Pearson: embracing neurodiversity for a better future for all

Senior HR Manager Kevin Lyons shares how inclusion initiatives are driving positive change

Why did Pearson create a workstream promoting neurodiversity and inclusion?

As an employer committed to neurodiversity inclusion, Pearson wanted to create an environment that welcomes neurodivergent individuals, so we established a dedicated workstream within our disability business resource group. There are many neurodivergent people within society – it’s estimated that one in seven people are neurodiverse – and so, for example, across Pearson employees globally, that would equate to around 3,000 employees. This also means many of our customers and learners, stakeholders and suppliers are neurodiverse too.

We recognised we should reach out and offer more support to people who are neurodivergent, including those who may not even know they are. The neurodiversity workstream is a platform for other activities working with the neurodiverse community, including Career Accelerator’s Neurodiversity and Disability programme.

Career Accelerator is an education organisation supporting 14-30-year-olds from underserved backgrounds to prepare for top jobs in professional sectors through mentorship led by professionals at top businesses.

They run three programmes: a school programme supporting 14 to 18-year-old students from lower socio-economic backgrounds; an LGBT+ programme supporting 18 to 30-year-old LGBT+ young people and a Neurodiversity and Disability programme focusing on 14 to 25-year-olds from lower socio-economic backgrounds with special educational needs and disability.

How has Pearson changed its recruitment process, including any adjustments, to encourage neurodivergent candidates to apply?

We have changed our recruitment application process in one major area of recruitment within Pearson as a trial and have added the statement, “We welcome applications from neurodiverse people.” We talk about our neurodiversity workstream and that there are many neurodivergent people within Pearson.

We also asked candidates to let us know if they believe they are neurodivergent and if they require any adjustments to the recruitment process. This could be about lighting and how much time they need to prepare or take breaks during the interview, all of which we can accommodate at our assessment centres and during our interviews.

We are also trailing giving out interview questions in advance to support those who are neurodivergent. At the end of the day, we are trying to get the best out of people, and these adjustments can make a difference. We have found that candidates really welcome someone asking them if they are neurodivergent and thank us for reaching out to them.

How has Pearson’s mentorship programme for neurodiverse students helped them prepare for professional careers?

Students who participated in the Career Accelerator mentoring programme said it helped them learn about career opportunities or options for the future, increase their confidence and self-awareness and build their interpersonal skills. Students also gained practical help writing CVs, cover letters and learning interview techniques.

How has Pearson raised awareness and provided education on neurodiversity to managers and employees, and what has been the response to these efforts?

We are rolling out education and awareness on neurodiversity to managers and employees. Our leaders talk about it at meetings, and we use our internal communications to encourage awareness and conversations. For example, in our employees’ benefits brochure, we have a page on what neurodiversity is and that Pearson offers a formal neurodiversity diagnosis opportunity for employees within our occupational health partnership process.

We also run several sessions for employees, managers, and leaders to find out more about what neurodiversity is and how it affects people. For example, we have a ‘Neurodiversity 101’ session for leadership teams. This has been a major success so far. We started with leaders as this will cascade down. We also run a ‘Neurodiversity in Tech’ session, which looks at the various assistive technologies available to help people at work.

Technology such as Dragon dyslexia software, Grammarly and ChatGPT, just to name a few, can all make life easier for neurodiverse employees, as well as a whole host of sensory apps now available. Knowing about these and being able to recommend them is helpful for managers.

Education, awareness and tangible change are what is needed to improve the working life of neurodiverse employees.

How has embracing neurodiversity and fostering a culture of inclusivity benefited Pearson?

It’s a little early to say at this stage about the impact it has had on the business, but we have had positive feedback from employees who are neurodiverse or have neurodiverse children, as well as from those applying for jobs with us.

It’s also enabled us to start to put a neurodiversity lens on everything we do, from the learning content we produce to our internal communications and processes – we look at how these may play out for someone who is neurodivergent. This will help us to ensure content is inclusive and relevant for everyone.

One of the benefits of focusing on neurodiversity is that we have introduced the opportunity for employees in the USA and UK who believe they may be neurodivergent to obtain a formal diagnosis of neurodiversity through our partnership with Health Partners and Lexxic in the UK and through our medical cover in the States, which can then support adjustments at work.

This is a huge help to employees who may not know they are neurodivergent but who hear about this from their manager through our benefits communications or societal awareness and conversations and decide to seek a formal diagnosis. It can be very powerful once someone finds out and can understand why they behave the way they do.

Moreover, obtaining a diagnosis on the NHS can take years and going privately can be expensive, so this is a positive initiative supporting neurodiverse employees.

We work in over 75 countries; the UK and the USA are our largest markets. By starting in these two countries, we hope that this will be something we can offer globally in the future, which will benefit the business in many ways.

How has Pearson benefited from participating in the Career Accelerator Neurodiversity and Disability programme?

We have been working with Career Accelerator for several years. When they launched their Neurodiversity and Disability programme, we were one of the first employers to jump on board with it. We had already started our journey in supporting neurodiverse employees, which offered us a way to reach out to the neurodiverse community and establish more credibility.

It’s been about building trust with clients and employees, and this programme has enabled us to do this. We’ve also gained expertise with introductions to other companies, such as Centrica, doing similar things in their organisation.

We believe companies should be working together to create more inclusive cultures. No one has all the answers, but by sharing best practices and learning, we can make things better. The Career Accelerator programme has enabled and facilitated a safe space where companies feel able to share, which we’ve all benefited from.

What advice would you give to other companies wanting to create a more inclusive workplace for neurodiverse individuals?

Do not be put off by problems. For example, when approaching neurodiverse employees or candidates to ask for adjustments, there may be reluctance at first and fear that everyone will want this, which could create issues. Our data shows this is not the case. This is a relatively simple thing to offer but can make a world of difference to someone who is neurodivergent.

Our experience is that organisations can have better talent in their workforce with unique skills that neurotypical colleagues may not have. Putting initiatives in place to embrace all types of people and supporting people who are neurodivergent is a way to fully exploit a person’s talents and get the best out of them.

How can individuals support neurodiversity inclusion and help create a more welcoming environment for all employees?

All people can expand their knowledge and understanding of neurodiversity by reading more and watching programmes about it. Some high-profile celebrities have talked about being neurodivergent – Billie Eilish, Chris Packham, Christine McGuinness, and Rory Bremner – to name just a few.

They have all spoken out about their experiences, helped raise awareness of the challenges neurodiverse people can face, and talked about the talents and capabilities of neurodivergent people. These programmes are invaluable for learning, and understanding lived experience and can help neurotypical employees support their neurodiverse colleagues better.

Many historical figures have also been neurodivergent, from Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart to Alan Turing to Emily Dickinson.

Also, taking part in initiatives the organisation may offer or taking an allyship lead on introducing these can help foster a better understanding and more welcoming workplace for everyone.

Working with Career Accelerator on their Neurodiversity and Disability programme has been invaluable for our business and employees. We recommend it to any organisation looking to do more to support neurodiverse people.

For more information on Career Accelerator, visit:

Kevin Lyons.
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