How to build a more inclusive space for neurodiversity
A neurodiverse workforce requires empathetic leadership to really thrive and perform at its best. It’s time for employers to think more inclusively in this regard.
Thanks to fresh representation in the media and comprehensive research, society understands that neurodiversity (ND) is more than just cognitive difference. It comprises its own ways of working, its own talents, its own pain points – it’s something that should be sought after.
Businesses still fall short, however, on the practical steps needed to welcome neurodivergence, ensure better retention amongst staff and allow everyone (ND or otherwise) to thrive in the workplace.
If leaders want to appeal to the future workforce and attract fresh talent, they must make their ads and recruitment drives more engaging and accessible to neurodiverse thinkers.
At Utopia, we recently worked with Universal Music UK on its Creative Differences ND handbook, which looked at the ND landscape in creative businesses. A mixture of research and practical tips, it’s quite telling of the current climate. ND is a necessity in modern business, yet there’s a massive lack of incentive to accommodate it. Just look at some of these statistics from the handbook:
- 70% of those polled said that adapting to be more ND friendly is not a priority.
- 71% agree that there is a lack of experienced mentors/managers.
- Only 17% know if they have ND employees in the workplace.
It’s clear something needs to be done. While change won’t happen overnight, there are things you can start enacting overnight that will help enable change towards an ND-positive workplace.
1. Diversify the application process
‘Creative’ is something of a business buzzword in business – employers crave it. So when you have, for example, people with ADHD traits being more likely to think in a creative fashion, it’s obvious where ND can benefit business. Unfortunately, draconian recruitment formats are setting obstacles before people even click ‘apply’.
If leaders want to appeal to the future workforce and attract fresh talent, they must make their ads and recruitment drives more engaging and accessible to ND thinkers. By clearly outlining themselves as an ND-friendly workplace in their ad’s inclusion statement, they instantly aid potential members of the team in knowing that they will be surrounded by a safe and understanding culture.
Awareness sessions for staff can cultivate better understanding and, in turn, more empathy.
From there, you can dig into how technology can broaden the spectrum of recruitment. A dyslexic applicant disheartened by the traditional CV or 500 word ‘why would you like to work here?’ task could thrive in a two-minute-long video alternative. Answering the question visually harnesses different tools that give ND applicants a chance to shine. It’s not about gearing the application specifically towards ND folks, but rather it’s just about putting them on an equal footing.
That openness should extend to the interview process too. They’re nerve-wracking for anyone, and those with ND may be inclined to avoid it altogether – in fact, many opt to be self-employed. Small but essential adjustments could be considered to make a difference during interviews.
Employers could consider allowing candidates to see questions prior to the meeting. Perhaps a preparatory phone call could calm nerves, or you could consider allowing the interviewee to be accompanied for support, or perhaps allow them to visit the office before you meet. Again, it’s not about ‘rigging’ the system to give ND applicants a better chance than other people, it’s just allowing them the opportunity to sell their talent in the best way possible.
2. Support is required from everyone, not just the C-suite
Learning and development programmes for staff across the board, from boardroom to factory floor, hold the keys to creating a kinder culture. Now it’s time to tailor these programmes to neurodiversity.
As previously mentioned, 70% of those polled said adapting to be more ND-friendly is currently not a priority. This lack of ND knowledge and care is doing untold damage to the wellbeing of ND staff.
Neurodiversity is an umbrella term. Complexities within the spectrum mean that different individuals require unique adjustments, so intersectional characteristics make actions based on labels ineffective.
Half of the battle is just about consideration for others. A post-work drinks invite seems to be an inclusive act of friendliness, but it neglects the fact that boisterous environments and intense social gatherings can be triggering experience for ND people.
Awareness sessions for staff can cultivate better understanding and, in turn, more empathy. With more knowledge of things like tics and stimming, colleagues can easily lend a helping hand and prevent ND workers from being othered.
Peer-to-peer support can be invaluable in helping ND workers to navigate their way through the already established socio-political nature of the office. A ‘buddy system’ may seem old hat to some, but a colleague who can give advice on prioritisation and time management can help an ND worker to excel.
3. Adjust to different working styles
Fostering a flexible environment can help boost ND talent and productivity levels. Currently, 82% of those polled for the Creative Differences handbook don’t even have an ND approach that differs from disabilities.
Something as simple as asking new starters to write a bio, including their preferred working styles, starts a conversation on how the office can be more inclusive, without forcibly addressing specific characteristics.
Allocating a ‘quiet space’ in or offering hot-desking can also reap rewards – again, they’re not ‘just’ for ND employees. The radio, roaring conversations and overall bustle of the office can be overwhelming, and sometimes that library-like atmosphere is needed.
Neurodiversity is an umbrella term. Complexities within the spectrum mean that different individuals require unique adjustments, so intersectional characteristics make actions based on labels ineffective. By showing empathetic leadership, employers can encourage key conversations so that the recruitment process and day-to-day office structure can be positively adjusted to benefit everyone.
Interested in this topic? Read How to embed neurodiversity into your people management practices.
Nadya is co-founder of Utopia, a culture change business that creates more purposeful, inclusive and entrepreneurial cultures for clients. Their top-to-bottom, boardroom to factory floor approach has clinched household names including Coca-Cola European Partners, Google, Schneider Electric, Spotify, and Universal Music.
She also co-...