Neurodiversity is a natural occurrence, and it’s impossible to say what percentage of the population has a neurodivergent condition because there is no one definition. We are also seeing an increase of people being diagnosed in mid to late adulthood, suggesting a proportion of the population has a neurodivergent condition but is unaware that this is the case.
Although about 15% of the UK population is believed to be neurodivergent, workplaces are still, by and large, designed for neurotypicals. A failure to acknowledge and address the issue and not create an inclusive working environment prevents people with neurodivergent conditions from reaching their full workplace potential. The net result of this failure means companies are either missing out or not making full use of an extremely valuable talent pool.
This article aims to raise awareness of neurodiversity in the workplace and inspire employers to create a more inclusive working environment by designing a workplace where neurodivergent employees can thrive.
What is neurodiversity?
Neurodiversity denotes the natural differences in human brain function and behavioural traits. Some of the most common conditions demonstrating these differences are:
- Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
- Dysgraphia, Hyperlexia
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
- Tourette’s Syndrome.
These conditions or alternative thinking styles bring unique and valuable strengths into the workplace, for example, making unexpected connections, spotting patterns, thinking visually, simplifying processes, processing information at speed and data-driven thinking.
“Neurodiversity is the idea that neurological differences like autism and ADHD are the result of normal, natural variation in the human genome,” (John Elder Robison, a scholar in residence and a Co-Chair of the Neurodiversity Working Group at the College of William & Mary. Robison, who has Asperger’s syndrome, adds, “Indeed, many individuals who embrace the concept of neurodiversity believe that people with differences do not need to be cured; they need help and accommodation instead.” At Delphinium, we couldn’t agree more.
While people with some conditions have previously been considered disabled, there is a growing understanding that neurodiverse individuals have different areas of a challenge than those who are described as ‘neurotypical’. Although neurodiverse individuals may struggle with some social skills, many have above-average abilities in analysis, information processing and pattern recognition.
The advantages of neurodiversity in the workplace
Strengths associated with neurodiverse conditions
Most managers are familiar with the advantages organisations can gain from diversity in backgrounds, experience, gender, culture, and other employees’ differences. Benefits from neurodiversity are similar but more direct.
In today’s fast-changing technological environment, an employer needs to recognise the many strengths of neurodiverse individuals: creativity, innovation, outside-the-box thinking, problem-solving skills, unique perspectives/insights, perseverance and resilience. Such qualities can give businesses a competitive edge.
In fact, neurodivergent individuals can often be trailblazers and pioneers, for example:
- Richard Branson – Virgin
- Ingvar Kamprad – founder of IKEA
- David Neeleman – Airline mogul.
Benefits of neurodiversity in the workplace
The Nero-Diverse Centre of Excellence Leader at Ernst & Young (EY), Hiren Shukla, explained 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 were able to see inefficiencies that neurotypical employees had overlooked or had become used to seeing.
But a strong neurodiversity programme in the workplace doesn’t just benefit these individuals. At EY, they have found great talent and created better managers who carefully assess the needs of every individual. It has also helped with company-wide communication as managers now avoid abstract language, use shorter words and give more specific instructions. The whole workforce has benefited from the new clarity.
Because neurodiverse people are wired differently from “neurotypical” people, they may bring new perspectives to a company’s efforts to create or recognise the value.
At Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE), neurodiverse software testers observed that one client’s projects always seemed to go into crisis mode before a launch. Because they 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. At SAP, a neurodiverse customer-support analyst spotted an opportunity to let customers help solve a common problem themselves with the result that thousands of customers subsequently used the resources he created.
Untapped talent pool
Although our examples demonstrate the benefits to an organisation, the neurodiverse population remains a largely untapped talent pool. Unemployment runs as high as 80% (including people with more severe conditions.) Even when in employment, highly capable neurodiverse individuals can often be underutilised in the workplace.
The case for neurodiverse hiring is especially compelling given the skills shortages that affect technology and other industries. The most significant deficits are expected to be in strategically important and rapidly expanding areas such as data analytics and IT services’ implementation. These tasks are a good match with some neurodiverse abilities.
HPE’s programme placed more than 30 participants in software testing roles at Australia’s Department of Human Services (DHS) over two years. Preliminary results suggest that the neurodiverse testing teams are 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”.
(The IDF’s Special Intelligence Unit 9900, which is responsible for analysing aerial and satellite imagery, has a group staffed primarily with people on the autism spectrum. It has proved that they can spot patterns others just don’t see.)
Financial benefits of neurodiversity in the workplace
Neurodiversity programmes can benefit companies financially with lower defect rates and higher productivity generating profits from products and services. Both SAP and HPE have reported examples that neurodiverse employees’ participation in teams has generated significant innovations. One such innovation at SAP helped develop a technical fix worth an estimated $40 million in savings.
Increased employee engagement
Neurotypical employees have reported that including neurodiverse individuals has made their work more meaningful, and their morale is higher. Furthermore, early indications have suggested that programme employees, appreciative of being given a chance, are very loyal and have low turnover rates.
Companies with inclusive workforce policies have also benefited reputationally. Pioneers have been recognised by the United Nations as exemplars of responsible management and have won global corporate citizenship awards.
But these adjustments aren’t all specific to being neurodivergent conditions. They address a wide range of needs. Making positive changes to support neurodiverse employees can benefit the whole workforce. For example, flexible working hours, which work well if employees have fatigue problems (a common condition alongside neurodiverse conditions), can suit early birds and night owls, working parents and those with medical appointments or caring responsibilities. In this way, implementing positive changes in the workplace to support neurodiverse employees can benefit the whole workforce.
At Delphinium, we provide training to increase the awareness of neurodiversity in the workplace. We also support managers in having positive conversations with staff and consider what reasonable adjustments can be put in place to support neurodiverse candidates and employees. If you’d like to discuss how can help you, contact us today.
Author: Gemma Rolstone | Published 14th March 2022.