How neurodiversity in the workplace can benefit your business
When businesses consider diversity, they may automatically think about the gender and ethnic background of their workforce. However, having employees who are also neurodiverse can have significant benefits for your business.
For example, JP Morgan reported that ‘after three to six months working in the Mortgage Banking Technology division, autistic workers were doing the work of people who took three years to ramp up – and were even 50% more productive’.
However, neurodiversity does not just refer to those with autism, it can also include individuals with dyslexia, dyspraxia, ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) and more.
Thinking outside the box
Innovation requires people to look at things differently, to see opportunity where someone else may not. Neurodiversity in your workforce can help facilitate this.
American journalist Harvey Blume wrote – ‘Neurodiversity may be every bit as crucial for the human race as biodiversity is for life in general. Who can say what form of wiring will be best at any given moment?’
The unique ways in which all our brains work can be utilised in business by recognising a person’s skills and adjusting roles to make the most of what people are good at and reduce the things that they’re not as good at.
For example, individuals with dyslexia are often creative and imaginative. The strengths associated with autistic people at work include problem-solving and analytical thinking. While dyspraxic people can often be good at bold ‘big picture’ thinking, pattern-spotting and inferential reasoning.
All these talents are needed in a successful enterprise. Many neurodiverse individuals have also developed vital skills such as resourcefulness and problem solving from navigating a world that is predominantly set up for the benefit of neurotypicals.
We are all unique
It is essential to be aware though not to make sweeping assumptions that any two people with similar neurodiversity will have the same needs or talents.
As Thomas Armstrong wrote in The Power of Neurodiversity – ‘We need to admit that there is no standard brain.’
Well known successes
Many well-known people are neurodiverse in some way and running hugely successful businesses. Richard Branson has written about how his dyslexia has been an advantage in his life, and Jet Blue Airways founder David Neeleman has commented that he would refuse a magic pill to become ‘neurotypical’, due to the benefits his ADHD has provided him in business.
Steve Jobs, IKEA founder Ingvar Kamprad, and Dragons’ Den entrepreneurs Duncan Bannatyne, and Theo Paphitis are all neurodiverse. Some historical figures such as Mozart, Andy Warhol, Thomas Jefferson, Emily Dickinson and Bernard Montgomery may also have been neurodivergent in some way. Neurodiverse individuals have abilities that can aid a company in attaining a competitive advantage with support from employers that are neurodiversity smart.
How can your business be more diverse?
You may be wondering what your company can do to be more inclusive towards neurodiversity and make the most of your employees’ individual talents and skills. Start by considering the following:
Recruitment – Review your recruitment processes. Are they easily accessible for everyone, or do you need to have more flexibility about the way in which you hire people? For example, do you need to utilise technology to aid communication, change the way in which you interview candidates, update application forms so that individuals with dyslexia can easily use them or provide an altogether different approach that negates the need for form filling?
Role adjustments – Be flexible about the roles you create within your organisation and be open to making role adjustments so that the individual can make the most of their skills and excel at work. Socially inclusive companies are also more attractive to job seekers.
Celebrate – Companies should aim to develop a language and acceptance of neuro-difference. Celebrate individual strengths while taking steps to accommodate any specific challenges that someone may face.
Communication – Ensure that all communication and content that you create can be accessed and understood by all employees. You may need to make things available in a different font, in braille, electronically, orally or in video format. We all have communication preferences, so these changes will benefit the entire workforce.
Training and support – Many organisations offer help to employers in supporting neurodiverse employees, such as The British Dyslexia Association. Allocate funds to access these resources so that your workforce feel valued.
Workspace – Consider what adjustments you may need to make to your working environment. Some individuals may find open plan offices with lots of noise overwhelming or that it hinders their concentration. Do you need to provide headphones to reduce the noise impact or offer a separate quiet space to help people focus?
Diagnosis – In becoming more neurodiversity smart as a company you may find that existing employees become aware that they may also be neurodiverse. Create a structure that supports your workforce in achieving a diagnosis if that’s what they would like to do or help them identify the challenges they experience and implement solutions, so they can be successful in their role.
Awareness – Neurodiversity awareness training across your organisation can help colleagues understand each other and appreciate each other’s unique skills. It will help staff become more at ease with neurodiversity and foster an inclusive culture.
As you can see becoming a neurodiversity aware business can have many benefits, not only to those employees who are neurodiverse but also across the entire workforce. Being sensitive to your staff’s needs and making adjustments that allow them to access information easily and nurture their talents will mean that not only does the employee excel, your business will also be more successful.
*This blog post was originally published in November 2018
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