meet the expected standard of eye contact and have difficulty sticking to the framework of an interview.
There’s a variety of options out there for non-traditional hiring processes, from project-based assessments to half-day gatherings involving group work.
- Talk about it
Part of the issue with creating an inclusive environment is that neurodiverse employees might not even want to inform their employee that they are neurodiverse, let alone feel comfortable approaching anyone in their workplace if they do have any problems.
Signposting early in the onboarding process and making resources easily accessible (e.g., through company intranet) can make it easier for employees to know who they can contact depending on their needs.
Regular employee satisfaction surveys and questionnaires give employees a chance to feedback about their experiences, too.
Training line managers to feel able and confident in assisting neurodiverse employees and their skillsets will guarantee that, should an employee want a conversation, the company is equipped to handle it.
- Avoid extremely bright lighting in the workplace (it may lead to sensory overload).
- Consider how an open-plan office space can cause overwhelm.
- Make job descriptions jargon-free and clearly indicate that neurodiverse individuals are welcomed and encouraged.
- Implement regular one-to-ones, with an open communication channel for feedback.
- Foster a culture that celebrates difference, rather than using performative methods, measures or advertisements.
- Make it clear that neurodiverse employees can approach in confidence about any issues they have.
Encouraging neurodiversity in your workforce isn’t easy, but innovation doesn’t come from everyone being the same.
Results of studies into neurodiverse teams has shown that a neurodiverse team is 30% more productive than other teams in an organisation5.
It isn’t just about corporate responsibility or tick-boxing exercises.
A diverse workforce can enhance a company’s services, market opportunities and general perspective, whilst increasing creativity, innovation and productivity.
No organisation is too big or too small to start thinking about neurodiversity – there’s a large, untapped pool of talent out there waiting to improve your business.
You just have to make space for them.