Benefits of Embracing The Neurodiversity Movement in the Workplace

Many businesses shy away from employing neurodiverse individuals within the business. In fact, a recent study into neurodiversity in the workplace run by the Institute of Leadership and Management revealed that only half of Manager respondents would hire a neurodiverse person. With 1 in 7 of the population estimated to be neurodiverse, that is a huge section of society whose skills and potential are being ignored. The highest levels of bias exist towards those with ADHD/ADD and Tourette Syndrome.

Many people with autism, dyspraxia, dyslexia, ADHD or social anxiety conditions have higher than average abilities and their neurodiversity will benefit the workplace. Research shows that some conditions including autism and dyslexia can provide heightened skills in pattern recognition, memory, or mathematics. Skills that would fit really well within the data, tech and analytics job market. Yet those that have these conditions often struggle with the profiles set by prospective employers.

The biggest barriers to employing people in the neuro-diverse category start at the hiring process. Many organisations do not adjust their processes to accommodate the needs of the individuals which results in misunderstandings on both sides, plus a reluctance to continue with the process. Those organisations that have adjusted their hiring process, onboarding and workplaces are already reaping the benefits. The NASA Neurodiversity Network, or N3, is a five-year programme aimed at STEM learners, to broaden diversity in NASA’s programmes so that they can include autistic and other neurodivergent differences of the future.

At the forefront of neurodiversity in the workplace, SAP has been actively hiring within a neurodiverse community for four years. Managers say, above and beyond reputational benefits, their productivity, quality, innovative capabilities and employee engagement have all improved off the back of the move. One reason they believe it has such strong benefits is that it has made them think about all employees as individuals, regardless of whether they are non-neuro-typical or not. Taking this holistic approach means people are managed better and their individual needs are addressed (leading to better employee engagement and productivity). Neuro-diverse individuals can bring new perspectives, one often-cited example is the case where software testers at HPE spotted that a particular client’s projects always seemed to descend into crisis mode before a launch because the testers felt very uncomfortable with chaos, they questioned why this was allowed to happen, the business agreed and subsequently redesigned the launch process with their help. Preliminary results from the Australian Department of Human Services suggest that their neurodiverse testing workforce are 30% more productive than others and the Israeli Defence Forces have found that their neurodiverse team on the Special Intelligence Unit are able to spot patterns that other teams cannot.

In an interview in the Times, the Second Sea Lord Vice Admiral Nick Hine revealed that he was diagnosed with autism ten years ago. During the interview, he spoke about his experiences saying “The world is made for neuro-typical people by neuro-typical people, therefore it’s not surprising that people who are not neuro-typical have a series of challenges or a series of difficulties both in interacting with that world, but also in the world reacting with them”.

There are many benefits to increasing neurodiversity in the workforce and opening up to a more neuro-diverse community, the challenges lie in creating a fit for purpose recruitment process and fully inclusive workplace culture. Organisations such as Specialisterne (a Danish-born, now global, a foundation aimed at opening up the job market for neurodivergent) offer advice and guidelines for those businesses wanting to become more diverse and inclusive. In our next blog in the series, we look at how to create a fully inclusive workplace environment and address hiring issues that have been flagged as problematic to various sectors of society.

Jo Dionysiou

June 22nd, 2021 View my profile

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