The term neurodiversity was developed by Judy Singer in 1998. However, as we all know, a lot has changed in the two decades since the first research about neurological differences was published.
The neurodiversity movement has made its way throughout the non-profit sector and is gradually making space for itself within government, research and education.
But why hasn’t neurodiversity made space for itself within workplaces? Or instead, why haven’t workplaces made space for neurodiversity?
This article aims to help further your understanding of neurodiversity, help you start embracing neurodiversity within your workplace and create systemic change.
What is neurodiversity?
Neurodiversity refers to the infinite variety of human neurocognitive styles and how everyones brain works differently. While society has often celebrated biodiversity and cultural diversity, neurodiversity and invisible disabilities such as autism, dyslexia and ADHD have often been considered a medical disorder, which the primary objective to ‘solve’ these disabilities and make people better.
The neurodiversity movement focuses on shifting neurodiversity from a medical to a social perspective and aims to help individuals view these natural differences in in the way we think and do as strengths that can truly benefit employers.
Examples of neurodiversity includes:
- Autism and Aspergers Syndrome
- Tourette syndrome
In 2020, the neurodiversity movement is gathering momentum, and is now being used in workplaces to hire and attract talent that have alternative ways of thinking. Neurodivergent individuals can bring a variety of unique strengths to their work – from innovation, creativity, attention to detail, problem-solving and intense focus.
There are now many corporates embracing the neurodiversity movement, from JP Morgan, Microsoft and SAP. All have started programmes aimed at hiring more autistic individuals and realise the exceptional benefits of doing so. However, there is still a long way to go, with many organisations focused on the challenges associated with neurodivergent employees in the workplace rather than their strengths.
What are the reasons causing the neurodiversity movement?
1. Greater awareness of the neurodiverse population
Over the past two decades there has been a greater knowledge of the number of people that are neurodivergent around the world. This has resulted in more people getting diagnosed as well as the production of books, TV series and movies featuring autistic characters. This has highlighted the everyday reality neurodiverse people face as well as educating people about the behaviours and skills they have. UK figures suggest 1 in 10 people are neurodivergent which likely represents a high number of employees, job-seekers and customers.
2. Celebrities have been openly discussing their experiences
Over the past couple of years, many famous people have started openly talking about their neurodivergence. From Greta Thurnberg, Anne Hegarty, Susan Boyle and Richard Branson. In Richard Bransons blog he spoke about his dyslexia and how “dyslexic people can be hugely creative in identifying solutions to problems, and to coming up with new ways to tackle challenges.”… “From my own experience, I know that dyslexic people can achieve great things when they focus on their strengths and get the right support in school.”
3. There has been increased understanding
There has been a key shift from the medical framing of autism, ADHD and other conditions and so now neurodiversity isn’t seen as something to be ‘cured’ but instead celebrated. This has led to an increased appreciation of the unique strengths the neurodiverse population offers but also the challenges posed, when trying to make our neurotypical focused way of life accessible to others.
4. The global search for talent
According to Manpower, 40% of global employers are struggling to find the talent they need. With talent being a much desired but competitive resource, employers are having to diversify their thinking and look outside of their traditional recruitment methods to hire the next generation of talent.
Given the high number of neurodivergent individuals and the high unemployment rates, this represents a huge, untapped talent pool that can really benefit our workforce, bringing new skill sets, innovations and talents.
But how do we embrace neurodiversity in the workplace?
1. Implement reasonable adjustments
We often hear the phrase ‘reasonable adjustments’ floating around when we’re thinking of hiring disabled employees. But what does this actually mean in theory and in practice?
Reasonable adjustments are changes put in place to ensure disabled people can overcome any substantial disadvantages they may have within the recruitment process, doing their job and progressing in work.
Its important to seriously consider making adjustments to ensure you get the best out of each employee and they can utilise their full potential. Most adjustments are simple to make and can even benefit neurotypical employees. These include things like communicating clearly, providing quiet break spaces and considering each persons individual needs.
Examples of reasonable adjustments on the job include:
- Providing them with equipment to support them.
- Giving them a quiet, distraction free area to work so they can focus.
- Altering their working hours so they can avoid stressful rush hours.
- Allowing them to wear noise cancelling earphones or blue light glasses.
- Allowing them to take short, regular breaks to avoid getting overwhelmed or stressed.
- Giving them a clear point of contact or mentor if they need extra support.
- Working together to understand their working style and how a manager can best communicate with them.
2. Make your application process accessible
Making your recruitment processes more accessible is a simple way to attract more neurodiverse candidates. Small changes like making job descriptions structured, clear and concise while avoiding the use of complicated, metaphorical language can make your roles a lot easier to understand. Job descriptions should be split into ‘essential’ and ‘desirable’ skill sets.
As well as this, its useful to have a in depth look at your recruitment processes and get neurodiverse individuals to go through the process to provide insight on how accessible it really is. Examples of things you can do include:
- Providing candidates with an easy way to disclose any disability and making them aware of any support they can get from the beginning.
- Making your application process simple to use and follow.
- Enabling accessibility features, such as enlarged font, contrasting colours and underlined links so its easy to navigate.
- Using clear, concise and structured language.
3. Make your interview methods accessible
A huge part of the recruitment process are interviews. Interviews can be a scary experience for neurotypical candidates, but 10x harder for someone neurodiverse.
Most interview methods focus on accessing candidates in two key areas: confidence and communication. These two areas can often put neurodiverse candidates at a disadvantage, making it difficult for them to be themselves and communicate their skills needed for the role. This means that neurodiverse candidates often miss out on roles they might have been perfect for.
Some neurodiverse candidates may take questions literally (such as what their weaknesses are), get anxious in an environment they do not know, struggle with eye contact and answering ‘left field’ questions.
To make your interview process more accessible to autistic individuals there are several things you can do. These include:
- Providing them with a quiet area they can take breaks and relax.
- Providing them with pictures of the people they will be interacting with. This could be both the interviewers and the reception staff so they know who they’re going to be meeting.
- Providing clear instructions about accessing buildings and directions.
- Providing them with a clear structure of the day including timings so they know what to expect and how to prepare.
- Avoiding open ended questions.
- Allowing them time to think about the questions and process their thoughts.
- Using interview spaces that are free from distractions, loud noises and bright lights.
4. Create an inclusive culture
Its likely that your workforce employs neurodiverse employees already but you don’t know it. Creating a culture that fosters communication about neurodiversity is essential. It enables employees to be who they are, creates neurodiverse representation which will in turn encourage more individuals to apply for your vacancies.
Other ways you can do this is through employee training to increase their understanding about neurodiversity. This can really help peoples perceptions and ‘demystify’ it, as well as being able to ask any questions.
How you can start a neurodiversity movement in your workplace
Start the conversation
Its really important to simply start the conversation. Speak to HR and Diversity and Inclusion to see what they’re doing to employ more neurodiverse employees and understand the diversity of their workforce.
Look at the data
Have a look at the composition of your workforce and see what percentage of the workforce is disabled and neurodiverse.
Get in touch
Stack helps employers to hire more neurodiverse employees. We continuously support job-seekers and employees to help them find the very best roles and recruit the very best talent.
Take a look at our website or email us on firstname.lastname@example.org to see how we can help.