For most businesses, implementing an EDI strategy comes from a sincere desire to recognise, respect and celebrate the differences that make our teams great. However, in our eagerness to create the diverse environments, we can sometimes hyperfocus on specific protected characteristics and neglect inclusivity considerations for others. Disability inclusion tends to be an area where many businesses’ EDI strategies fall short.
It’s estimated that one in seven people in the UK are neurodivergent, but there is still a clear lack of understanding about neurodiversity in general and supporting neurodiversity in the workplace. In May 2022, City AM reported that employment tribunals relating to neurodivergence were up by a third in just one year. According to coaching platform Better Up, this may be because neurodiversity is not visible or well-represented in most workspaces.
What Is Neurodiversity?
Neurodiversity is the range of differences in how people interpret and process information. This includes Autism, ADHD and dyslexia as well as less well-known challenges such as dyspraxia which affects physical co-ordination, dyscalculia which impacts number processing and synaesthesia, which is when you experience one or more of your physical senses through another. Neurodiversity also covers Tourette’s syndrome, Down syndrome, epilepsy, obsessive compulsive disorder, bipolar disorder, anxiety and depression.
Why We Need To Consider Neurodiversity In Business
All employers in the UK have a legal responsibility to ensure that people are not treated less favourably than others due to their protected characteristics, so creating an environment where everyone can thrive should be a major priority when you’re developing an EDI strategy. Unfortunately, with biases often skewing an EDI approach, strategies are often focused primarily towards just one or two of these characteristics. This means colleagues may often struggle alone, which can impact their wellbeing, productivity and career aspirations. However, there are a few steps you can take to ensure your neurodivergent employees feel better supported.
Supporting Neurodiversity In The Workplace
We can only create an inclusive environment once we become aware of our own biases, so the first step will always be to implement training across your teams. This is most important for people in recruiting roles or positions of authority. Without addressing our own biases, even the most thoroughly considered EDI strategy will fall flat. Once teams are trained, there are five simple adjustments you can make that will improve working life for your neurodivergent employees.
- Consider a holistic approach to the different ways your employees work. This means being open to compressed, flexible, hybrid and remote working patterns, or a combination thereof, so employees can work in a way that suits them and the company.
- Think about implementing resources and policies that can help staff reduce overwhelm. This could include things like designated quiet areas where people can regroup, supplying noise-cancelling headphones or adopting a frequent break policy to help people reset throughout the day.
- Neurodivergence can come with a lot of stigma, so speaking up when support is needed can be challenging. Sticking to regular check ins or starting up a mentoring scheme can help improve communication with your neurodivergent employees and make it easier to identify when and what support they need.
- Routines and consistency are key to making neurodivergent people feel supported, so common agile business practices such as hot desking, co-working spaces and last-minute travel can cause heightened levels of anxiety. Always aim to provide a familiar and stable environment to keep your people feeling calm and relaxed.
- Don’t expect superhuman abilities from your neurodivergent colleagues. In 2017, the Harvard Business Review published an article describing neurodivergence as a competitive advantage. While this may be true for some, feeding the misconception that neurodivergent employees have ‘superpowers’ can be very damaging and cause people to feel pressure or an extreme sense of guilt for not reaching those expectations.
The list above is not exhaustive and these ideas are the foundations of good company culture, which is beneficial for your neurotypical employees too! The difference is these policies are generally ‘nice-to-haves’ for neurotypical people, and while they boost wellbeing, they could continue to perform if these policies weren’t in place. For neurodivergent people, these small culture changes could be the difference between success and failure.
Implementing an EDI strategy that considers neurodiversity also protects your employee’s privacy if they don’t want to divulge information about their neurodivergence and will keep them focusing on the tasks at hand instead of how to navigate their day. This level of inclusion ultimately creates an environment where everyone feels empowered to make the adjustments they need to help them shine in their roles, leading to happy, fulfilled and engaged teams who know their employers are committed to helping them thrive.