MAKE A DIFFERENCE | workplace culture / mental health / wellbeing

Neurodiversity in the Workplace – Embracing and Encouraging Different Ways of Thinking

Businesses must make more of an effort to hire and accommodate neurodiverse people. In this article I focus on the mutual benefits this can bring to both the employer and workforce, and how DMA Talent’s new guidance can help

Neurodiversity is a term that is essentially used to describe people who think differently to the majority, and is often mentioned in relation to neurodevelopmental conditions including autism, attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD), dyslexia, dyspraxia, dyscalculia and Tourette syndrome.

A poll conducted by the CIPD in 2018 found that just 10% of HR professionals in the UK considered neurodiversity in their organisation’s people management practices. Alarmingly, 72% said neurodiversity was not included.

The Equality Act 2010 made it a legal requirement for employers to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ for people with disabilities, an area that neurodiversity falls under according to the legislation.

Given around 10% of the UK population is neurodivergent in some way, more businesses must start making a concerted effort to become more neurodiverse friendly.

It is important to remember that each neurodevelopmental condition is unique, with a broad range of strengths and weaknesses, so there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach or solution.

Each organisation is on its own journey and has its own capabilities, so it may be a case of taking this one step at a time to find solutions that benefit both the company and the individual.

Perhaps the most important message to remember is that each individual is unique, whether they are neurodivergent or neurotypical, so it is important to set up a supportive working environment where people can showcase their talents and work on their weaknesses.

Taking the initiative to support a diverse workforce

Organisations need to start addressing these alarming statistics by better understanding what they can do to employ and support neurodiverse individuals.

Awareness-raising workshops and events are a good way to start the conversation, but they should not be considered comprehensive training. Ongoing training schemes and post-training support for line managers and HR staff are needed to facilitate sensible and realistic changes to how an organisation can better support neurodiverse workers.

In addition, building a platform where consultation is available, peer support encouraged and best practice is developed would help to sustain progress i.e. the staff intranet or an online HR portal.

Diversity programmes and initiatives typically start with someone in an organisation championing a cause, which can even be someone with a personal connection. There are many people who have been affected by neurodevelopmental conditions in their personal lives, whether that be a relative, friend or past colleague, who would stand to benefit from better awareness and understanding.

Case Study: Red Brick Road

Matt Davis, Co-owner & Executive Creative Director at Red Brick Road has recently noted the huge range of benefits, as well as the initial challenges, which hiring someone with autism presents.

Matt connected with the charities Scope and Ambitious about Autism to see if there were any people they were working with who would like work experience in the data and marketing industry.

They suggested Chris Cooper, who was struggling to kick-start a career due to a lack of opportunities related to his autism.

Together, they agreed for Chris to trial a work experience initiative at Red Brick Road, which was not only mutually rewarding, but Chris hasn’t looked back since.

Despite some initial challenges with social interaction, Matt strongly believes that not only has Chris become increasingly confident and socially active, he is now essentially a ‘social glue’ that ties different divisions together.

Chris’s day-to-day work transcends across their Finance and Creative teams and so he has really helped to enhance communication between these departments.

In addition, Chris is incredibly punctual, loyal, focused, and efficient. His work on internal communications and finance transactions demonstrates excellent accuracy and efficiency.

Chris also has a highly creative approach to his work, often recommending solutions that others may not have thought about.

Prior to Chris’s employment, all staff attended an in-house autism training workshop, which really helped introduce staff buy-in, and this can often be essential for making any diversity project a success. This introductory workshop helped introduce a way of thinking throughout the business that encourages compassion and a willingness to give one another more time.

Matt argues that businesses need to view the benefits of encouraging autism awareness in terms of a hybrid approach. It will inspire employee compassion, introduce positive cultural changes, and can help develop commercial gains for the business.

In fact, Chris continues to have so much of an impact that Matt maintains: “Hiring an autistic employee is one of the best things we have ever done as an organisation.”

Perhaps Chris sums up best why companies should be more proactive with embarking on their neurodiversity journey:

“For me, being seen as unemployed and disabled affected my mental health. It made me feel useless in society but at the same time I knew I had something genuine to offer, I just didn’t know where I could display my strengths.”

“As an autistic person who has recently become employed, it’s made me believe that I can have a normal life. Yes I have things to work on, like developing my social skills, but who can say they are the finished article?”

DMA Talent: Autism Employer Guide

According to the National Autistic Society, there are around 700,000 people on the autism spectrum in the UK and just 16% of autistic adults are in full-time, paid employment. Over three quarters (77%) of those who are unemployed say they want to work.

Over the past 18 months, the DMA Talent Neurodiversity Initiative has worked with NHS experts and leading figures in the data and marketing industry, some with neurodevelopmental conditions themselves, to increase neurodiversity awareness, develop case studies, and help further the conversation around best practice.

Using these expert insights, case studies and best practice, the new ‘DMA Talent: Autism Employer Guide’ will help employers to understand autism and its potential to diversify and expand the pool of talent available to them.

It features comprehensive guidance and recommendations on reasonable adjustments that employers can make to recruitment processes, the workplace environment, support networks, and most importantly, how to treat employees as individuals.

The DMA Talent: Autism Employer Guide is available to download for free from the DMA website.

DMA Talent also host a series of training workshops across the UK that advises attendees on reasonable adjustments they can make to the recruitment process and working environment to make their organisation more neurodiverse-friendly. As well as providing an interactive forum for attendees to highlight challenges they face and share best practice.

Author

Kate Burnett