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Neurodiversity – the overlooked talents of people who think differently

Amanda McNamara, Business Partner at Chwarae Teg
June 16, 2020

During a recent workshop, a client asked me about neurodiversity within the context of Equality and Diversity Legislation and best practice. 

Neurodiversity is a really important and somewhat overlooked aspect of Equality and Diversity. Is this due to lack of knowledge,fear, ignorance or an unconscious bias? It is likely to be a combination of all of these. The term refers to the diversity of human brain functioning and people’s individual neurocognitive functioning – people who have, Dyspraxia,Dyslexia, Autism, ADHD and other neurological conditions. 

 

Neurodiversity and gender biased diagnosis 

It is estimated that around 1 in 7 people (more than15% of people in the UK) are neurodivergent. Importantly, these figures are predominantly males, as the diagnosis of neurodevelopmental conditions remains far greater in males than females. We are beginning to see an increase in girls and women coming forward to be diagnosed, but many women are well into adulthood before being diagnosed. 

Neurodivergent women can take longer to diagnose because of their coping strategy and are often misdiagnosed with conditions such as anorexia, bulimia nervosa and personality disorders by psychiatric professionals who are unexperienced in neurodiversity testing. More detailed information on this can be found in the referenced link ‘where have all the girls gone, missed, misunderstood or misdiagnosed’. 

 

The Equality Act and neurodivergence 

A person’s neurodivergence may be regarded as a disability and therefore a ‘Protected Characteristic’ under the Equality Act2010 but what about undiagnosed neurodivergents? Have they struggled with their cognitive differences without any support, often misperceived as‘strange’, ‘odd’, or ‘different’? 

The question asked during that workshop prompted me to take a deeper look at neurodiversity and how I can better support businesses to proactively plan their workplaces and spaces to ensure neurodivergence becomes a fully embedded part of inclusion strategy. Some of the best practice in managing neurodiversity needs more specialised HR approaches than typically applied, which are often simple and incredibly effective. 

 

Why recruiting neurodivergents makes good business sense 

Neurodivergents are typically overrepresented among the long-term unemployed and many have never secured employment for themselves. It is time to take a look at our people management strategies and learn lessons from organisations that have taken a far more proactive approach to attract neurodivergents into the workplace. They demonstrate that with the right support neurodivergents can work very effectively,in their own way, maximising results for themselves and for the business. 

The variants in neurocognition offer brilliance which includes: innovative problem-solving; creative insights; visual spatial thinking; attention to detail; lateral thinking; problem solving recall, to name a few. Neurodivergents have skills and abilities that are sought by progressive companies. 

It is important to remember that everyone will be different and we must be careful not to stereotype, even where we are talking in a positive sense about abilities and strengths. 

If we think about how organisations have really changed, in terms of equality, over the last twenty to thirty years, then it is encouraging and exciting to think about the advances we can make to creating fair and equal opportunities for neurodivergents. With low cost, easy to implement changes, organisations can become places where ‘individuals who think differently’ can personally thrive, contributing to creating high performing future facing, innovative and creative organisations. 

 

Simple steps, powerful outcomes 

It is often an unintentional exclusion of neurodiversity that is the problem so what can businesses do to make sure there is full inclusion for neurodivergents? There are key areas that managers need to look at: the first is recruitment, and how to attract more neurodivergent applicants. 

The majority of recruitment processes are designed to suit the needs of neurotypicals and this can unintentionally deter neurodivergents from applying for a job in the first place. You need to consider the wording of your job descriptions and style of your application forms; consider the nature of the interview and any testing you may use. By examining these points of friction for neurodivergent applicants, you can identify simple adjustments that could be made. 

Recruitment is just the start; once employed, you will need to actively support neurodivergents, helping them to workaround their individual challenges which may include difficulties with social interaction, verbal communication difficulties, problems with tasks involving fine motor skills and many others. 

 

Chwarae Teg’s Agile Nation 2 Business Programme is the place to start. 

At Chwarae Teg we work with clients across a wide range of industries. We concentrate on what organisations need the most,whether it is improvements to flexible working, communication, working relationships,recruitment and more.

Funded by the European Social Fund through Welsh Government, the programme provides up to 42 hours of free support from our team of experts – specialists from senior positions in a variety of business backgrounds which, put together, have a wealth of knowledge to draw on. 

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