Building teams on diversity not uniformity: Neurodiversity in the workplace

Punctuality, reliability, a keen attention to detail. Nobody would argue against these being admirable qualities in the workplace. How about mathematical problem solving and the ability to identify patterns and trends by looking at challenges from a different, unique angle? These, again, are traits suggestive of a highly valuable employee.

However, such qualities may also be associated with people with Autism or Asperger’s, conditions commonly perceived in the context of ‘disability’. But what if your ‘disability’ is not a disability at all, but rather a matter of your brain being wired a bit differently? Unfortunately, often disadvantaged by traditional selection processes and overlooked for both employment and promotion, those on the Spectrum may not even get the opportunity to use these skills. The benefits are lost to employers, too, who miss out on the potential for creativity and the competitive advantage offered by such useful aptitudes.

Is Neurodiversity the key?

The good news for organisations and potential employees is that the likes of Dyspraxia, Dyslexia, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Dyscalculia, Autistic Spectrum and Tourette Syndrome are increasingly considered by psychologists to be examples of neurodiversity, rather than a disability per se. Neurological differences (i.e. those relating to the nerves and nervous system) are accepted simply as a variation in human wiring arising from a genetic predisposition and/or environmental factors. The idea of one single ‘healthy’ or ‘normal’ type of mind, brain or style of neurocognitive functioning no longer applies. Neither should we confuse neurodiversity with learning difficulties – differences in wiring are just as likely to confer strengths as weaknesses, while neurodiverse people have their own form of communication, creativity and self-expression that is as valid as any other.

Why should employers be aware of neurodiversity?

The emphasis is on the word ‘strengths’. In a highly competitive and increasingly globalised job market, encompassing neurodiversity into your recruitment strategy could help to:

      • Harness desirable attributes – Creativity, lateral thinking, a ‘different perspective’, highly specialised skills and strict consistency are commonly associated with neurodivergent people. With such skills, they could make a valuable contribution to innovation, formulating new products, services, more efficient processes and ways of working. They could also be highly sought after in areas such as finance or compliance that require a high level of attention to detail and strict adherence to policy and procedure.
      • Build winning teams – if employers understand more about individual profiles, strengths, weaknesses and communication styles then they can match and balance these accordingly when building teams, offering appropriate support as and when needed.
      • Provide access to a wider talent pool – It’s estimated that around 10 per cent of the UK’s population is neurodivergent in some way. So, employers could really miss out on the business benefits and competitive advantages offered by neurodivergent skills if they don’t consider the extent to which recruitment and selection processes attract and accommodate such individuals.
      • Comply with the law and avoid discrimination – Simply put, it’s now illegal not to ensure a level playing field during the recruitment process. Simple solutions include offering multiple application methods, avoiding ambiguous/generic job adverts, setting only relevant tasks at the interview stage and ensuring that the selection process enables candidates to demonstrate their abilities in different ways.

What can employers do?

      • Select fairly – Are your processes completely fair and non-discriminatory or could they adversely impact both neurodiverse applicants and your company’s efforts to generate true diversity and inclusion in the workplace?
      • Be aware of hidden neurodiversity – Could it be a factor in explaining differences or challenges in the performance of any existing employees? There may be implications for training, mentoring and promotion programmes when we consider neurodivergence as a possible factor in explaining why some individuals struggle with an aspect of their job that traditional training can’t fix, or why others seem to excel in ways beyond the scope of their role. How can you enable their strengths to flourish and support them with factors that may make it more difficult for them to engage with typical organisational life or traditional structures?
      • Be open to a fresh perspective – We should challenge traditional concepts of ‘important’ requirements in employees, such as certain levels of numeracy and literacy, eye contact, active listening skills and body language. An autistic person, for example, may struggle with aspects of interpersonal interaction, but it does not mean that their broader skills and abilities should be discounted. It’s also a way of thinking that organisations should actively promote within their teams.
      • Freedom to innovate – Neurodivergent people often think in ways that neurotypical people cannot, and, as a result, may be more naturally inclined to suggest solutions ‘outside of the box’. Providing encouragement, support and a forum to explore their ideas could yield dividends.

If you’re keen to build your teams on diversity rather than uniformity or would like to start a conversation about not missing out on valuable skills, then we’d love to hear from you. Click here to contact us.