Building better workplaces through supporting neurodiversity

We must move from simply awareness to genuine acceptance regarding workplace neurodiversity

As employers, we want to recruit and develop the best workforce for our businesses. We want people who are committed to the organisation and its ethos and we strive to grow teams where people play to their strengths and, in turn, will deliver their best for you.

With this in mind, it is interesting to consider the skills crisis across many sectors and, at the same time, the high levels of unemployment. Of course, there are numerous contributory factors – from a lack of desire to enter specific industries or careers; to skilled workers leaving the UK after Brexit; and low uptake of certain training courses and qualifications.

Creating better workplaces via neurodiversity hiring

Faced with such recruitment shortages, it is more important than ever that employers strive to break down barriers to employment and develop and support an inclusive workplace for everybody.

It’s a shocking fact that just one in five autistic people in the UK are in any form of employment. Is this because of the recruitment process, a naivety to extend the talent pool or a lack of understanding about neurodiversity and the strengths and positive attributes that neurodiverse people can bring to a business?

I believe it is because of all of these things, and understanding should be nurtured in schools, many years before employment is even on the radar.

As an entrepreneur and business owner on the autistic spectrum, I have long been aware of the barriers and challenges that people with neurodiversity face when it comes to employment. At Business Data Group we are a proud and supportive recruiter where people with autism are an invaluable part of our business family. We also support Track, a Northampton-based social enterprise that supports people with autism to access employment.

“As a society, we have come a long way when it comes to supporting people with physical disabilities, but it is not the same for people with neurodiversity. We need to stop asking questions in a way that meets our needs, and instead, we need to support them in a way that helps the individual”, says Tom Cliffe, Director of Track.

As employers, we have a duty to help break down the barriers to employment and the misconceptions there are around neurodiverse people. We must ensure we develop and support inclusive workplaces for all but, what is really key, is that we move forwards from simply awareness to genuine acceptance and that changes that are made to the recruitment process are the norm, rather than the difference. 

Below are six tips to help you on your neurodiversity inclusion journey.

  1. Think about your recruitment process and whether it is really accessible and inclusive. Of particular importance is the language used in job adverts and person specifications. Make sure you use plain English, especially when asking about skills and experience. 
  2. Reconsider your interview process. All too often, recruiters are stuck in a rut when it comes to the format for interviewing potential employees. They are not always designed in a way to get the best out of the candidate, whether the candidate is neurotypical or neurodiverse – and often this is simply because no one has thought about whether there is a better way. For example, perhaps you would get better information from candidates if you provide the questions in advance? Maybe you don’t need a formal sit-down interview for certain jobs and it would be better for a candidate to show you what they can do instead. 
  3. Welcome appropriately. Help your new recruits to have the best possible chance for success by providing a clear welcome pack before they start. Think about practical information they will want to know, such as where to park, site maps, pictures of the building and its layout, as well as details about the team.
  4. Ask the awkward questions – and really listen. Just like neurotypical people, people who are neurodiverse are not all the same and it is unfair to make assumptions. Ensure you consult directly with the candidate, or employee, to see what modifications they would like to be made to make either the interview, or their employment experience, better for them.
  5. Reassess and, if necessary, reconfigure the working environment. This may be office and desk layouts which may cause adverse stress, setting fixed break times, or ensuring consistency with smaller details such as designated coffee cups and stationery.
  6. Nurture awareness and understanding. Unlike many physical disabilities, there are often no outward signs of neurodiversity, especially to neurotypical people. Communication is key to increasing awareness and acceptance, so think about how you can use internal communications to help educate and develop understanding across your business.

Whoever you are employing, it is essential that every employee feels supported and that their own strengths and perspectives are valued.

“A job is the right job, for the right person, at the right time,” says Tom Cliffe, and he’s right. Everyone has their own qualities to bring to a role, but if we are blinkered in our approach to recruitment and retention, we are missing out on accessing a huge pool of talent.

Let’s all strive to break down the misconceptions around neurodiversity because, together, we will be creating a better world of work for everyone.

Richard Osborne is the Founder of Business Data Group and UK Business Forums.

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