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Date posted: 01st September 2022

01st September 2022

Neurodiversity In The Workplace: A Guide for Leaders

Neurodiversity In The Workplace: A Guide for Leaders

Neurodiversity is a term that encompasses a variety of conditions including dyslexia, autism and ADHD.

It is estimated that almost 15% of people in the UK are Neurodiverse – and yet, despite this, there is a still distinct lack of awareness on the subject, especially in the corporate world.

This is evidenced in a recent study by The Institute of Leadership & Management and Infinite Autism. They found that as many as half of UK managers surveyed admitted that will not hire neurodiverse talent.

But when diversity within an organization offers numerous, proven benefits – why is there still such reluctance to hire neurodiverse individuals?

In the article ‘Why we need to stamp out the neurodiversity stigma’ for HR Zone, Jamie Graham tells us: “Change begins with a conversation, and that ethos is incredibly applicable to this scenario. While not addressing the entire issue, awareness and education is often the first step to combating any stigma”.

From the article:

The impact on individuals

When it comes to mental health, the stigma around neurodiversity can have a much more direct and, oftentimes much more devastating impact. It has been found that those with neurodivergent conditions are more susceptible to mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety and general poor wellbeing.

These mental health conditions don’t end with the workday either – they permeate through every aspect of the individual’s life, having knock-on effects on relationships, physical health and much more. Stigma comes into play as neurodiversity leads to these secondary mental health difficulties, simply due to the fact that, for many individuals, there are large parts of their lives where they struggle to meet the academic or social norms and expectations that are placed upon them.

This can then lead to many unfortunate situations, ranging from exclusion from social groups, right to dismissal from employment. There has even been a recent study proving this showing a 40% rise in employment tribunals relating to autism alone. A further 2019 study by BIMA, looking specifically at the digital and technology sector, found that neurodiverse individuals were found to have a much higher incidence of anxiety and depression, at 84% compared to 49%, seen in those that are neurotypical.

This can often be associated with the aforementioned social norms thrust upon neurodiverse individuals, which can lead to the masking of conditions. The BIMA study states that 39% of neurodiverse people have not disclosed their condition at work. This could be out of fear of embarrassment, fear of hindering career progress, or as mentioned, fear of complete dismissal.

While not addressing the entire issue, awareness and education is often the first step to combating any stigma

With all this in mind, what can be done? The most important thing to come to terms with is that there is no one solution that will solve this issue.  ToHealth truly believes that for real change to happen, it needs to happen to every fibre of an organisation. Neurodiversity solutions can’t just be viewed as another service or a box-checking exercise. It needs to be a culture change embedded into every aspect of the business.

There also needs to be an awareness that there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to meet every single individual’s additional need. Supporting neurodivergent employees comes down to just that, the individual – working to support their specific needs and improving their day-to-day life by doing so. This all might seem like an overwhelming task, but it is crucial that this journey starts, and it starts now.

Start the conversation

Change begins with a conversation, and that ethos is incredibly applicable to this scenario. While not addressing the entire issue, awareness and education is often the first step to combating any stigma. Donna Stevenson from the British Dyslexia Association, states: “Everyone should make a commitment to becoming neuroinclusive, but a lot of people don’t realise that something like dyslexia or dyscalculia is a disability”.

That being said – awareness is only the first step. Real change has to impact every single step, starting with the recruitment process. Simple adjustments such as making questions available ahead of time, detailing who will be involved in the recruitment process, or simply allowing for a longer time period to answer questions can go a long way to helping those with autism – something sorely needed, as shown by a 2018 study conducted by Westminster AchieveAbility Commission which found that 52% of neurodivergent people faced discrimination during the recruitment process.

Following recruitment, there is a myriad of steps that can be taken to make the workplace more neurodiverse inclusive, but this again needs to be approached for the individual, not making assumptions based on pre-existing stereotypes and knowledge. Some employees may need a quieter workspace, some may need assistive technology or software, and some may just need more attention paid to tasks and how they are distributed and communicated.

These actions not only provide a platform for a fairer and more balanced workplace but also genuinely improve the lives of so many individuals, every single day

Organisations need to develop a safe and open culture, free of judgement for these needs to be explored. On top of this, most, if not all of these changes will have little to no impact on those who are neurotypical but can make the world of difference to others.

As Richmal Maybank from the National Autistic Society put it: “Every time we advise workplaces about neuroinclusivity, we find it is actually just best practice in general and makes work better for everyone.”

This barely begins to scratch the surface of the work that we all need to do to move towards a more inclusive workplace, but removing the stigma around neurodiversity is a huge step. These actions not only provide a platform for a fairer and more balanced workplace but also genuinely improve the lives of so many individuals, every single day.

At ToHealth and Concept Northern are vocal advocates for neurodiverse inclusion, and offer end-to-end support in this campaign – everything from bespoke awareness sessions and coaching, to supplying assistive technology and software, to supporting the review of internal policies and guidelines.

Read the full article, here.

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