March 29 2023

How to embrace neurodiversity at work

First of all, let’s get our terminology right.

Neurodiversity means the amazing diversity of human neurology, communication styles, thought, and expression.

This means there’s no such thing as a neurodiverse person. Neurodiversity takes at least two people!

Maybe one of those people is neurotypical–their neurology is typical of the average human–and the other is neurodivergent–their neurology diverges from the norm.

People with any of these conditions (and more) can be described as neurodivergent:

  • Autism
  • ADHD
  • Dyslexia
  • Dyscalculia (difficulty understanding numbers)
  • Dyspraxia (difficulty with coordination)
  • Developmental Language Disorder (difficulty understanding and using spoken language)

​Worldwide, 15-20% of us are neurodivergent–and for people studying STEM subjects in tertiary education, the percentage is much higher.

Yet neurodivergent people are tremendously underemployed–it’s one of the biggest employment gaps in the world. For example, only 22% of autistic people are in paid work, according to the Office of National Statistics.

However, a slew of studies on the superior performance of diverse teams has more and more employers wanting to embrace neurodiversity, become good allies, and create a workplace that’s neuroinclusive–where neurodivergent people can do their best work. Here’s how.

  1. Adjust their work environment. For many neurodivergent people, there are easy things you can do to make work less stressful: for example, reducing sensory input, offering noise-cancelling headphones, finding them a quiet area to work in, or offering remote or flexible work. Ask them what they need.

  2. Adjust how you communicate. You might need to give them more time to answer questions or process information, or make sure you use direct and clear language rather than sarcasm or idioms. Again, ask them what they need.

  3. Make it safe to talk about neurodivergence. You may already have neurodivergent people working for you who aren’t telling you what they need.

  4. Give feedback and support. Make sure your neurodivergent hires get plenty of constructive feedback on their performance and support to help them improve. This will boost their confidence and job satisfaction.

  5. Offer sensitivity training. Help everyone in the team understand the importance of neurodiversity and how they can support their neurodivergent colleagues.

  6. Offer equal opportunities. Make it clear at every level of your organisation that you encourage equal opportunities for neurodivergent employees. Talk to your neurodivergent people about what it would take for them to feel comfortable putting themselves forward for promotion.

  7. Celebrate diversity. Promote an inclusive culture by recognising everyone’s different strengths and contributions.

  8. Become an ally. Being an ally means supporting and standing up for people who don’t have your advantages. It starts with recognising where you’re biased and working on unlearning it. You also need to recognise your privilege–for example, are people more likely to listen to you at work because you’re neurotypical? You can use that to amplify the voices of people who aren’t being heard, and to call out discrimination.

This might sound like a lot of work, but the rewards of recruiting and retaining neurodivergent people are tremendous. Here are just some of the benefits a more neurodiverse team can bring:

  1. Unique perspectives. People who think differently can come up with fresh ideas and solutions.
  2. Attention to detail. Many neurodivergent people have a fantastic ability to spot patterns and focus on details, which is particularly valuable in engineering, finance and tech.
  3. Creativity. Neurodivergence often comes with heightened creativity that will boost the innovation potential of your team
  4. Productivity. With the right support, neurodivergent people can often be highly efficient and productive.
  5. Loyalty. In an era where “job-hopping” has lost all meaning, many neurodivergent people have a strong sense of loyalty and will commit to you for the long haul.
  6. Diversity and inclusion: While you shouldn’t hire neurodivergent people just because the stakeholders are looking, being able to demonstrate your commitment to diversity never hurts.
  7. Untapped talent pools: If there are talent shortages in your industry, you’ll find a rich and often overlooked source of talent when you expand your net to include neurodivergent people.

We can help organisations navigate this new terrain, so if you’d like some personalised advice and guidance on how to attract and retain neurodivergent talent, get in touch today.

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