When the word ‘diversity’ is mentioned, many topics spring to mind; gender equality, inclusion of members of the LGBT+ community, ethnic minorities, and more, but we rarely consider one of the most common forms of difference between us: neurodiversity. Whilst we all experience differences in thoughts, beliefs, and opinions in everyday life, it is often overlooked as being the missing piece of the puzzle of a thriving environment.
Neurodiversity is defined as “the range of differences in individuals brain functions and behavioural traits” by the Oxford dictionary referring to variation regarding learning, attention, sociability, and other mental functions. Affecting approximately 1 in 7 individuals, some of the worlds leading companies are putting a spotlight on Neurodiversity to promote success.
Many of us have experience with neurodiversity, perhaps being diagnosed in school with dyslexia or having a close friend or family member on the autism spectrum. However, we have all experienced differences in thinking, opinions, beliefs, and values, which is the basis behind the need for a neurodiverse workplace. A group of like-minded individuals can and often do work and thrive together in business, however when faced with a problem that nobody can solve in the ever- changing world we live in, the monoculture of many workplaces will suffer.
Innovation comes from having a group of creative thinkers, diverse in mindset and experiences. When appropriately supported and embraced, neurodiverse individuals can bring cultural and economic advantages to organisations.
According to a recent article published by the Harvard Business Review, neurodiverse teams have been shown to deliver 60% better results with faster decisions being made. Alongside this, JPMorgan have also conducted a pilot study which found that autistic individuals were found to be 92% more productive in a range of tasks compared to “neurotypical” peers. This is thought to be down to the tendency to focus on data and facts. In terms of profitability, McKinsey has reported that companies in the top quartile for neurodiversity on executive teams are 21% more likely to outperform. The ability to question and challenge social norms is a clear benefit arising from accommodating a neurodiverse workplace.
Like most things, there cannot be a ‘one size fits all’ solution in implementing a neurodiverse workplace, however an increasing awareness and education is always an advantageous starting point. The invisible nature of neurodiversity adds to the struggle of appropriate action being put in place. Many neurodivergent people may not disclose their differences in fear of discrimination meaning that reasonable adjustments can not be put in place. With the current lack of understanding and stigma behind neurodiversity, it is not hard to understand why people may not feel comfortable asking for help.
There are many ways companies can educate their workforce about neurodiversity. Education may take the form of training and workshop attendance where team leaders can learn how to accommodate every employee and provide a truly inclusive environment and retain employment. Consultancy groups can be brought in to educate with specialists having an advanced knowledge to share on the topic. Internally, neurodivergent employees may also feel comfortable and motivated to share their own experiences in the form of a webinar, newsletter, or other ways. Attraction and recruitment also seem to be an obstacle for supporting neurodiversity in the workplace. Once again, external companies are available in this process however there are many possible actions to take to reduce discrimination. Refraining from listing requirements such as “communication skills” unless specifically required, avoiding penalisation for spelling errors and providing alternative ways for candidates to sell themselves other than interviews are just a few suggestions.
Although this topic may seem too broad to know where to start, it is important to reflect and identify where inequalities lie and the aspects that can be improved that may not have come to mind before.
The high unemployment rate of neurodivergent people is not down to the fact they are not as capable; it is because our current society does not know how to effectively support differences.
The large pool of talent that is not being touched can bring so many unconsidered benefits and now is the time more than ever to welcome differences and change the way we work.
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Daniela Badihi, a Neuroscience student at the University of St. Andrews learning about how the mind works and functions. With the skills and knowledge she gained from her studies, she plans to pursue a career in Human Resources working to lead and manage an organisation to greater success.