How can we promote more neuro-diverse workplaces?


PROMOTING diversity and inclusivity within the workplace has always been important, with many organisations implementing policies and methods aimed at achieving this.

Most inclusivity strategies focus on gender, race and sexual orientation – which of course makes sense, however in more recent times companies are being encouraged to expand their current diversity efforts to include other areas such as further promoting neuro-diversity as a key business focus.

So, what exactly is neuro-diversity? This is the term used to describe natural variations in the human brain. It relates to differences in the way we think, process, learn and behave. Most people are neuro-typical, meaning that their brain functions and processes in the way that society expects however is estimated that up to one in seven people are neuro-divergent.

As it stands, many organisations are set up in a way that best suits neuro-typical ways of thinking and doing - largely because this is considered the ‘standard’ or ‘the way things have always been done.’

This means that neuro-diverse employees may end up spending a lot of time trying to adjust their work environment to suit their needs, which can reduce efficiency and contribute towards feelings of stress or anxiety.

Nobody would suggest that employers deliberately ignore the needs of neuro-diverse workers, but it may be fair to say that they are unaware of or underestimate the true value and potential of neuro-diverse employees.

Not only does the inclusion of neuro-divergence provide access to hidden talent pools, but talent retention rates are also seen to be substantially higher as acceptance and inclusion strongly correlates with employee well-being and mental health across the board.

Leveraging the unique strengths of neuro-diverse candidates has also been shown to facilitate greater innovation, organisational culture, talent retention and more effective decision making.

Therefore, not only is a focus on neuro-diversity both morally and socially the right thing to do but it can also bring economic benefit to business.

So how can organisations make their workplaces more inclusive in terms of neuro-diversity?

There are a few key areas to focus on. The first is to ensure that an organisation champions neuro-diversity, sending out a positive signal that neuro-diversity inclusion is supported within the workplace.

On the back of this support, the second important issue is to promote allyship within the business, encouraging neuro-typical employees to advocate for the interests of their neuro-divergent colleagues.

Educating employees about neuro-diversity and promoting inclusion for the benefit of all helps to create a more supportive and understanding working environment, which allows for greater collaboration and positive output.

This can include awareness training and even ‘talking heads’ with other employees sharing their own experiences of neuro-diversity, either personally or within their social and family networks.

Another important factor is to consider how neuro-diversity can impact company policies, procedures, and facilities and to then review these for any necessary changes.

For example, it is important to consider if recruitment or performance management policies may disadvantage neuro-divergent talent or whether the physical work environment could be adjusted to make it more accessible.

Finally, great employers do not rely on a one size fits all approach to their workforce. Instead, they recognise how important it is to get to know employees on an individual basis. This way, they can find out more about their personal strengths and challenges and implement measures that accommodate individual needs.

Through recognising and leveraging the strengths that neuro-divergence can bring we can effectively maximise the potential of individuals, teams, and whole organisations.

Advice on encouraging diversity is also available from business organisations such as the IoD, and we are looking forward to hosting several round-table events which will provide business leaders with a forum to discuss and learn more about the importance of diverse and inclusive workplaces.

:: Paul Gillen is diversity and inclusion ambassador at the Institute of Directors (IoD) Northern Ireland