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Why leaders must plug into neurodiversity

10th May 2018
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It’s hugely exciting that neurodiversity is garnering greater recognition as an underappreciated field of difference. It marks a new and healthy chapter in our gradual, human trend of awareness.

If we go back around 50 years to early personality diagnostics – which were meant to identify ideal management and leadership capabilities – there was very much a focus on ‘one true way’… a ‘perfect profile’.

I’m thinking in particular of when Myers-Briggs testing made its debut. As a result of that development, ESTJ qualities were perceived, by many, to be the most desirable, baseline characteristics for a manager.

Now it’s acknowledged that we need a far greater appreciation of difference. So other personality profiles, such as DISC, Belbin’s team roles and Gallup’s strength-based approaches to personal development have emerged to reflect that.

In parallel, we have become ever more aware of the diversity movement that began with gender and broadened to include disability, ethnicity and sexual orientation.

However, we have had to do a lot of catching up when it comes to neurodiversity.

Alternative thoughts

That process has gathered momentum thanks to recent research from CIPD. In a survey, the organisation found that just 10% of HR professionals specifically take neurodiversity into account in their people-management practices.

However, since around 10% of the population is neurodivergent in some way, organisations could do more to support that segment’s career prospects – and yield tangible benefits.

CIPD notes that the alternative-thinking styles that fall under the neurodiversity banner include dyslexia, autism, ADHD and dyspraxia.

It points out that individuals to whom those styles apply “can have unique strengths, ranging from data-driven thinking to sustained focus over long periods, an ability to spot patterns and trends, and the capacity to process information at extraordinary speeds”.

Yet 72% of HR professionals don’t consider neurodiversity at all when they draw up their people-management strategies, and 17% don’t know whether they do or not.

According to CIPD diversity and inclusion adviser Dr Jill Miller, “We’re just scratching the surface of understanding how neurodiversity at work can help organisations be more creative and innovative.

“However, even at a time when employers are under pressure to identify new talent pools to fill skills gaps, recruitment and development practices are screening out such individuals and the unique skills they possess.”

Outside the box

As soon as you: i) accept difference, ii) understand that people are bringing something unique and special to the table, and iii) open up your organisation and the people within it to new ideas, then the more innovative – and in touch with  the whole range of your customers – you will be.

So, deepening your involvement with neurodiversity and pioneering more inclusive approaches makes tremendous business sense.

Different ways of thinking and of perceiving the world are the very qualities that organisations are crying out for.

So I am in full agreement with Dr Jill Miller: this is an untapped talent pool. So why aren’t we doing more to access it?

Difference can encourage and foster innovation. How often do we hear about bosses wanting people who can think outside the box?

The growing profile of neurodiversity should compel leaders to do just that.

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