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Neurodiversity in the workplace is more important than ever. Neurodiverse individuals have unique strengths and high-level skills that for a number of reasons, may be overlooked. But how can organisations support these individuals and help them to realise their abilities?
What is neurodiversity?
Neurodiversity, put simply, is the difference in human brain function between individuals. It is a focus on the differences in our brains as opposed to the deficits. Giving a modern approach to what is considered 'normal'. Traditionally people would consider differences in neurocognitive ability a hindrance to the social norms. Whereas a modern neurodiversity approach would expand how we think of developmental disorders and ideally unlock potential of people who may have previously been overlooked unfairly. Everyone has talents and things that they struggle with. However, for some people the variation between those strengths and weaknesses is more pronounced, which can bring talent but can also be disabling. Neurodivergent people tend to find some things very easy and other things incredibly hard. This usually leads to an inconsistent performance at school or work. The term neurodiversity encompasses a range of neurodivergent conditions, including ADHD, autism, dyslexia, dyspraxia and dyscalculia.
Importance of neurodiversity in the workplace
In the context of the workplace, it's more of an issue of diversity and inclusion regarding neurodiversity. This refers to alternative thinking styles related to dyslexia, autism, ADHD, and dyspraxia. These alternative thinking styles can have their own unique benefits, such as the ability to spot patterns and recognise trends, a capacity to process information at speed and analytical thinking styles. It becomes very clear that these individuals have mindsets that can be a great asset to businesses all over. Data-driven and analytical fields being an obvious stand out. Around 10% of the UK population are considered to be neurodivergent, and workplaces are typically still designed for neurotypicals. This means that individuals aren't being enabled to perform to the best of their abilities and employers are under-utilising valuable talent pools. More diversity and inclusion equals more innovation, so what exactly can employers do to enable neurodiversity?
How can employers enable it?
Certain adjustments can be easily made to enable neurodivergent individuals to thrive in a workplace environment. Many are cheap and easy to implement, making significant improvements to an individual's work life. These adjustments often have lasting benefits to the neurotypical individuals also and can help the individual to contribute more effectively to the organisation and help to build a lasting career.
To encourage neurodiverse job applicants, employers need to remove potential ‘friction points’ in the hiring process and to support their staff to achieve their potential. The majority of these processes are typically designed for neurotypicals. This means that neurodiverse individuals can be unintentionally excluded from the hiring process. This could be based on a number of factors, from the style of job descriptions discouraging applications, lack of empathy from interviewers punishing a lack of eye contact or unconventional body language at the interview stage or neurodivergent individuals being confused or rushed by additional assessments. Success is likely to come from a combination of finding a good fit to accommodate the needs of the neurodiverse individual with a company that can support ongoing needs offering assistance in areas such as mentoring, coaching or assistance with self-organisation strategies such as goals, priorities and to-do lists. Allowing breaks for a change of scene and physical activity is another adjustment that is easy to make and could boost both comfort and productivity for all employees, not just for neurodiverse individuals. However, the needs of these individuals doesn't stop with the individual. The rest of the organisation needs to support them also.
Strong advocacy from the C-suite is key, as they can champion neurodiversity and make it clear that the organisation takes neurodiversity seriously. This sends a positive message internally and externally and include public speaking or blogging about neurodiversity within the organisation. This can also include sponsoring and being a visible part of their organisation’s own neurodiversity-at-work programme.
Furthermore, neurodiversity training across the organisation is also essential. It can help develop a general awareness, understanding and appreciation of colleagues. Training is essential as there is a risk that uninformed co-workers may see a neurodiverse colleague who is having difficulty with one aspect of their role as lazy or inept. This can then make employees less willing to disclose, fearing negative repercussions. In extreme cases, there may even be bullying or complaints about someone’s work or behaviour at work. Through appropriate training, staff can become comfortable about how to talk about neurodiversity. Establishing a basic etiquette will help to put neurodivergent employees at ease, while also allowing management and colleagues to approach issues without fear of ‘getting it wrong’. Training can also prepare employees to respond sensitively to a colleague disclosing as neurodivergent.
Furthermore, teaching how to conduct group project work in a manner that is inclusive to neurodivergent team members and optimises productivity. Training for managers is a staple feature of neurodiversity-at-work programmes globally. This can provide managers with a core understanding of the reality of neurodiversity, strategies for responding to disclosure, giving clear instructions, assisting with potential challenge areas, introducing change sensitively, and so on. Xander Talent are championing neurodiversity in the workplace with a unique approach to social purpose to unlock diverse talent that has otherwise been overlooked. They are doing this by setting strong standards in training amongst staff, supporting the needs of neurodiverse staff and setting an example with a C-suite that personally believes and promotes diverse teams throughout the organisation.