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Rachel Aldighieri

Data & Marketing Association

MD of Data & Marketing Association

Read more about Rachel Aldighieri

How to embed neurodiversity into your people management practices

Just 10% of HR professionals have considered neurodiversity in their organisation.

A poll conducted by the CIPD in 2018 found that just 10% of HR professionals in the UK considered neurodiversity in their organisation’s people management practices. Alarmingly, 72% said neurodiversity was not included.

Given that around 10% of the UK population is neurodivergent in some way, more needs to be done to support these characteristics at work.

The Equality Act 2010 made it a legal requirement for employers to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ for people with disabilities, an area that neurodiversity falls under.

Supporting neurodiverse individuals should begin with the recruitment process. This should very much be individualistic, where possible.

Neurodiversity is a term that is essentially used to describe people who think differently to the majority, and is often used in relation to neurodevelopmental conditions including autism, attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD), dyslexia, dyspraxia, dyscalculia and Tourette syndrome.

A typical diagnosis of a neurodevelopmental condition/s is made by assessing people to see if they match a negative set of criteria, symptoms or difficulties – however recent neurodiversity programmes and movements instead focus on strengths and skills.

They aim to promote and recognise the significant role neurodivergent people already play in society, and help ensure people have equal opportunities to gain and retain meaningful employment.

It is important to remember that each neurodevelopmental condition is unique, with a broad range of strengths and weaknesses, and so there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach or solution. There are, however, a number of recommendations that are designed to help everyone in the workplace.

Perhaps the most important message behind all of this is to remember that each individual is unique, whether they are neurodivergent or neurotypical, so it is important to set up a supportive environment where people can showcase their talents and work on their weaknesses.

Over the past 18 months, DMA Talent’s Neurodiversity Initiative has worked with NHS experts and leading industry figures, some with neurodevelopmental conditions themselves, to define best practice and develop a forum where businesses can discuss neurodiversity.

Below is a brief summary of some reasonable adjustments you can make to recruitment procedures and working environments to become more neurodiverse-friendly.

Each organisation is on its own journey and has its own capabilities, so it may be a case of taking this one step at a time to find solutions that benefit both the company and the individual.

Supporting a diverse workforce

Organisations need to start addressing these alarming unemployment statistics by better understanding what they can do to employ and support neurodiverse individuals.  

Awareness-raising workshops and events are a good way to start the conversation, but they should not be considered comprehensive training. In-depth training schemes and post-training support for line managers and HR staff are needed to facilitate sensible and realistic changes to how an organisation supports neurodiverse workers.

Be aware of employees’ sensory preferences and adverse sensory environments, for example, open plan offices have lots of background noise and lights.

Additionally, a platform where consultation is available and best practice is developed would help to sustain progress.

Neurodiverse employees, who can sometimes feel misunderstood in the workplace, often prefer peer support.

Providing staff with resources and allocating time for employees to meet, share advice, support each other with challenges, and have a collective voice to raise awareness, can all be beneficial.

Reforming the recruitment process

Supporting neurodiverse individuals should begin with the recruitment process. This should very much be individualistic, where possible, and employers should create an environment for someone to thrive – not to catch them out or test them in ways that are not relevant to the role.

For interviews, on-the-spot questioning is not always the most productive way to assess a person’s initiative. Someone with an autism spectrum condition may benefit from taking a task away and analysing it in greater detail, and then provide their thoughts at a later date.

Some employers find that informal interviews combined with a work trial or skills testing is a better way of assessing skills than a formal interview.

Simple adjustments to the working environment

Once a neurodiverse person has been employed, organisations should think about how tasks are assigned.

It can be helpful for someone with autism, for example, to receive instructions in clear, concise, plain English, stating what is needed and when. Additionally, questions could be asked in advance to avoid presenting people with challenging questions unexpectedly. Keeping to deadlines and giving specific timings, where possible, is also helpful.

Be aware of employees’ sensory preferences and adverse sensory environments, for example, open plan offices have lots of background noise and lights.

Employers need to look at what is best for their employees – they are all individuals who will thrive given the right environment.

Consider using desk partitions and low lights, telephones that light up when ringing and noise cancelling headphones if appropriate.

Something we tend to recommend during our workshops is different working zones, which may be separated for ‘creative’ group work and ‘quiet’ project work, where analytical tasks can be focused on, noise is minimal and things like lighting don’t need to be so intrusive.

Not everyone operates best in the same conditions and a lot can be learnt about an employee from observing where they prefer to operate.

Career development opportunities

It isn’t uncommon for neurodivergent people in the workplace to describe feeling like they are being held back for promotion, or underestimated when being considered for taking on increased responsibilities.

It is essential to ensure that there is career progression and equal development opportunities for all staff – it can simply be a case of putting together a plan that identifies and targets an individual’s strengths. For example, while many people are very capable of line managing other employees, this does not suit everyone, and some would prefer to avoid line management altogether.

Consider increased responsibility in a more technical or advisory capacity, or even project management. Either way, it is imperative to match salaries for senior technical or managerial roles. This will diversify and encourage specialism across the workforce that could be hugely advantageous to an organisation.

Autism employer guide

According to the National Autistic Society, there are around 700,000 people on the autism spectrum in the UK and just 16% of autistic adults are in full-time, paid employment. Over three quarters (77%) of those who are unemployed say they want to work.

Using expert insights, case studies and best practice, the new Autism Employer Guide will help employers to understand autism and its potential to diversify and expand the pool of talent available to them.

It features comprehensive guidance and recommendations on reasonable adjustments that employers can make to recruitment processes, the workplace environment, support networks, and most importantly, how to treat employees as individuals.

The Autism Employer Guide is available to download for free from the DMA website.

When considering what practices should be adopted to support neurodiverse staff, employers need to look at what is best for their employees – they are all individuals who will thrive given the right environment.

Interested in this topic? Read Thinking differently: neurodiversity can help companies thrive.

Author Profile Picture
Rachel Aldighieri

MD of Data & Marketing Association

Read more from Rachel Aldighieri

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