Neurodiversity in the workplace
Discover the power of workplace inclusion and accommodations for neurodivergent employees in our blog on neurodiversity. Learn how embracing neurodiversity fosters innovation, the benefits it brings to the workforce, and practical advice and strategies for creating an inclusive environment that supports the unique strengths of neurodivergent individuals.
The term ‘neurodiversity’ refers to the natural variation in cognitive functioning in the human brain, which affects the way we think, learn, and behave. Approximately 15-20% of people across the globe are neurodiverse, examples of which include neurological conditions such as autism, ADHD, dyslexia, and Tourette’s Syndrome, among others. Those who are not neurodivergent are described as ‘neurotypical’, meaning their brains function in a way which is seen as standard.
With such a significant percentage of the population exhibiting neurodiverse ways of thinking, it is important for us to consider where neurodiversity sits within the workplace. Are we collectively doing enough to embrace neurodiversity among colleagues, networks, and companies? Workplace inclusion is imperative to futureproofing companies and collective skillsets, and this involves creating an environment where neurodivergent individuals are valued for their unique strengths and perspectives. Through fostering a culture of acceptance, providing accommodations, and promoting equal opportunities for neurodivergent employees to thrive, organisations can tap into a hugely diverse range of talents and perspectives, and therefore drive innovation, productivity, and overall workplace well-being.
There are a substantial number of benefits to embracing neurodiversity within the workplace. As neurodivergent employees have ‘non-standard’ cognitive abilities and thinking patterns, they are uniquely placed to offer fresh insights and innovative approaches to problem-solving, present out-of-the-box ideas, and challenge conventional thinking across organisations. Often, neurodivergent individuals excel in specific areas due to having heightened focus, attention to detail, pattern recognition, and analytical thinking: skills which are typically found across most job descriptions. Additionally, a neurodivergent employee’s ability to see connections and patterns that others may overlook can lead to innovative solutions and alternative perspectives that not only enhance team performance but provide pathways to new internal processes and ways of functioning effectively.
The strengths of neurodivergent employees can be leveraged in a variety of roles, such as data analysis, quality control, research, or design, and are particularly advantageous in occupations within the digital tech space. This has been highlighted in Sparta Global’s EqualTech Report 2023, which examines the potential of neurodivergent professionals in technology as a way of addressing the digital skills gap. The report, released in February 2023, underpins the importance of neurodiversity inclusion for the future of all sectors and highlights that, “when companies attract and retain neuro-inclusive digital teams, they are more likely to gain and sustain a competitive advantage.” According to the research, 87% of digital leaders believe that neurodiversity will be a top priority for their companies in 2023, indicating a clear awareness of the advantages neurodivergent employees bring to the table.
With the digital skills gaps presenting huge issues for the future of every sector, it is more important than ever for workforces to embrace neurodiversity across organisations and create inclusive environments which value the strengths of neurodivergent employees. This diversity of perspectives and cognitive strengths not only enhances the overall productivity and creativity of the workforce but also fosters a culture of acceptance, respect, and innovation that benefits the entire organisation.
With more focus being placed on diversity and inclusion across the wider workforce, it is important to be aware of the ways organisations can promote inclusion for neurodivergent employees. Creating an inclusive work environment can involve several key strategies, such as:
Promote awareness: The initial step towards creating an inclusive environment is often to promote awareness and understanding of neurodiversity among all employees. In doing so, organisations can help dispel misconceptions, reduce stigma, and promote empathy and acceptance.
Accommodations and flexibility: Offer reasonable accommodations tailored to the specific needs of neurodivergent employees. This may include providing sensory-friendly workspaces, flexible scheduling options, noise-cancelling headphones, assistive technologies that aid in communication or task completion, providing quiet areas, minimising bright or flickering lights, and reducing auditory distractions. Designing the workspace to be visually organised and clutter-free can also benefit neurodivergent employees.
Clear communication channels: Establish clear and open communication channels within the organisation. Clearly communicate expectations, responsibilities, and project objectives to help neurodivergent employees understand their role and succeed in their tasks. Encourage open dialogue and provide opportunities for feedback and clarification.
Mentoring and support: Offer mentorship programs or assign neurotypical allies who can provide guidance and support to neurodivergent employees. This can help them navigate workplace challenges, develop professionally, and feel supported in their roles.
Inclusive policies and practices: Review organisational policies and practices to ensure they promote inclusivity for neurodivergent employees. This may include evaluating recruitment and hiring processes to minimise bias, promoting diversity in leadership roles, and implementing employee resource groups or affinity networks.
Professional development opportunities: Provide opportunities for professional growth and development that cater to the strengths and interests of neurodivergent employees. Offer training programs, workshops, and learning opportunities that foster their skills and help them reach their full potential.
By implementing these strategies, organisations can create an inclusive work environment that values and supports neurodivergent employees. This not only benefits the individuals themselves but also contributes to the overall success and diversity of the organisation.
A key element of neurodiversity inclusion across organisations involves reviewing company hiring processes from application to interview stages. Internal strategies can only go so far; building a neurodiverse workforce means organisations must be able to show they can support neurodiverse candidates who are looking to fill a new role, and to make that clear in their external communications.
Using inclusive language in job descriptions is a simple yet effective way of demonstrating company culture and offers the opportunity for companies to highlight the benefits and flexibility they can offer to neurodivergent applicants. Job descriptions are the first point of contact between an organisation and candidate, so it is important for companies to review this stage.
Equally, organisations should ensure their documents are accessible, as neurodiverse candidates can often struggle to read documents or fonts which are visually complex. Offering accessible documents can help organisations demonstrate that they are accommodating to the needs of neurodivergent candidates, and can include using pastel-coloured backgrounds, sans-serif fonts such as Arial, and clear line spacing between sentences.
Lastly, when speaking to neurodivergent candidates in the interview stage, interviewers should be accommodating with verbal communication, use clear, concise language and ensure there is no background noise when speaking with candidates on the phone or in person. Often, it is helpful to ask the candidate which communication style would best suit them, and work to accommodate their needs.
Accommodations for neurodivergent individuals play a crucial role in creating an inclusive work environment. Tailoring accommodations to meet the specific needs of neurodivergent employees enables them to work to their full potential, contributing their unique talents and abilities. Sensory-friendly spaces, flexible work arrangements, assistive technologies, and clear communication channels are just a few examples of accommodations that can support neurodiverse individuals in their work.
However, workplace inclusion goes beyond accommodations alone; to ensure that organisations can effectively build a neurodiverse workforce, they must foster a culture of acceptance, empathy, and understanding across all employees. Raising awareness across internal systems will help companies to dispel misconceptions and reduce any stigma associated with neurodiversity and create an environment where everyone feels valued and respected.
Moreover, supporting neurodivergent employees requires ongoing efforts. Providing mentorship, professional development opportunities, and sensitivity training for managers and colleagues are important steps towards creating a supportive and inclusive work environment. When organisations prioritise workplace inclusion and accommodations for neurodivergent individuals, they reap numerous benefits, and tap into a diverse range of talents, perspectives, and innovative thinking, which drives creativity, problem-solving, and overall organisational success.
As we move forward, let us embrace the concept of neurodiversity in the workplace and continue to create environments that celebrate the strengths of neurodivergent employees. By fostering workplace inclusion and providing accommodations tailored to their needs, we can create a more equitable, productive, and fulfilling work environment for all. Together, we can build a future where neurodiversity is embraced, valued, and celebrated in every aspect of the workplace.