According to CIPD, 1 in 7 people in the UK are neurodivergent. Neurodiversity refers to different ways the brain can work and relates to people who naturally think differently to others. Neurodiversity is a relatively new term, used to describe conditions such as autism, dyslexia, ADHD, and dyspraxia (plus more). The term is essentially used for people who are wired differently to ‘neurotypicals’ – those that brains function in the way that society expects.
Diversity in the workplace has been accepted for a long time, with organisations eager to reap the benefits of a diverse workforce. But while we’re busy building a workforce that includes people from different genders, religions, ethnicities, sexualities and everything else under the diversity umbrella, have most stopped to consider neurological diversities?
Neurodiversity at Work
Many people who fall under the neurodivergent umbrella can find modern recruitment processes and modern workplaces difficult. As an example, only 16% of autistic adults are estimated to be in full-time employment in the UK, even though many have IQs that are above average and have excellent skills that they can contribute to an organisation. Unique qualities mean they can excel in different areas: around 20% of the UK’s entrepreneurs are dyslexic, including Richard Branson and Lord Sugar.
But recruitment processes are riddled with problems for neurodivergent people. From job description jargon to traditional interview questions. Then there are the workplace issues, from open offices to loud bustling teams. So, what exactly are the common barriers to truly embracing neurodiversity in the workplace?
There are a number of ways that our job descriptions can deter neurodivergent people from applying for our open positions. From lengthy jargon to unnecessary skills and competencies, we should ensure everything is clear and concise.
Be very literal about which skills are must-haves and which are nice-to-haves. A lot of organisations are guilty of listing an extremely long list of soft skills for their roles, which is fine, but in some situations it isn’t necessary. Say you’re hiring for a tech or IT related role; this is more about hard skills that soft skills – so make sure you’re clear about this.
Many neurodivergent people might struggle with usual social conventions in the workplace, so if they feel like these soft skills are a big part of a role, they’re more likely to not apply. Neurodivergent people often take statements very literal, so if they don’t meet the expectations your portraying, they’ll think you don’t want people like them.
The Interview Process
Another aspect to consider is that the conventional face-to-face interview is often a test of social competency. Positive attributes that are commonly associated with neurodiversity include creativity and innovation, lateral thinking, strategic analysis, highly specialised skills, and consistency.
When judging on social competence, many of these positive attributes can be missed. People may struggle with aspects like eye contact, or being able to express themselves fully when answering a question, or even struggling to understand the context of a question if it isn’t very specific. It’s also said that some neurodivergent people can be more critical and honest about their weaknesses, or lack confidence, due to negative experiences in the past.
There are a number of ways to adapt the interview process to be more inclusive for people with these struggles. There are the obvious adjustments, like adapting questions and being more understanding of silences when waiting for answers, or providing insights into what will be asked before the interview. Another effective method, for those really committed to being inclusive of neurodivergence, is replacing the traditional face-to-face interview with a work trial. This means that people with any of the struggles outlined can get to know the working environment while being assessed on their ability to do the job, rather than their ability to answer questions.
The Working Environment
Those with strong sensory issues can face a lot of issues in the workplace – what neurotypicals find normal may be a struggle for others. Aspects like bright lighting can even be distracting, so where possible they should be given a working space aware from bright artificial lights, and closer to natural light. This can apply to screen brightness too, so ensure this is adjustable to their needs.
Noisy, open plan offices can also cause issues due to the amount of distractions present. Neurodivergent employees should be given the option to work in a quieter space when possible, with headphones or ear plugs permitted too. These tiny changes allow organisations to make the most of the talent and skills they can bring to an organisation, with very little costs involved!
As we’ve just mentioned, the office environment can sometimes can an impact on neurodivergent people – particularly those with sensory issues. Flexible working can be a great addition to help accommodate a number of these challenges.
Allowing your employees to work flexibly, such as allowing working from home days or allowing them to travel outside of rush hour, can help combat some common issues. Allowing them the personalisation of how they work gives them the opportunity to really showcase their skills, while allowing your organisation to reap the benefits of a different way of thinking.
Neurodiversity Breeds Creativity
The changes that can be put into place are very small adjustments that can make a huge difference. Providing enough flexibility means your employees can play to their strengths – and it’s worth noting that some people may not be fully aware of the ways with their differences might affect their ability to do certain tasks.
It’s also important to remember that employees may not even disclose that they are neurodivergent. In fact, they may not even realise their differences. So, this poses the argument that management should take steps to understand the strengths and challenges of each employee to ensure that everyone can perform at their best. Taking a proactive approach means that you can support a high-functioning team, rather than letting problems arise first. Getting into the mind set of flexibility and allowing employees freedom to work in a way that suits them means that you’re being inclusive of everyone.
Its also important that there is awareness throughout the organisation, particularly with management teams and HR departments. If we plan on building a truly inclusive and diverse culture, it’s key that everyone within the organisation shares the same mindset.
Neurodivergence, particularly when it comes to autism and Asperger’s, often faces a stigma that stems from misunderstanding and ignorance. This makes it difficult for them to find employment, especially with the accommodations they need both during the recruitment process and in the workplace. But neurodivergent talent can truly give us a competitive advantage by redefining how the organisation thinks – so let’s start by reforming our HR and recruitment processes.