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How to boost competitiveness by creating a neuro-diverse workplace

Advice and top tips

How to boost competitiveness by creating a neuro-diverse workplace

While inclusion and diversity have been on the HR agenda for some time, neurodiversity is an emerging concept in the workplace, pushing the boundaries of diversity beyond gender, ethnicity and sexual orientation.

Common perceptions of neurological differences, such as ADHD, autism, dyslexia, dyspraxia or Asperger’s, have historically been negative. According to the Autistic Society, only 16% of autistic adults are in full time employment, compared to 47% of disabled people and 80% of non-disabled individuals.

And despite claims that more than 10 per cent of the population is made up of neurodiverse individuals, a recent CIPD report revealed that only a quarter of employers’ policies currently address neurodiversity directly.

But attitudes are now changing, and the benefits increasingly recognised and harnessed by businesses. Interestingly, neurodiversity is disproportionately high amongst entrepreneurs – including Richard Branson who has both dyslexia and ADHD.

With progressive brands, including Microsoft, Google and JP Morgan, now putting neurodiversity at the heart of their people strategies, we look at five ways in which employers can attract and support a more neurodiverse workplace.

1. Remove recruitment barriers

Employers can attract a wider talent pool by making relatively small changes to ensure that neurodivergent applicants are engaged rather than excluded.

Adapting job adverts to appeal to applicants who think and process information differently, for example, will remove barriers.

Tailoring the recruitment process and broadening the methods by which candidates’ skills can be demonstrated will not only widen the diversity of candidates, but will also tease out abilities that may not be evident through standard practices.

Sending out  a detailed description of what will happen during an assessment day, for example, can help autistic candidates feel much more at ease in the knowledge of what to expect on the day, as can being able to answer interview questions in writing rather than verbally.

‘Gamifying’ interviews can also provide a more comfortable and accessible means of demonstrating suitability for a role.  Replacing the traditional anxiety-inducing interview panel with a more hands-on task, like building a robot using Lego for example, will provide a more relaxed method for neurodivergent candidates to showcase problem solving and collaboration skills.

2. See talent differently

Employers need to challenge their own perceptions of what is ‘normal’ to extract the most from every employee. We all bring very different skills to the table and, as ACAS advises, focusing only on generic competencies places those with neurological conditions at a serious disadvantage.

Employees who may not be able to communicate verbally very well, for example, may still have very specialised skills that employers can harness differently to allow them to better channel themselves into work.

3. Review workspaces and working practices

Carrying out workspace assessments will identify individual requirements. Employees with autism for example, will often have difficulties with light intensity and noise levels, making open plan environments particularly stressful due to over stimulation.

Some workers on the autistic spectrum may welcome more visual communications, shorter emails and plenty of notice to prepare themselves for meetings.

A dyslexic employee may find it significantly easier to read text presented on non-white backgrounds in specific fonts, or may benefit from read-write software and special pens which record an audio file of notes as they are written.

An individual with ADHD may benefit from working in a quiet space where both visual and audio distractions are limited to improve concentration.

The majority of the reasonable adjustments needed to provide a supportive workspace for neurodivergent employees are cost free. The return for employers is workspaces that nurture and develop talent allowing neurodiverse individuals to thrive.

4. Raise awareness with the whole workforce

Raising employee awareness around neurodiversity is essential to prevent issues such as bullying in the workplace or anxiety and mental health issues from arising.

A lack of eye contact for example, could be wrongly perceived as ignorance by a colleague, when it may simply be something that is challenging for an individual with autism.

Educating staff on how neurodivergent employees experience the world and the unique challenges that they face, while raising awareness of the intrinsic value that neurodiversity brings, promotes greater understanding and empathy.

5. Make a public commitment to neurodiversity

Successfully nurturing neurodiversity at work requires ongoing monitoring and support to optimise outputs.

One of the most successful tactics, leveraged recently by multi-national manufacturer P&G, is appointing a committed sponsor for neurodiversity initiatives. This demonstrates an employer’s commitment to neurodiversity and champions the issue, ensuring a consistent focus.

Neurodivergent workers’ needs may change as the type of work involved evolves over time or increases due to peak periods for example.

Providing ongoing training and mentoring support will ensure that neurodivergent workers have the opportunity, and confidence, to voice any challenges that could potentially be overcome by changing or making small adaptations to working practices and environments.

The key for employers is to keep lines of communication open and to provide flexibility to boost the performance of all staff.