What is Neurodiversity and why businesses must embrace it

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It's impossible to not have at least some notions about diversity and inclusion, in the industry of today. Though we are a long way behind where we should be, the industry is moving active steps forward to help inclusion and this can be applied to all sectors. But there is one aspect of diversity which is still quite neglected: neurodiversity.

Simply put, neurodiversity refers to the natural variations in the way we humans think and process thoughts, including but not limited to ADHD, Tourette Syndrome and more. Progressive employers such as Microsoft have already realised they can unlock a range of benefits by promoting neurodiversity, not least the possibility to cultivate a more positive company culture.

But we are no experts of neurodiversity. So this week we reached out to the co-founder of JourneyHR, Aliya Vigor Robertson, to ask him more about neurodiversity and what businesses can do to improve on that end.


Photo credit: Paul Peterman

Neurodiversity in the workplace

Diversity in the workplace has become more of a focus in recent years, with the introduction of gender pay gap reporting and more recently, the Black Lives Matter movement. But diversity extends beyond race, gender, religion, disability and sexuality - it includes our cognitive differences too.

First coined in the late 1990s, the term “neurodiversity” refers to the natural variations in the way we think, including autism, dyslexia, dyspraxia, ADHD and Tourette syndrome. Greater attention in this area has sought to change society’s perception and eradicate the stigmas associated with neurological differences.

With around 15% of the UK population now estimated to be neurodivergent, the conversation around the benefits of neurodiversity in the workplace continues to gather momentum. 

Progressive organisations like Microsoft and Amazon are increasingly recognising that by supporting and promoting neurodiverse and inclusive workplaces with dedicated hiring programmes, they can unlock a wealth of benefits. 

The success of any business, from the smallest SME to the largest corporation, depends on its ability to evolve and innovate, and a melting pot of different perspectives, ideas and approaches is crucial. From diversity of thought to creativity, attention to detail and lateral problem-solving, neurodiverse teams can trigger positive change in the way companies approach their work and customer base, enhancing the company culture, brand and bottom line.  

But despite growing awareness of this vast pool of talent, there is still a long way to go. According to the National Autistic Society, just 16% of autistic adults in the UK work full time despite 77% wanting to do so, while a separate report by the CIPD found that nearly three quarters of employers do not include neurodiversity in their people management practices. 

Think outside the box 

For many businesses which have traditionally been designed to support neurotypical employees, the challenge will be to understand how to attract and retain neurodiverse individuals and create an environment that nurtures their potential.

Firstly, employers should review their hiring and onboarding processes and the way they evaluate potential candidates. Is the hiring process guilty of unconscious bias? Could the interview format be adjusted to appeal to neurodiverse individuals? Employers should look at the language used in job descriptions and ensure that essential skills are clear and concise. 

Also, is recruitment being limited to a certain region or area? In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, more people are working from home than ever before. This new way of working has opened up the recruitment process enormously. Candidates who may feel uncomfortable working in an office environment could be a great asset if they can work remotely, for example.

All of these potential candidates should be made aware of the support they will receive from the outset, including adaptions to training or adjustments to the physical working environment. Building links with neurodiverse communities and organisations can help employers to widen their reach and build a fairer hiring and onboarding process. 

However, true diversity is about more than meeting targets or box-ticking. In order to make all forms of diversity intrinsic to the business, leadership buy-in is essential. Managers and leaders have an important role in creating a culture of inclusivity where all employees are given the opportunity to thrive. If companies make the mistake of hiring neurodiverse individuals without shifting the organisational culture, it will surely backfire, and employees may feel resentful or isolated as a result. 

Creating the right culture

The key to creating an inclusive culture where neurodiverse employees feel understood and appreciated is collaboration and communication.

Making assumptions about what will work for people or presuming certain groups of people will work a certain way is a deeply flawed approach and could risk alienating the very people the business hopes to attract. Instead, businesses should work with their employees to co-design policies and practices that suit individual needs and preferences. 

This is not just helpful from a neurodiverse perspective but benefits the entire workforce. Employers who create a culture that celebrates and champions individuality, and where people feel they can be their true selves will inspire greater motivation and engagement, with 83% of millennials feeling actively engaged when they believe their organisation fosters an inclusive culture.  

Crucially, a diverse workforce will also help businesses appeal to a wider customer base. Customers have come to expect that the companies they work with understand and are able to represent them. As businesses seek to recover from the financial aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic, this will be more important than ever. 

Every business has a responsibility and moral duty to create a fair and level playing field, but businesses that are proactively committed to building an environment that champions all sections of society, regardless of their differences, and makes them feel safe, supported and valued, will reap the rewards of creating an inclusive culture.

Aliya Vigor Robertson is the co-founder of JourneyHR. Header image: AKQA


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