Why being neurodiversity-aware is good for all employees

Diversity Network’s Neurodiversity Focus Day this week focused on good practice for getting the best out of neurodivergent employees and discussed why making small adjustments can improve the workplace for everyone.

Group of people waiting in line for job interview or office workers waiting for boss's invitation - neurodivergent candidates

 

Around 15 per cent of people are neurodivergent yet research shows less than 1% feel comfortable disclosing their neurodiversity. Diversity Network’s Neurodiversity Focus Day aimed not just to tackle the stigma around neurodiversity but to overturn it, focusing on the strengths of playing to employees’ different skills and highlighting how making small adjustments enables everyone to perform at their best. 

The event featured a range of speakers who highlighted some of those adjustments and why they are best practice for all. 

Meike Bliebenicht, Workstream Lead, Neurodiversity at Diversity Project, said any changes did not have to be big or expensive. For instance, meetings could be more structured with people having to put their hand up to speak. It is just about making the culture more inclusive and supportive, encouraging senior leaders to open up about their own experience of neurodiversity or being allies, refraining from “imposing normal” and being clear in any instructions. Such changes can improve the workplace for everyone, she said.

Deborah Leveroy, Neurodiversity and Inclusion Lead at Dyslexia Box, spoke of the legal duty [under the Equality Act] on employers to make reasonable adjustments for dyslexic people who make up 10% of the population, including many of an employer’s customers and clients. She listed dyslexic workers’ strengths, for instance, when it comes to problem solving, strategic thinking, creativity and people skills. All it takes is for employers to overcome their assumptions and biases, said Leveroy. She would like to see employers do more to encourage people to talk openly about their dyslexia. 

Like Bliebenicht, she said simple things – ‘micro adjustments’ –  could help such as summarising key information in bulletpoints, reducing text to small paragraphs, reducing sensory information, giving people adequate notice about meetings and offering flexible working, private workspaces and visual aides to supplement the written or spoken word. Technology – and training in how to use it – could also be useful, such as noise cancelling headphones and technology that reduces screen glare. One to one coaching could help, for instance, to coach people in how to improve their memory, their performance at meetings or their organisational skills as could line manager training in neurodiversity awareness.

A talent-based model

Aidan Healy, CEO of Lexxic, said more and more businesses were publishing Diversity and Inclusion strategies, but few included neurodiversity. Many businesses address neurodiversity using a deficit model, he said, that is seeing neurodiversity as a disorder and themselves as offering ‘charity’. Instead they should adopt a talent-based model which turns biases on their head. For instance, they could view someone who is hyperactive as a person with high stamina; someone who is impulsive as a rapid decision maker; and someone who is easily distracted as able to move quickly between different things and be more creative.

“It’s about differences not deficits,” said Healy, advocating a systemic approach that focuses on ongoing efforts rather than goals and targets. “Goals tend to have an end point and this needs to be ongoing,” he stated. That systemic approach needs to embrace everything from recruitment, communications [internal and external, for instance, sharing of case studies] and office layout to progression.

He would also like to see more being done to encourage people to talk openly about their neurodiversity and to have their voices heard, but he advised employers to be wary of putting too much pressure on voluntary employee networks to take responsibility for driving strategy in this area. 

In the final panel discussion, Prachi Deo, Founder & Executive Director of the Nayi Disha Resource Centre, spoke of the need to create neurodiversity advocates – which could include employees with neurodivergent family members who have first-hand experience of what neurodivergent individuals can do.  She also suggested sharing success stories, including the stories of well known people who are neurodivergent, in order to raise awareness.

Levelling the playing field

What difference can an employer who is aware make? Just prior to this session Lee Corless, Global Technology D&I, Communities & Inclusion Global Lead & Autism at Work EMEA Leader at JP Morgan, spoke about the company’s Autism at Work programme which was piloted in 2015 at a tech centre in Delaware. Since then, 245 people on the spectrum have been brought into the company in nine different countries covering 40 different job roles.  Nearly eight thousand employees have gone through autism inclusion training. The company has a 90% retention rate for full-time employees who have come through the programme.

Corless said it has been important for the scheme that the work provided is rules bound and that there is a standard training programme. Job descriptions need to be clear and concise and avoid jargon. For instance, it is no good saying ‘must be a good communicator’. That is not precise enough. Does that mean the person will have to stand up in front of a group of people and give presentations or that they need to be good at sending instructions or accurate information to others?

He advised recruiters to read an autistic person’s cv thoroughly. They may have taught themselves skills such as coding rather than attending a formal course which might be stressful for them. Other advice included giving candidates guidance on interview expectations, reviewing job specifications and asking open questions. “It’s not about lowering the bar,” said Corless. “It’s about levelling the playing field.”



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