- Hilda Bernhardsson
A Reflection on Neurodiversity in the Workplace
Neurodiversity Celebration Week was established in 2018 with the aim to shift perceptions and challenge stereotypes encountered by the neurodiverse community and bring the benefits and strengths of neurodiversity into the limelight. Here we explore some of the challenges people from the neurodiverse community can experience in the workplace and what steps Wavehill are taking to counter this.
How seen is neurodiversity?
The term Neurodiversity was developed in 1998 to promote the equality and inclusion of those with neurological functioning. This includes a broad spectrum of people with conditions such as ADHD, autism, dyslexia, and dyspraxia (DCD). While approximately 15% (or 1 in 7) of the population in the UK has one or more conditions classifying them as neurodiverse, the misinformation and stigma neurodiverse people face in their daily lives is still extensive. This can, for example be seen in terms of accessing diagnosis and support where unequal access is seen in gender, ethnicity and class.
There have been recent milestones in the data-collection of neurodiverse experiences and as a result we are able to estimate proportions of the population that are neurodiverse. National surveys such as the Office for National Statistics (ONS) Annual Population Survey (APS) has begun to include recording of autism. Other public surveys used often within the research sector however, including the census, do not accurately record levels of specific neurodiverse conditions. Some surveys still use questions framed along broad variables such as of “Long-term ill or disabled” or most specifically “Severe or specific learning difficulties”. Other neurodiverse people were still expected to fall in the previously mentioned non-specific categories alongside the category of “Mental illness or other nervous disorders” when collected data on.
Neurodiversity in the workplace.
The conversation surrounding neurodiversity has improved in recent years, but misinformation is still common. Stereotypes that autistic people do not feel empathy or emotions, that ADHD is not a real medical condition or that it is a result of bad parenting arguably play into challenges neurodiverse people often face in getting employment. Compared to people with other disabilities, autistic people have the lowest levels of employment. Indeed, the Annual Population Survey produced by the ONS, shows that the employment rate of autistic people was 29%, compared to 54% of disabled people, and 82% of non-disabled people.
It is difficult to determine the exact causes for this, but a study undertaken at LSE shows the role traditional recruitment process has in hindering neurodivergent people from entering the workplace. Whilst autistic people tend to have high scores for competence and intelligence, they can score low on traits like confidence, warmth, and flexibility. Furthermore, many employers are also hesitant to hire neurodivergent people. Many management structures traditionally assume that neurodivergence is an addition to the norm of support, with employers noting they lack understanding on how best to implement this, which in turn is stopping them from hiring neurodiverse people. It is evident that neurodiverse candidates often face unknown biases, and that the typical job application process has a predisposition for neurotypical characteristics. That is why it is so important to break the stereotypes and celebrate the strength that can come from neurological differences.
Neurodiversity in the workplace has been associated with great benefits to those businesses who have adjusted their recruitment processes and provided appropriate support for neurodivergent colleagues. This includes an uplift to productivity for the business and an uplift in morale and retention for both neurodiverse and neurotypical colleagues. In part it is also due to the many strengths neurodivergent people are likely to bring to the workplace, some of which are the following:
People with ADHD are more likely to have strengths related to creative and independent thinking, tend to be sociable and good communicators, have strong spatial reasoning skills and are more likely to be good at improvising in difficult situations.
People with autism are more likely to have excellent memory and factual knowledge, as well as skills in retaining information. Autistic people are also more likely to be highly reliable, punctual, good at problem-solving and have high technical abilities.
People with specific learning difficulties such as dyslexia, dyscalculia, and auditory processing disorder are more likely to have strong problem-solving skills, good at thinking outside the box and seeing the bigger picture. They also are likely to be more creative with strong creative skills.
Neurodiversity and Wavehill
Wavehill recognises the importance of an inclusive and equitable work environment. Our policies aim to be inclusive to neurodiversity, including a recent review of our existing policies on flexible and hybrid working, the introduction of a new wellbeing policy and appointment of a wellbeing champion who is also a mental health first aider. We also recently introduced a 9-day working fortnight. These are policies that all employees can access and have provided support for our neurodiverse employees. In recognising the strengths of our neurodiverse staff, we are continuing work to break any negative perceptions faced by neurodiverse people.
We recognise that there is always more that can be done in reducing the barriers neurodiverse people face. Our Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (ED&I) Committee is working to put further actions in place and improve our recruitment practices. They are creating more awareness across the wider organisation, so that the work we do is as diverse, equal, and as well-informed as possible. This also translates into our work with our clients. We have worked on various projects to understand and close the equality gap faced by neurodivergent individuals as well as other diverse groups. Our social research applies appropriate inclusive research practices that ensure the voice of those from hard-to-reach groups including those who are neurodiverse are represented.
Whilst events such as Neurodiversity Celebration Week are important in raising awareness, there is an ongoing need to educate people around the vast range of neurodivergence and how best to identify and support people so they can have equal access to education, work, and a quality standard of living long after Neurodiversity Celebration Week is over. Wavehill hopes to help incorporate the knowledge and awareness we have gained of those within the neurodiverse community, of their strengths alongside the barriers they face into our research, evaluation, and data collection as well as continuing to support our neurodiverse colleagues.