19 Feb Neurodiversity in the workplace
Equality, diversity and inclusion are concepts that few people would argue against – the idea of a fairer society with equal access to opportunities, amenities and progress is an ideal we often hear about, but often it appears to be so hard to achieve. As a society, we still struggle to make space for difference, when really – we should be seeing difference as the norm.
Being a woman, a woman of colour and working in the field of Neurodiversity, has allowed me to have some insight into this equality, diversity and inclusion concept from many angles. It is a concept that that has presented itself to me as an employer, as an employee and most importantly it has presented itself to me as an educator of future generations. The number one solution that comes to me is that making space for difference should be the norm, not an exceptional circumstance.
When we think of Neurodiversity be it in the form of Autism, ADHD or Dyslexia, there is often a deficit model applied. Differences are often discussed in the following terms – a neurodiverse person will find this difficult, will do this differently, will experience this in a certain way and although this information is crucial and can contribute to making effective space for difference, it also leads to building barriers to engagement and employment.
A deficit approach to discussing differences leaves space for the ‘we couldn’t possibly accommodate for this’ thought. This is natural and again should be explored to ensure that support is reflective of need, but it should also be balanced with the extensive benefits that can come along with someone who sees the world uniquely.
So how can employers and industry leaders make room for difference in their organisation? How can we move closer to the fairer society we all desire without thinking we can’t possibly achieve this? Well, here are 5 key steps to help answer those questions…
1 ) Be radical
In order to employ and engage with people who are neurodiverse we have to start to remove the barriers that the neurotypical mind may unknowingly and without fault be putting in place. Let’s look at the interview process for example, we expect candidates to write an application (this could rule out someone with dyslexia), we expect candidates to show good social skills in interviews (this could rule out someone with ADHD), and we often expect candidates to think quickly and creatively on the spot (this could rule out someone with Autism).
Now all of these tasks are reasonable but if there is a commitment to making space for difference, you have to be radical to ensure that you can get a person who thinks differently to engage with your organisation. So, use the benefits of technology to remove barriers (video applications for example), challenge your own expectations of social norms such as good eye contact and a firm handshake and think about the types of questions that are asked and how time can be given to candidates to respond effectively.
2 ) Be prepared to be challenged
To employ people who see the world differently and engage with the world differently will inevitably challenge the culture of an organisation, but will also add value. Neurodiversity may challenge the status quo at times and so leaders and organisations should be building workplace cultures that encourage this in a constructive and productive manner. Reviewing and developing things like alternative means of communication, the work environment and measures of productivity can be beneficial to all employees and help you to retain employees who need these slight tweaks.
3 ) Adopt an open-door policy
Most of us will be familiar with the tinge of anxiety that comes with approaching our boss about a difficult conversation, a mistake that has been made, the deadline not quite met etc. This can be a daily experience for someone who engages with their own emotions and the emotions of others differently. An open door, non-judgemental work culture can be a real benefit to the whole organisation and can support someone with neurodiverse needs to regulate their emotions and express their thoughts and ideas more clearly.
4 ) Encourage self-disclosure
In the pursuit of a more inclusive organisation, great communication about difference is key and self-disclosure plays a crucial role in getting this right. In order to support someone in your organisation, it is important that you understand what will help the individual to be their best, so they can give you their best. Self- disclosure – which is not only shared with the management but with colleagues – can make a big difference to the working experience of a neurodiverse individual, and will also encourage a culture of openness and acceptance.
5 ) Make difference your norm
I have talked a lot about the culture of an organisation, as culture is what really ensures that you attract and retain the best and most diverse work force for your organisation. I would like to take this thought one step further, as I believe the pursuit of inclusion and equality will only be successful if it is in the DNA of the organisation. If the DNA of your workforce is built from the point of view that difference is celebrated, difference is embraced and we are all different, then exclusion will no longer exist in your space.
In order for equality to be successful we have to pursue inclusion to the point of making it obsolete, this is not without challenge but one intentional step at a time will ensure that highly skilled neurodiverse people are not left out of the workforce.
Article written by Emma Pinnock of Essential Education Group
Emma Pinnock is the Founder of The Essential Education Group, which is a collective of support for schools, organisations and families who are supporting and living with special educational needs. Her work focusses on encouraging people to see past their comfort zones, to be solution-focussed, despite the difficulties, and to stretch themselves past the norm. Her mission is to inspire as many people and organisations as she can to make room for neurodiverse people to uniquely take their place.