Neurodiversity in the workplace

WM People has published a white paper on recruiting for and managing neurodiverse teams.

pwc team


WM People,’s parent group, has published a white paper on best practice when it comes to neurodiversity in the workplace.

The white paper is based on a roundtable with employers and neurodiversity experts in March, sponsored by Roche, which aimed to bring employers together to discuss best practice in recruiting for and managing neurodiverse teams.

Strengths and talents in the neurodivergent teams

Guest speaker was Professor Simon Baron-Cohen, director of the Autism Research Centre at the University of Cambridge who spoke about his new book, The Pattern Seekers: A New Theory of Human Invention. The book argues that, while autistic people have disabilities when it comes to their social relationships and communications, they have strengths and talents when it comes to pattern recognition and that that ability to spot patterns is behind humans’ unique capacity for invention.

He said autistic people are very good at spotting patterns and at taking systems apart in order to understand them. Being able to look at the details and spot patterns leads to systems improvements, said Professor Baron-Cohen. 

Barriers getting into work

However, despite these strengths, the majority of autistic adults [around 85%] are unemployed and face barriers to getting into the workplace. Professor Baron-Cohen said the traditional way of hiring people through face to face interviews is one of these barriers – autistic people often find it hard to make eye contact and hold fluent conversations. They may also face bias and subtle discrimination in the recruitment process, with employers thinking they may need extra support.  Unemployment is bad for mental well being and the majority of autistic adults have poor mental health, said Professor Baron-Cohen, citing a survey showing two thirds admitting to having felt suicidal at some point and a third having actually attempted suicide. 

There is, he said, a social and moral responsibility to make sure autistic people are not excluded from the workplace in addition to a business benefit of employing neurodivergent people who bring a different skillset and perspective and can enhance innovation and productivity.  It is, said Professor Baron-Cohen, time to wake up to the historic legacy of exclusion of neurodivergent people from the workforce and to address the moral and business case for doing so.

Neurodiversity encompasses everything from autism to dyslexia and dyspraxia. The discussion with employers and experts from the Exceptional Individuals consultancy covered everything from the recruitment process and onboarding process to career progression for neurodivergent individuals.

Key takeaways include:

  • Focus on the strengths of neurodiverse people, such as their ability to drive innovation and to understand how systems work
  • Understand where they face challenges, such as with face to face communication and offer a range of ways to apply for jobs, bearing in mind that traditional recruitment based on application forms, face to face interviews and assessment centres highlight areas of challenge for neurodiverse people
  • Focus on self awareness for all staff when it comes to bias and on empathy
  • Be clear in any communications, back up information delivered face to face in email and make things easily understandable
  • Set expectations before recruitment or promotion processes and prepare people for how it will work
  • Don’t judge based on eye to eye contact or spelling
  • Offer line managers training so they understand the potential barriers for neurodiverse people
  • Address any problems early
  • Ask all new recruits how they work best as a matter of course
  • Allow for minor adjustments to lighting and sound in light of possible hypersensitivity to noise and bright lights
  • Get feedback on processes and any changes made
  • Consider a mentoring scheme and use ambassadors and champions who understand the issues.

*To order your free copy of the white paper, please click here.

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