This article introduces the subject of Neurodiversity. It is written for anyone in human resources, procurement, learning, and development, or any other functional business leadership role with an interest in how diversity is playing a key role in the modern workforce.

In recent years, diversity has been at the forefront of many conversations. Especially those about the workforce. While all this has happened, some diversity themes haven’t been discussed as much as others; one of them being neurodiversity. It is reported that between 15 and 20% of the population are neurodivergent, highlighting the importance of the topic.

What is Neurodiversity?

Neurodiversity is the diversity of human brains and minds, the infinite variation in neurocognitive functioning within our species (spot diversity in the definition there?!).

There’s no ‘right’ way of thinking or learning, not one human is the same as another, which is why talking about neurodiversity and highlighting it is ever so important. Not one but multiple neurological or developmental conditions are understood in the context of neurodiversity. These include autism, ADHD, dyslexia, dyspraxia, Tourette’s Syndrome and others.

Terms

Here I will present the terms commonly used when explaining neurodiversity, as found and taken from the ‘Neurodiversity in the workplace’ guide by UCU.

Why is Neurodiversity important?

For employers to understand and talk about this workforce diversity consideration is so crucial because it reduces the stigma that occurs around learning and thinking differently.

Multiple stereotypes can be found concerning those who are neurodivergent.

Unfortunately, this has often resulted in them not feeling ‘normal’ and believing the stereotypes surrounding their condition.

Furthermore, greater discussion helps to support inclusion in multiple aspects such as in education and the workplace.

If the workforce has an understanding and has neurodiversity in their workplace, then they can find ways to support those who are neurodivergent in their organization. Moreover, the organization will understand the barriers neurodivergent individuals face and can identify solutions to these.

How neurodiversity benefits the workplace

Diversity of all kinds provides great benefits to organizations that act on it.

Having neurodiversity in an organization can bring unique perspectives and ways of thinking into the organization. It’s having people who can look outside of the box and view something from a different angle others may not have thought of, and in my eyes that can only be a benefit.

Another benefit could be the unreached skill set that can be obtained by hiring a neurodivergent individual. To further explain this, at least 30-40% of neurodivergent adults are unemployed, this is eight times the rate for people without a disability – which is shocking.

The neurodiverse talent pool is a huge community of capable people, gifted in their own way, that can be accessed by organizations sensitive to the neurodiversity challenges these individuals face.

Catering for neurodiversity

No employer should think they can open their doors to neurodiverse candidates and expect a flood of CVs and application forms. 

There is a good list of things employers must build into their culture, behaviors, processes, and systems to accommodate the neurodiverse community. 

Many neurodiverse individuals struggle with social environments.  They don’t respond to other humans the way society might expect them to.  They have emotional challenges that are very real to them, even though these behavioral and social barriers may appear trivial to others. 

This means any employer keen to fashion their workforce strategy to incorporate neurodivergent people should take pause and plan for it.  Fortunately, there are a wealth of useful reference points to help employers make informed decisions on the steps to take: 

 

Once employers understand these resources, it would be beneficial to embrace mentoring and support programs for neurodiverse employees and their colleagues. This would allow teams to better understand how to accommodate each other’s differences and challenges.

You can’t treat neurodivergent individuals the same as neurotypicals because their brain functions differently. Additionally, you also can’t treat neurodivergent people the same because their symptoms may be expressed differently to someone else with the same condition.

For example, ADHD can be categorized into three main types: inattentive, hyperactive-impulsive, and combination. So even if someone has the same condition, it doesn’t mean they face the same challenges.

Just because it may be difficult to get catering to neurodivergent individuals right, it doesn’t mean it’s not worth it in the long run. Neurodivergent individuals are capable of achieving things neurotypical people can’t, which could provide a massive benefit to employers.

Final thoughts

Neurodiversity is an important topic to consider when designing a modern workforce. There is a substantial talent shortfall as the workforce is becoming more digital. Organizations are struggling to find the quality talent they need. Therefore, employers need to diversify their talent pool and their expectations.

Neurodiverse people represent a sizable yet misunderstood talent pool that is not yet been tapped into. I tried to answer some key questions with this article, and it’s clear that embracing neurodivergent talent is the way forward. To do this, businesses first need to have a better understanding of the barriers that neurodivergent employees often face, which we will identify in our next article.