Are you considering the benefits that a Neurodiverse workforce could bring to your business?
In a world where organisations are looking to get the best from their people to obtain competitive advantage, we are seeing more businesses focusing on diversity and diversity management (training and awareness).
It has been proven that organisations that serve a diverse population or audience can more adequately serve their markets when employees can relate to their customers.
So, why is it then still so rare that we hear of Neurodiversity being openly spoken of in the workplace?
If we are truly looking to celebrate the benefits of a diverse workforce, then should organisations not also be searching deeper into what this actually means?
Keen to investigate this further, I have been speaking with Caroline Turner, Owner and Neurodiversity Consultant at Creased Puddle who specialises in Neurodiversity Management.
Caroline, how would you summarise Neurodiversity?
Neurodiversity is basically the acceptance that everyone’s brain works in different way. Some individuals who are diagnosed as different from the ‘typical’ or ‘normal’ brain (neurotypical) may be identified with conditions such as ADHD, Dyslexia, Dyspaxia or Autism for example. These individuals are referred to as Neurodivergent.
What this fundamentally means is these individuals may have difficulty dealing with things that others may find easy, like partnering with colleagues or being in noisy and bright environments.
Why is this knowledge so important?
There is no question that the Neurodivergent has brought great things to society but there is a clear lack of knowledge on the actual conditions themselves and the strengths that these individuals may have.
17% of the UK population have been diagnosed as Dyslexic. It is common knowledge that Dyslexic individuals tend to be creative, but their strengths are so much more than that. They are usually brilliant people, people and very positive. They may have Linky Brains which find the connections between concepts, people and environments.
Likewise, ADHD or Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder is massively misunderstood with people assuming that individuals with these conditions are impulsive and don’t care about the consequences of their actions. They can get told to “hold on and calm down”.
These individuals have brains that run quickly, and they can link processes together. ADHD is often referred to as the Entrepreneurs Superpower, with individuals not afraid to ask “Why do we do it like that” and “Why can’t we change it”. Often, responsible for unique ideas in the work place, a high proportion of Entrepreneurs and C-suite executives have ADHD, including Ikea founder Ingvar Kamprad, Sir Richard Branson and Jet Blue founder David Neeleman.
Over 1% of the UK population is Autistic (this includes Asperger’s and other Autistic conditions) which is around 640,000 individuals in the UK alone. Autistic individuals can have an incredible knack for seeing the detail that others may miss. The Head of Microsoft (Programming) has promoted the employment of Autistic individuals as “they can hold vast amounts of programming inside their heads”. They are logical, methodical and highly analytical. It’s widely accepted that our greatest scientific achievers such as Albert Einstein, Sir Issac Newton and Alan Turing would have been diagnosed if they were still alive today.
Individuals with dyspraxia have a large cross over with all of the above conditions. Dyspraxia is often referred to as the ‘clumsy’ syndrome which is really just an over simplified explanation for a neurological difference that make up around 2% of all adults. The skill set ranges and changes with each individual however, individuals can be highly motivated, have excellent communication skills and the ability to see detail and create something from nothing. Famous individuals diagnosed include Pablo Picasso, Bill Gates and David Bailey.
So, what is the impact?
There are so many more individual conditions out there but even if we take these 4 conditions and assume that there isn’t any comorbidity (diagnosis living side by side) then in a company of 1000 employees, organisations could have around 230 employees with these conditions alone. This is only set to increase due to awareness and diagnosis.
We might know that Sheila in accounts is amazing with numbers or Jeff in sales could sell ice to eskimos but, often we just accept these differences without really thinking about them. What could happen if we could ‘harness’ the skills I’ve spoken about in a business environment?
What can be done?
If somebody is diagnosed with a neurological difference e.g. Autism, Dyslexia etc. then they will be covered under the Equality Act. However, disclosure plays a huge part in the ability to isolate and harness the talents of the Neurodivergent.
HR teams can promote environments whereby employees feel safe and happy to disclose what is going on in their heads. Which in turn can mean reasonable adjustments in the workplace that increase staff efficiency and productivity.
However, the main question from business leaders remains to be “Why would I want to attract and recruit any of the above individuals?”
With Brexit looming and uncertainty in the market place, businesses are looking to identify alternative talent pools, and many will need specialist guidance.
Only 17% of those on the spectrum are full time employed, this just shows there is a huge talent pool which is not being tapped into. The skills that a Neurodiverse workforce could bring to a business, can only but enhance competitive advantage.
Whilst corporate social responsibility is on everyone’s lips, this is a lot bigger than that. It’s about realising the commercial benefits of having a Neurodiverse workforce. Its not about doing it because it’s the right thing to do, its more about ‘why wouldn’t you’?
Its traditional in the Western world to look at difference as ‘scary’ and ‘not worth the risk’. However, there are leaders that are brave enough not to look at neurodivergence as ‘scary’ but ‘exciting’.
So, what should business leaders be focusing on?
Having learnt from Neurodivergent communities, Creased Puddle have worked with clients to challenge their ways of working that often have their roots in tradition, rather than being evidentially proven as to why they best work for the business.
For us, it’s about supporting organisations in being an employer of choice and helping them to create, develop and retain the best Neurodiverse workforce for their business.
Hiring, retaining and progressing Sheila because of the skill set, provided by her brain is clever, logical and its makes good business sense….
We’ve only got to look at Auticon who employ only autistic consultants as a prime example – they are currently growing 50% year on year!
If you have started asking yourself “Do my recruitment policies and systems allow for an environment where these people can demonstrate their skill set?” And if so “When we’ve recruited these individuals for their extensive talents, how do we know how to make the most of them?” then contact us further on 01962 893 300 or visit our website here. Alternatively, if you would like to receive a confidential discussion, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Caroline spent 21 years as a Police Officer qualifying to Inspector level and has always had a desire to challenge the status quo and seek alternative ways of identifying talent in under represented groups. Whilst the youngest female Sergeant in North Yorkshire Police she founded and Chaired the NYP Women's Network supporting and championing women in the Service.
Her focus changed in 2012 when her son was diagnosed with Autism. She then founded All Things Autism and subsequently Neurodiversity which received the support of Chief Officers.
After retiring in 2017 Caroline continued as the Lead for Neurodiversity for the Police and sits on North Yorkshire Councils Autism steering group, City of York's Employment Sub group for Autism and Pro Autism in University York St John. She is passionate about workspace inclusivity for all.
For further reading;