What is neurodiversity?
How boring would the world be if we were all the same? The fact is that we are all diverse. Some of us may share certain characteristics, such as same hair colour, height etc., but our brains are definitely individual and unique, just like our fingerprints. The term neurodiversity means that our brains (neuro) differ (diverse) and it was coined by Australian sociologist, Judy Singer, in the 1990’s.
Neurodiversity is becoming better understood and appreciated as our knowledge expands and employers are starting to better recognise the immense talent within the vast neurodiverse community. It is currently estimated that 1 in 5 of us is neurodiverse. That’s a lot of talented individuals!
What is covered under neurodiversity?
There are several key traits that are usually considered when talking about neurodiversity. These correspond to medical disorders, all of which are fairly common but some of which are not very well known. They are:
- Dyslexia – can cause problems with reading, writing and spelling.
- Dyscalculia – affects the ability to acquire arithmetical skills. Dyscalculic learners may have difficulty understanding simple number concepts, lack an intuitive grasp of numbers, and have problems learning number facts and procedures.
- Developmental Coordination Disorder (Dyspraxia) – affects fine and/or gross motor coordination in children and adults. It may also affect speech.
- Developmental Language Disorder (DLD) – a type of speech, language and communication need whereby the individual may have difficulty talking and understanding language.
- Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) – the way you think about and experience the world is different to most people. Autism is considered a spectrum because it’s different for every autistic person.
- Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) – is a condition that affects people’s behaviour. People with ADHD can seem restless, may have trouble concentrating and may act on impulse.
- Tic disorders, including Tourette syndrome – a condition that causes a person to make involuntary sounds and movements called tics.
A research report published by The Institute of Leadership & Management in 2020 revealed that half of leaders and managers would not employ a neurodiverse person. It also found that most organisations do not include neurodiversity in the diversity and inclusion strategy and nor do they offer training on inclusion to staff.
A lack of knowledge and appreciation of neurodiverse talent might mean that the potential to attract, recruit, develop and retain neurodivergent staff could be overlooked and we may continue to miss the opportunity to drive inclusion of neurodiverse talent unless we make a conscious effort to increase our awareness .
Many employers are now realising the potential of neurodiverse talent and are actively seeking to attract and appreciate neurodivergent staff. Some employers who are doing this well include BBC, Microsoft, JPMorgan Chase and EY, who have recently launched a ‘Neuro-Diverse Centre of Excellence’ in the UK.
These organisations already recognise that creating a supportive working environment for individuals with cognitive differences will help them to apply their strengths and help the organisation to excel.
The benefits of a neurodiverse team
We now know much more about the benefits of diversity within teams and this includes neurodiversity. Having a neurodiverse team will bring more ideas, creativity, innovation and different ways of communicating. If you have a team of 10 people who all think alike, you are going to get 10 ideas all the same. If you have a team of 10 people who think differently, you are going to get 10 times as many ideas!
Neurodiverse strengths are likely to outweigh any challenges in teams and the benefits to organisations is clear as we move into our post-pandemic ways of working.
How can you become a neuroinclusive employer?
Being neuroinclusive is important for organisations, of all sizes. Not only do we have ethical, moral and legal responsibilities, but it is great for business.
As we start to emerge from the pandemic, our approach to working practices are changing and the impact the past 18 months has had on those who are neurodivergent can be particularly challenging.
If you want to move towards being a neuroinclusive employer, the following are some good next steps:
- Get buy-in from the top of the organisation, so there is a commitment to make a genuine difference and it is not seen as a one-off activity.
- Communicate your ambition to be a neuroinclusive employer and invite colleagues who are equally committed to join you in making the positive difference. This could lead to the creation of a staff network which can help with collaboration and communication.
- Increase your own awareness of neurodiversity and then do the same for your organisation, and especially your line managers. Having knowledge and appreciation of neurodiversity will help to build confidence across your organisation.
- Demonstrate that you care and are interested in recognising, understanding and attracting a neurodiverse range of skills and talents.
- Start to look at your policies, processes and practices with a neurodiversity lens. Is your website neuroinclusive? Do your job adverts use too many words? Are your recruitment practices truly inclusive for neurodivergent candidates? Is your performance management process helping neurodiverse talent to thrive?
- Look inside your organisation and check on your existing talent. Do they feel able to bring their whole selves to work? Are you creating an environment to enable them to thrive and be open with others about their neurodivergence?
Focusing on people’s strengths will ensure that you have an organisation where everyone is able to be their best and by being neuroinclusive, you can ensure that you don’t miss out on the immense talent of an estimated 20% of our population.
Mel Francis, Chartered FCIPD, is an accomplished HR Director with over 25 years’ experience gained in the public, private and not for profit sectors.
Mel has gained her significant experience working in the HE, Edtech, Publishing and Telecoms sectors.
Mel is also Mum to a brilliant neurodivergent son and she is a neurodiversity champion who takes every opportunity to increase awareness to help to make the world a more accessible place for her son, and for all neurodivergent talent. Do contact her to discuss how you can become a neuroinclusive organisation.