Is neurodiversity good for business? Do people with neurodiverse differences enrich an organisation? Many business leaders are unsure, despite recognising the value of neurodiversity in principle.
Neurodiversity refers to differences in the human brain relating to emotions, learning, mood, attention and development and includes conditions like ADHD, autism, dyscalculia, dyslexia and dyspraxia. 1% of people are on the autistic spectrum, 10% are dyspraxic and 10% are dyslexic. The prevalence of ADHD in the adult population is thought to be between 3% and 4%, which totals a considerable percentage of the working population.
However, over 80% of autistic adults are unemployed and 28% of the long-term unemployed are dyslexic.
Some companies are ahead of the game such as GCHQ, Dell and Microsoft, and they actively seek neurodivergent talent because their ability to think differently is highly valued. Indeed EY recently announced that it is to roll out a network of neurodiverse centres of excellence, including one in Manchester, to work on emerging technologies.
However, Thom Dennis, CEO of Serenity in Leadership believes we are too slow at recognising neurodiverse talent.
“We see employers struggling to want to go the extra mile to support those who might have a few extra needs like needing more time to complete a project or wanting to work certain hours. However, the advantages of employing those whose brains are wired a bit differently means benefitting from their abundant strengths, abilities, talents and ways of thinking, and seeing their talent as an opportunity, rather than some sort of drain or extra hassle.
“Colleagues who are neurodiverse often have increased valuable skills such as lateral thinking, analysis, consistency and creativity. They may be more resilient, possess an advanced capacity to pay attention to intricate details, have a fantastic memory and thrive at repetitive, structured work. Let’s not forget that some of our global past and present greatest talents were thought to have or have dyslexia, for example, Leonardo da Vinci, Napoleon, Winston Churchill, Carl Jung, Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison, Keira Knightley, Steven Spielberg, Whoopi Goldberg and Daniel Radcliffe amongst many.
“Ultimately, businesses who value neurodiversity appreciate other viewpoints, attitudes, original ideas and innovative thinking.”
There are ways that managers and business leaders can be actively inclusive to their neurodiverse staff, which we detail in turn.
As humans, we favour those who fit our ‘normal’ profile, labelling those who don’t as ‘different’ which can lead to individuals being excluded or treated unfairly. This belief must be consciously challenged. Keep intersectionality in mind to broaden your perspective. For example, someone with dyslexia will also have a variety of other identities and skills. They may be a great artist, a mother and a talented communicator.
Recognise that neurodiverse applicants are premium candidates who should be empowered rather than being offered a position as some sort of symbolic goodwill gesture. Implement neuro-inclusive recruitment efforts to offer prospects for people who might otherwise be neglected or overlooked.
Check for unconscious bias toward identikit employees and look for people who bring something new to your team.
Create a neurodiversity support toolkit and clearly state who to contact for assistance. Offer training to employees who are unfamiliar with neurodiversity in order to help them understand the experiences of their co-workers. Use appropriate language to discuss differences to prevent causing offence or speaking out of turn.
Encourage senior neurodiverse leaders to be open and transparent. Champion discussion and motivate people to talk about neurodiversity in order to raise awareness and foster understanding.
Include neurodivergent co-workers in making changes. Don’t assume you know what is best for them. Develop mechanisms for identifying, meeting and funding reasonable adjustments. Ascertain that flexible work arrangements are in place. Think ahead of time when encountering transition periods that come as a result of unforeseen change, changes to employment or other factors so that any potential hurdles can be addressed in advance. For people who thrive in a stable and predictable environment, unexpected changes can be quite disruptive.
Create a friendly and inclusive workplace culture where all team members can grow, be respected and supported, and where stigma is challenged and discrimination, prejudice, victimisation, harassment or a lack of inclusion is not permitted. Look after mental health and create safe spaces for all.