11 tips to creating an inclusive workplace that supports neurodivergent talent

Neurodivergent word cloud on a white background.

Recently, we hosted our first ever Festival of Workplace Inclusion. On this day, 26 speakers joined together to explore how we can create a better working world for those of us who think, work and learn differently. We hosted sessions based around 3 key themes: Inclusive recruitment, retaining and developing diverse talent, and creating an inclusive culture. Our speakers shared some great advice around each theme. Below, we highlight 11 key takeaways from the event.

Inclusive recruitment

Inclusive recruitment is a way of recruiting that recognises, understands and values differences in every part of the process. It’s accessible and inclusive to all people, flexible to different needs, and free from bias.

1. An individualistic approach is key

When it comes to inclusive recruitment, taking an individualist approach is key. In our session, ‘Inclusive Recruitment: 5 key tips you need to know’, our guest speaker Maria, explained; 

“For us, inclusive recruitment means taking an individualistic approach to really understand every [candidate]/new hire, their strengths and challenges and providing support where needed, rather than it being an individual’s responsibility to fit in with a certain set standard or norm.”

Maria Hamilton is Engagement Manager at Auticon UK, a global IT consultancy that exclusively employs autistic adults as IT consultants.

Speaking on this further, she said;

”You’ll learn the most from the individuals who are neurodivergent themselves. Taking an open-minded approach to understand them, rather than stereotyping them against a label, enables you to work better together.“

Asking candidates, ‘What can we do to support you through this process?’ can help you to take an individualistic approach. It allows every candidate the chance to let you know what works best for them, without asking anyone to self-identify as neurodivergent or disabled.

During the session, Maria gave practical advice around inclusive screening, interviewing and onboarding. Watch the session on demand and also gain tips to create job specifications and attract neurodivergent talent.

 

2. Be proactive about inclusion. Connect with talent in an authentic way. 

Over the last couple of years it’s safe to say we’ve seen a lot of change in the world of work. Phrases like the Great Resignation have come to light. More and more people are reevaluating the future of their careers and what they want from their place of work.

In our session, ‘How to create an inclusive Early Careers recruitment strategy’, our guest speaker Ellie says;

“We’ve seen that diverse talent is quite forthcoming in what they want to be able to engage with us about. Topics like equality and sustainability and what we call people characteristics are really key in their ambitions and motivations. They want to connect with us as an employer in a very authentic way to talk about these topics. Long gone are the days where we can stand in sports halls and handout flyers. It’s about how we connect with them in a really authentic way and talk about the topics that are important to them.”

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Ellie Long is Global Inclusive Hiring & Campaign Lead at Rolls Royce. During the session, Ellie shared examples of strategies they’ve put in place to help them to engage with diverse graduates. An example was their Power Series, 6 virtual events focused on traits like courage, belief and curiosity.

“During our courage event, which focused on neurodiverse talent, we had members of our open community, which is our employee resource group for neurodiversity, talking really openly about their background. They shared how they joined Rolls-Royce, and what their challenges are, as well as their ambitions…It really gave students the opportunity to have that really open and authentic and transparent conversation with our people with no set pre-agenda of talking about our strategy or what our career opportunities are. It was simply about how we connect this diverse cohort of talent who’s interested in Rolls-Royce, with our people.“

In the session, Ellie discussed the 3 core pillars to inclusive recruitment at Rolls Royce. Register for free to watch the session on demand.

3. Provide support from day one. Be aware that needs may change.

In our session, ‘Transforming the first 90 days of the employee experience’, our panel gave some great advice when it comes to onboarding.

Our panel was made up of Carla Henison, Diversity & Inclusion Business Partner at

Hymans Robertson; Jamie Shields, Global Disability ERG Lead at AMS; and, Calum McBurney Talent Acquisition Lead at Texthelp.

Offering some key advice, Jamie, who is visually impaired, highlighted the need to provide support from day one;

“I’d love to get to the day when businesses make the likes of Texthelp available to download for everyone across the business…Imagine a day where accessibility and those tools that we all need are available instantly to download to support you, and you don’t have to sit and wait weeks or months for your adjustments to come through. It’s a game changer.”

Echoing this, Calum said “One of the things we do, at Texthelp, is to make sure that our new-starts have all the tools and equipment needed to do the job they’ve been hired to do. We don’t wait until their first day to have these conversations – they take place during the recruitment phase. We also introduce our inclusive tools and make them available to everyone regardless of identified need or condition, because not everyone identifies with having a need or a condition. But, everyone will recognise a barrier that prevents them from doing their job. We want to remove as many barriers for people as quickly as we can.”

Carla also shared an important reminder;

“Be mindful of individual needs. Respect and be open to these. No two people will experience a neurodiversity in exactly the same way, and a person’s needs may also change over time. For example, perimenopause and the menopause can affect people who are ADHD because of the hormone fluctuating that goes on in relation to the front of the brain. A change of jobs and the stress that comes with it, or a change of teams and a lack of structure, or perhaps a break up of a relationship. So be mindful that solutions may need to change along the way too.

Discover more by watching the session on demand.

Retaining and developing diverse talent

Success happens when we encourage employees to bring their whole selves to work. That means creating working environments where all employees can understand and work in their own way.

4. The workplace should be a network. A place that offers care and community.

Up to 1 in 5 people around the world are neurodivergent. That means up to 1 in 5 of us think, learn, process and behave differently to what is considered ‘typical’. People with Dyslexia, Autism and ADHD, for example, think in ways that are truly unique. They bring out-of-the-box thinking to the workplace, and more! Yet, 76% don’t fully disclose their neurodiversity at work.

In our keynote session: ‘A highlight on Dyslexia, with Jay Blades MBE and Martin McKay’, our guest speaker Jay said highlights the importance of community at work;

“ The workplace is a network and a place that should be another form of care and community for anybody that has a disability such as dyslexia. Create that environment where they can open up”.

Jay Blades is a TV presenter with Dyslexia. At least 1 in 10 of us has Dyslexia, yet 3 in 4 of us hide our Dyslexia from our employers. During the session, Jay shared his experience of Dyslexia as well as some key advice to organisations including having a Dyslexic Day to encourage awareness and conversation. The session is available to view on demand now. 

5. Inclusive technology offers a small change with big impact.

Inclusive technology supports equity in the workplace. Equity recognises that everyone has different circumstances. It provides personalised resources so that everyone has what they need to reach an equal outcome. For some, technology is a source of optimism. For others, it’s considered ‘too difficult’.

In our session, ‘Using technology to help a neurodiverse workforce thrive’, Texthelp’s Paul Fox challenged this myth;

“Many everyday examples of assistive technology that are in use today were once considered too niche, too expensive, out of reach, or too much hassle. I mean, look at correcting eyesight. We wear spectacles. Spectacles moved to contact lenses. We moved to single-use contact lenses, right up to the point now we have laser eye surgery and indeed lens replacement. Access ramps that I mentioned a short time ago, nobody would contemplate not having them in place when designing a new building…But at one time, that was seen as too much hassle.”

“Then look at the things we have surrounding us in terms of technology. Text-to-speech and predictive text, voice recognition and input, digital voice recorders, and voice assistance that are present in so many homes nowadays. Why then is it that we think it’s too much to ask that we design and build with accessibility in mind from the outset?“

Inclusive technology can help organisations to make a big impact in the space of diversity and inclusion. Watch the recorded session and discover tools that help a neurodiverse workforce to thrive.

6. Look critically at the working environment. Work with different thinkers to inspire change.

In our session, ‘Empowering neurodivergent superheroes & eliminating kryptonite at work’, our panel shared some great advice around supporting neurodivergent talent.

Kicking off the session was Theo Smith, Author, Neurodiversity Evangelist and Founder of Neurodiversity at Work. Inspired by Theo, this session explored the unique strengths and talents of neurodivergent people, as well as the barriers that can impact success. Theo explains why he uses the analogy of a superhero and their kryptonite;

“I like to visualise things, see things, touch and feel things to get my head around them. So if I can’t do that then I struggle to get my head around what it is the conversation is about. So for me, when I thought about that concept, the superhero, the superpowers, and the kryptonite, it was really how I could understand how people struggle, and why people struggle. It’s not always of their own doing, it’s what other people put in their world. Often, their superpowers, the things they may be good at, they may not even be aware of because they spend so much time having those powers eliminated by something in their environment… If it happens long enough, you can become completely immune to your strengths and your abilities – your superpowers.”

Continuing the conversation, Aidan Healy, Chair of Lexxic reflecting on the modern workplace;

“Most of the time when I ask people about their working world, they say ”How have we ended up here, with so many emails, instant messages, meetings – it’s so overwhelming”!. So, you have to think, “well who designed this system?”. We know that the majority of people in the workplace in Senior Leadership positions tend to be middle class, white males, historically. If we are to reform the world of work to be more inclusive and solve some of these big challenges, we need to think differently. Bring in different perspectives.

Adding to this thought Ruth Ellen Danquah, Chief Innovation Officer at Exceptional Individuals said;

“I think we need to challenge the idea of ‘cultural fit’. There is still a tendency to think, “ Will this person fit in?”. But this doesn’t really give much value. Looking at a ‘cultural add’, and how this person can drive innovation is key.”

During the panel, our guests shared some practical advice to improve the working environment. Jess Gosling, Co-Chair of UK Civil Service Neurodiversity Network (CSNN), summed it up well when she said;

“The ultimate thing is having a team and a culture and an organisation that’s curious…There’s no perfect way to ‘cut the cake’ but being curious and open and caring, that’s the key.”

Gain more advice by watching the recording session.

7. We must look at our policies and procedures, as well the stories, the hearts, and the minds.

When it comes to supporting a diverse workforce, it’s important to have transparency. Share why workplace inclusion is important to you. Encourage story-telling and open conversation –  but don’t forget to take tangible action.

During our session ‘Improving the employee experience: lessons from leading brands’, our guest speaker Leila McKenzie-Delis said:

“One of the oldest pieces of management advice, as you can see here on the screen, is ‘what gets measured, gets done’. And so making an informed decision based upon scientific research is key, whilst also having the hearts, the minds, the storytelling of what it is that brings each of us to this place today.

Leila McKenzie-Delis is the CEO of DIAL Global. Recently they released a report, The McKenzie-Delis UK Review March 2022. The purpose of this report was to better understand how organisations are reporting, measuring and taking action to become more inclusive and diverse employers.

Some key findings:

  • 88% of participating UK companies say they encourage honest discussions around disability in the workplace
  • 2 in 5, or 39%, provide further support in the form of mentoring, coaching, buddying, and many other interventions that we would want to see.

Speaking on these findings Leila said;

“In summary, we’re looking at the will and the want being there. But we are seeing less so with the tangible, actionable initiatives, because, well, only just over half say that they identify and share best practices for recruiting retention, when it comes to those who have disabilities….it’s key that we look at the policies and procedures, whilst not forgetting, of course, about the stories, the hearts, the minds, in order to engage and encapsulate our workforce.

You can discover more by watching the recorded session.

Creating a truly inclusive culture

 A truly inclusive workplace celebrates differences, amplifies employee voices, and creates a sense of belonging for all.

8. “The more we talk about neurodiversity, the more people understand.”

During our session around the ‘Power of neurodiversity champions and Employee Network Groups’, our speaker left us with this key statement, “The more we talk about neurodiversity, the more people understand.”

Our speaker, Barrie Morgan-Scrutton is Founder of North West NHS Dyslexia Network. He’s been making a real difference in his organisation because he did just that. He spoke about his personal experiences with Dyslexia, and from there he met lots of dyslexic thinkers in his workplace. This led him to create a support network which has proved to be valuable at improving the experience of many within his organisation.

Barrie highlighted what it means to be a neurodiversity champion;

“For me, I feel that it’s a person that has some lived experience, because then when a member of staff comes to see them, and says, “I am dyslexic,” that person will know that champion will understand them and their thought process…Within that role, they have to have the knowledge to listen, understand, support and take action.”

When it comes to an Employee Network Group (ENG), Barrie highlighted;

“It needs to be employee led to make sure that the employees know that it is their network…But from that, there needs to be a supporting mechanism, and coming in from the organisation.

He added;

“The power of employee networks is having that specialist knowledge within your organisation, and actually hone it…you’ve got that lived experience to actually share within the organisation and from more personally within the network.”

Watch the session on demand to discover how an ENG can drive real change in your organisation. Gain key tips that’ll help develop these initiatives.

9. Put employees in the driving seat.

During our session ‘An EY story: The role of technology in ‘building a better working world’ for all’, our guest speaker Kevin said;

“Our neurodiverse population brings an untapped talent. So part of our job is to maximise the talents that our workforce are bringing to us, maximise that and provide an environment where it can be maximised.”

Kevin Grogg is Assistive Technologies Service Owner at EY. For him, inclusive technology helps them to create an environment that puts employees in the driving seat. He explained;

“What we do every day in assistive technologies is…make suggestions because the individual is always in control. I will say from my experience, I’m happy to make suggestions, but let’s work together and see what we can do to help you help yourself. And that’s really what we do is we enable individuals to help themselves. But we’re always here in the background if anybody needs to come to us or needs to come back to us. “

At EY, inclusive technology, like Read&Write, is made available to all employees. That way, they can download it themselves with ease. Speaking on the benefits Kevin said;

“A couple of advantages here is we know it can be really difficult to raise your hand or self-identify, ask for help. We understand it can be difficult. So what this does is in our EY app store, you’re doing this entirely yourself. You don’t have to talk to anybody else. You don’t have to say anything to anybody, but try it out.”

Discover more by watching the recorded session.

10. Drive real change with transparent leadership, your people and community initiatives. 

In our session, ‘3 key ‘ingredients’ for creating an inclusive workplace culture’, our panel shared what 3 aspects are key when it comes to inclusive culture.

Cathy Donnelly, Chief People Officer at Texthelp, shared the importance of Transparent Leadership;

“At Texthelp, we openly celebrate differences. We take time to learn about each other, sharing lived experiences and simply creating safe spaces for people to connect around the globe. An example would be our Culture Club…Initiatives like this are great, but it’s so important that they’re built in an environment with inclusion at the heart. And this really begins with transparent leadership….From the beginning, our CEO has stepped forward and illuminated his own story. Our people understand why inclusion matters to us and they’re not afraid to share their own stories because of this.”

Priyaneet Kainth, Global Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Manager (Consumer Healthcare) at GSK, shared how an inclusive culture is carried on through an organisations people;

“When we talk about creating an inclusive culture, it’s not just the CEO’s responsibility or the leaders, it’s everyone’s responsibility… It’s each one of us…We all have the authority and power to speak up and share our different perspectives.”

Paulette Cohen MBE, Head of Diversity and Inclusion (UK, Europe and ME) at Barclays, shared how Community Initiatives can help drive change;

“At Barclays our Employee Resource Group is called Reach. It’s our disability, mental health and neurodiversity resource group. It has around 3000 members around the world…There are Co-Chairs in each region, and they lead the community. They innovate and bring about change…For example 9 years ago they initiated the ‘This is Me’ campaign…our storytelling campaign…9 colleagues told their story about mental health…it builds understanding and awareness, it challenges stigma…a few years colleagues with other conditions wanted to share their stories today. Today over 250 people have shared their stories.”

The future of workplace inclusion

11. Don’t be afraid to drive change. There’s nothing to lose and everything to gain.

If your organisation hasn’t yet considered bringing disability into the D&I agenda, in our session ‘The future of workplace inclusion’, our panelists built a mini business case to help.

Diane Lightfoot, CEO of Business Disability Forum highlighted a key reason to take action;

“Disabled people are also women, or black, or LGBTQ+, or any of the above. None of us fit in one box…Quite often we see organisations prioritising gender representation. Great, you need to do that, but make sure that includes disabled women and neurodivergent women as well. Disability is part of the human condition, and can be acquired by any of us at any time.”

Marcia Brissett-Bailey, Chair of the Cultural Perspective Committee at British Dyslexia Association shared;

“It should be a way of working. It should be organic…It’s so important, and sometimes we have to be uncomfortable to be comfortable…It’s ok if we get things wrong along the way, as long as we’re trying…We need to engage the whole organisation and bring everyone to the table….You don’t feel like you belong if you’re not invited to the table…We need to start working on bringing the top down to the bottom, and creating safe spaces for everyone to share what they feel could be different in the organisation…To do something different brings a different flavour and a different movement.”

Commenting on how driving change can benefit a business Dan Harris, CEO of Neurodiversity in Business said;

“If we think about why business should do this, it’s not just because it’s the right thing to do and in line with our cultural values. There’s also a big aspect here that there are significant skills shortages in our economy that neurodivergent staff can and should fill. We have countless examples within Neurodiversity in Business with some of our corporate members who are now tapping into very particular skill sets and reaping significant rewards.”

Although our festival has already passed, all sessions and resources are available on demand.

Watch on demand, for free.

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