Neurodiversity: Practical Strategies for Celebrating and Promoting Neuroinclusion
Neurodiversity – both as a neurological reality and a social movement – exists as an often-overlooked outlier in the debate on diversity. Nevertheless, organisations striving for greater inclusion should consider the potential contribution from these underrepresented minorities, welcoming the diversity of experience that those with Autism (ASD), ADHD, Dyslexia/ Dyscalculia and other neurodivergent traits can bring to the workplace.
Playing to neurodiverse strengths
We know that diversity makes for a stronger, more dynamic and creative workforce. Boston Consulting Group found that in companies with more diverse leadership teams, innovation revenue – revenue generated from new products or services – is 19 percent higher on average. McKinsey also found that companies in the top quartile for ethnic and cultural diversity have an average of a 36 percent uplift in profitability compared to those who fared worse on diversity.
Neurodiverse thinkers are particularly common in start-up ecosystems, with up to 40 percent of start-up founders estimated to be dyslexic despite representing just one in six of the general population. The strengths of neurodiverse thinking, including advanced lateral-thinking and problem-solving abilities, can help businesses become nimbler and more creative.
Sam Bevan, EMEA Director of Emerging at Snapchat, is dyslexic. With the tech industry consistently struggling to recruit and retain workers, Sam has seen a growing recognition that employers need to calibrate both their hiring processes and working environments to facilitate neurodiversity.
‘IT companies are increasingly keen to address and challenge typical workplace systems and layouts that cater solely to the neurotypical. Businesses like Snapchat are run by founders who are naturally curious, open-minded and hungry for ideas and experimentation. This approach and mindset welcomes thinking that challenges the status quo and offers different perspectives.’
Centering inclusivity within company culture
Increased inclusivity also creates a more cohesive environment for all employees, leading to enhanced performance and productivity.
Chris Quickfall is the founder and CEO of Cognassist, the UK’s leading neurodiversity assessment platform, helping to identify hidden learning needs and offering tailored support. Chris believes that organisations should prioritise building a culture of openness.
‘Neurodiverse individuals often excel in areas where others may struggle – such as in memory, mathematics and recognising and identifying trends and patterns. Having a neurodiverse workforce will drive greater creativity and innovation through providing unique perspectives, leading to increased competitiveness for your business.
‘People often worry about hidden biases and about being judged on the perception that they have a disability or need additional support with certain tasks. This should never be the case – everybody thinks and works differently, and this should not only be recognised, but celebrated.’
Taking a flexible approach to recruitment
Traditional recruitment techniques can disadvantage neurodiverse candidates from the outset. For instance, recruiters routinely require applicants to be ‘team-players’ or ‘good communicators’ even when these skills are unconnected with the day-to-day responsibilities of the role.
The application process should be as accessible as possible, so that all individuals, regardless of their cognitive needs, can fully demonstrate their skills and talents. Keeping job descriptions clear and concise while avoiding unnecessary jargon is essential. If the interview process requires completion of a task, making the end goal realistic and clear, can help neurodiverse candidates maintain their attention until the end.
Linnea Bywall is Head of People and Operations at Alva Labs. This digital hiring platform aims to eliminate bias from recruitment using data-driven psychometric testing, levelling the playing field for applicants from marginalised backgrounds, including those with cognitive differences.
Linnea agrees that by hiring and supporting neurodiverse employees, companies can reap a whole host of benefits – including developing a competitive edge in their market and establishing a sought-after company culture.
‘Prioritising neurodiversity policies also supports the adoption of other DE&I initiatives in a company, as their impact demonstrates the power of diverse thinking and supporting individual needs.
‘Human beings aren’t robots, and by embracing individualism and intersectionality employers can reap the benefits of a thriving workforce that feels supported as people and – as a result – committed to the company that they’re part of.’
Practical strategies for creating a more neuroinclusive workplace
A study by the US Job Accommodation Network found that almost two-thirds of common adjustment types – such as flexible working policies or accommodating different communication styles via speech-to-text apps – cost the employer nothing to implement, while facilitating both the inclusion and performance optimisation of neurodivergent people.
Moreover, by offering flexible alternatives, companies can increase staff engagement, improving work output, lowering absenteeism and promoting higher retention in the long term.
Thea Fineren is Chief People Officer at tech solutions company Content+Cloud. She believes that, when nurtured and harnessed effectively, neurodiversity enriches culture and delivers further agility in the face of business challenges.
‘Just as the cultural, ethnic and gender diversity of a workforce expands the landscape of ideas and experience, neurodiverse employees are a valuable asset in creating a truly inclusive organisational culture and approach.
‘When it comes to broadening DE&I goals, neurodiversity is essential, particularly in relation to intersectionality. It’s important we acknowledge that the needs and requirements of those with the same neurodivergent condition should not be viewed or treated as the same: there is no one-size-fits-all approach.’
Flexibility is key. Allowing people to tailor their daily work schedule to include multiple shorter breaks throughout the day in place of a longer lunch break, for example, offering employees a choice of communication channels (written and verbal) and sending pre-reading information in advance of meetings are all simple adjustments that can be extremely helpful for some individuals and are likely to be appreciated by the wider workforce, too.
Optimising L&D to advance neuroinclusion practices
By broadening DE&I goals to embrace neurodiverse talent, employers can not only attract, develop and promote candidates from a much wider pool but can also signal their commitment to building a workplace that creates a sense of belonging for all.
Employers should design and implement a tailored L&D strategy designed to support their workforce and to target organisational success – a process that’s crucial to establishing and maintaining a neuroinclusive workplace. Leaders must be empowered to understand, identify, and accommodate neurodivergence within their teams and committed to removing barriers to achievement. Courses and sessions that help develop this skillset are essential, as is maintaining an open dialogue with employees.
Thea Fineren: ‘Ultimately, businesses should strive to reflect the world around them, which means adapting to the changing needs of their people. This goes far beyond simply changing business culture; it’s about ensuring the workplace is a reflection of a fairer society.’