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Neurodiversity is a term used to describe the variety of differences in how the human brain functions. Around 15% of the population in the UK is thought to be neurodiverse. As knowledge of neurodiverse conditions has grown in recent years, this number has increased. The necessity for businesses to prioritise neurodiversity in the workplace is becoming increasingly important because of the considerable increase in the number of adults receiving diagnoses.

Even though 15% of the population in the UK is thought to be neurodivergent, most workplaces are still designed for neurotypicals. A failure to address neurodiversity in the workplace results in a non-inclusive working environment, preventing those with neurodivergent conditions from reaching their full potential. It also means companies are either missing out or not making full use of an extremely valuable talent pool.

This article aims to increase understanding of neurodiversity in the workplace and motivate companies to develop an inclusive workplace where neurodivergent individuals can thrive.

What is neurodiversity?

Neurodiversity refers to the natural differences in human brains and how they affect how people perceive and interact with their environment. Some of the most common conditions demonstrating these differences are:

  • Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
  • Autism
  • Dyslexia
  • Dyspraxia
  • Dyscalculia
  • Dysgraphia, Hyperlexia
  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
  • Tourette’s Syndrome

Making unexpected connections, seeing patterns, thinking graphically, streamlining procedures, digesting information quickly, and data-driven thinking are just a few examples of the distinctive and valuable strengths these neurodiverse conditions or alternative thinking styles bring to the workplace.

But before we discuss the benefits of neurodiversity in the workplace further, it is essential to address the question of whether neurodiversity is a disability.

Is neurodiversity a disability?

Even though people with neurodivergent conditions have historically been stigmatised as having disabilities, there is a growing realisation that neurodiverse individuals face different challenges than those considered “neurotypical,”. Although some social skills may be difficult for neurodiverse individuals, many have above-average analytical, information processing, and pattern recognition skills.

It’s also crucial to remember that many people with neurodiverse conditions do not see themselves as disabled. Yet, neurodiversity can often fall within the definition of ‘Disability’ under the Equality Act 2010. As such, neurodiverse individuals would be afforded additional protection, and employers would need to ensure that ‘reasonable adjustments’ are made.

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Benefits of neurodiversity in the workplace

Most managers know the benefits that diversity in backgrounds, experiences, gender, culture, and other personnel distinctions may provide to organisations. The advantages of having a neurodiverse workforce are comparable but more immediate. There are many strengths associated with neurodiversity conditions. Moreover, neurodivergent individuals can often be trailblazers and pioneers, for example, Richard Branson (Virgin). Ingvar Kamprad (IKEA) and David Neeleman (Airline mogul). Here is a list of 6 benefits of neurodiversity in the workplace.

1. Increased efficiency

The Nero-Diverse Centre of Excellence Leader at Ernst & Young (EY), Hiren Shukla, has previously discussed how programming by neurodiverse employees reduced two-three-hour processes to just two minutes. “Their thought process and their delivery are different to what we are used to”, said Hiren. These employees could see inefficiencies that neurotypical employees had overlooked or stopped noticing.

Consider your company for a moment; if you could achieve such an example of increased efficiency a year by focusing on neurodiversity in the workplace, what would be the potential benefit to your bottom line and employee morale?

2. Improved leadership skills

In addition, having a good neurodiversity programme benefits the entire workforce. At EY, they have developed better managers and leaders who consider each person’s needs. While managers increasingly avoid complex language, use shorter phrases, and deliver more precise directions, it has also aided company-wide communication. The greater clarity has been advantageous to the entire staff.

3. More streamlined processes

As neurodiverse people think differently from “neurotypical” people, their perspectives can aid in reducing risk and waste by streamlining processes. For example, at Hewlett Packard, neurodiverse software testers observed that one client’s projects always seemed to go into crisis mode before a launch. Because the testers were intolerant of disorder, they strenuously questioned the company’s apparent acceptance of this chaos. This led the client to realise they had become too tolerant of these crises, and with the help of the testers, they successfully redesigned the launch process.

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4. Neurodiversity: The untapped talent pool

Despite these advantages of neurodiversity in the workplace, the neurodiverse population remains a largely untapped talent pool. In fact, within this group, unemployment runs as high as 80% (including people with more severe conditions). Even when in employment, competent neurodiverse individuals can often be underutilised in the workplace.

Given the skills shortages that plague the tech industry and other industries, the rationale for neurodiverse employment is powerful. In strategically significant and quickly developing sectors like data analytics and IT service deployment, the most considerable shortages are anticipated, often including roles suited to neurodiverse individuals.

Hewlett Packard’s programme placed more than 30 participants in software testing roles at Australia’s Department of Human Services (DHS) over two years. Preliminary results suggested that the neurodiverse testing teams were 30% more productive. Inspired by this success, the Australian Defence Department is now working with HPE to develop a neurodiversity programme in cybersecurity. Participants apply their superior pattern detection abilities to tasks such as examining logs and other forms of messy or complicated data for signs of intrusion or cyberattacks. Using assessment methods borrowed from the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF), it has been found that some candidates’ abilities are “off the charts”.

5. Financial benefits of neurodiversity in the workplace

We’ve already discussed the benefits of neurodiversity in the workplace regarding efficiency and waste reduction. SAP and Hewlett Packard have reported that neurodiverse employees’ input has led to significant innovations. One such innovation at SAP helped develop a technical fix worth an estimated $40 million in savings!

6. Neurodiversity in the workplace increases employee engagement for all

Neurotypical employees have reported that having neurodiverse people on their team has made their work more meaningful and has increased morale. Additionally, neurodiverse employees appreciate being given the opportunity, are very loyal, and companies with neurodiverse programmes tend to have low turnover rates.

Companies with inclusive policies have also seen reputational benefits. Pioneers have been recognised by the United Nations as exemplars of responsible management and have won global corporate citizenship awards.

Neurodiversity in the workplace: Summary

In summary, various conditions, including ADHD, autism, dyslexia, dyspraxia, and OCD, are included in the term “neurodiversity” and, thus, contribute to neurodiversity in the workplace. Yet even though 15% of the UK population is thought to be neurodiverse, and the many advantages of increasing neurodiversity in the workplace, most are designed for neurotypicals.

As such, it makes it more challenging to secure roles. In addition, it prevents an inclusive working environment where neurodivergent individuals can thrive, and companies benefit from the significant strengths that those with neurodivergent conditions bring to an organisation.

If you’d like to discuss our training courses to raise workplace awareness of neurodiversity in the workplace, or discuss how we can support your managers to have positive and effective conversations around neurodiversity strengths and challenges, book a free discovery call or call us on 0161 949 9736.

Author: Gemma Rolstone | Published 14th March 2022.