Neurodiversity: Is it the missing piece in your business puzzle?
In this guest article, Kirsty Garshong, Associate Director at Harnham, discusses how to embrace neurodiversity as a benefit, not a challenge.
To survive amid the current landscape of hiring challenges, can businesses really afford to miss out on any pool of talent? The answer, is of course, no. Employers need to be doing everything they can to ensure that they are keeping their doors open to the widest range of talent possible. By doing so, they will not only increase the volume of candidates they are receiving but also improve the quality of applicants, by reaching those from a range of backgrounds, with differing strengths.
Enhanced decision making
Let’s not forget that diversifying your workforce also helps to foster an environment where good business decisions are likely to be made. For instance, neurodiverse candidates are an underrepresented section of the workforce, with different perspectives and skills to offer. And because of the different ways that those with neurodivergent tendencies think, they can often identify unforeseen issues or challenges that others might have missed. This is hugely valuable in areas such as brand reputation. Whilst everyone makes mistakes, imagine being able to avoid those pitfalls in the first place, by anticipating what problems consumers might have with the offering.
Rule number one in marketing is understanding your customer – if you are aiming to appeal to the biggest marketplaces and to reach the widest pool of people, then your teams need to represent the breadth of this pool. So, if 15 to 20% of the population identifies as neurologically diverse, and you don’t have anyone in your workforce representing this group of people’s perspectives, you are automatically cutting down the pool of customers that you are addressing.
By building a workforce that reflects your consumer base, you will help to ensure that any products, services, or communications you release are inclusive and appealing to all.
Informed product offerings
In the world of data and tech in particular, the implications of not including those who are neurodiverse can be severe. A team of people who all have similar perspectives and life experiences does not lend itself to innovation and can result in glaring issues being missed.
For example, in tech, we have clients who create software designed to identify safeguarding issues within legal processes by flagging triggers or vulnerabilities. But if you don’t have neurodiverse people working on the software, it may be designed to only recognise one style of language or even a particular sentence format, such as pauses in a conversation, and therefore may overlook a person that needs safeguarding. Examples could include failing to identify that a person isn’t processing terms and conditions being read to them and instead needs to see them in writing.
Building these considerations into an algorithm or software product will have a knock-on effect on the consumer base. If your compliance team includes someone who is neurologically diverse, they might be able to implement an alternative route that ensures that all potential consumers are safeguarded.
Adapting workplaces to suit the percentage of the workforce with neurodivergent tendencies may not be seen by some employers as a worthwhile exercise, but the reality is that embracing an inclusive and representative workplace, where different types of learning are encouraged, will benefit everyone, neurodiverse or not.
For example, as someone who is neurodiverse, I favour reading my emails out loud. By doing so, junior members of my team might also benefit themselves. The same goes for training, if you have people who come from neurologically diverse backgrounds in a training session, the trainer may need to adapt their style, which might offer a refreshing approach to others in the group.
It’s easy to become blinkered into thinking that your approach is the only way. This narrows how messages are conveyed, accepted, and understood in the workplace. A lot of the time people believe that they are communicating a very direct message but in fact, it isn’t necessarily being received clearly by the team. Most people think differently from one another, we, therefore, need to consider how that individual learns, not how their diagnosis (or lack of) says that they should learn.
By being open about neurodiversity in the workplace, it will allow all employees to learn and improve. Those who identify as neurotypical might be open to educating themselves about it and supporting their colleagues. For a business, there’s nothing more valuable than creating an inclusive environment, where these topics are openly discussed, and everyone feels comfortable.
So how can businesses embrace neurodiversity?
It pays to be flexible in your interview approach and to educate yourself on different neurological groups and what might help them. So, for example, if the assessment involves reading reams of content, then you need to consider that it might take someone who has visual distress slightly longer to complete, or it could be helpful to give them the option of a coloured background behind the text.
As a neurodiverse individual, you shouldn’t see yourself as a challenge, you are a benefit. But because of how neurodiversity has been categorised previously, there is a tendency for neurodiverse people to feel like a burden on an organisation and therefore be wary about raising it at an interview or even once employed.
Businesses can still be guilty of asking what more this person will need, rather than considering them in terms of the benefits they can bring. It requires us to reframe our way of thinking.
In the working world, everyone wants to add value to an organisation, so, if the first question you’re asked in an interview is “Will you need any adjustments?” as opposed to “What are your strengths?” then you are likely to feel like a drain on resources from the start, rather than the asset that you are.
If employers can instead support staff in harnessing their strengths, not only will employees feel valued, but a business may also receive twice the work that they would from anyone else.