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So You Think You Have Diversity? Not Until You Adopt Neurodiversity At The Workplace!

When we think of diversity in the workplace, what tends to immediately come to mind is an employee population comprising of different genders and abilities. Rarely do we consider the strategic importance of also ensuring our neurodiversity!

Neurodiversity is a relatively new term that refers to the people who have dyslexia, autism, ADHD, dyspraxia and other neurological conditions.

Such people can have unique strengths, ranging from data-driven thinking to sustained focus over longer periods, ability to spot patterns and trends and the capacity to process information at extraordinary speeds; all of which are great qualities for a company to have. However, due to lack of awareness, neurodiverse individuals do not even get considered for a job in the corporate world.

Neurodiversity

Let’s understand neurodiversity better, how having them onboard can have huge benefits for a company and what measures a company should take to welcome them!

Why Companies Are Hesitant To Tap Neurodiverse Talent?

What has kept so many companies from taking on people with the skills they badly need? It comes down to the way they find and recruit talent and decide whom to hire.

Especially in large companies, HR processes are developed with an eye towards wide application across the organisation. But there is a conflict between scalability and the goal of acquiring neurodiverse talent. Two major problems cause companies to miss neurodiverse talent:

  • The first one is the most basic one, interviewing. Although neurodiverse people may excel in important areas, many don’t interview well. For example, autistic people don’t make eye contact, can have problems holding a conversation for long, and can be overly honest about their weaknesses. Neurodiverse people are not likely to earn high scores in interviews which can have devastating effects on their self-confidence. Besides, some major companies found that it can take weeks or months to discover how good a neurodiverse person is at work and no one is willing to wait around till that long.
  • The second problem is the reluctance of large companies to deviate from standardized approaches. Neurodiverse people need to be allowed to work as per their comfort. Adjustments such as installing different lighting and providing noise-cancelling headphones are not very expensive. But they do require managers to tailor individual work settings, which in most cases they are unwilling to.

Benefits of Neurodiversity

The benefits of recruiting a neurodiverse workforce are wide-ranging and transformative. From leading innovations and help, marketers achieve true diversity of thought, to enriching the wider company culture, having a neurodiverse workplace makes strong business sense.

Let’s have a look at the few skill sets that can benefit any organisation:

    • Autism: gift for detail, enhanced perceptual functioning, high levels of concentration, reliability, technical ability.
    • Dyslexia: often strong in special intelligence, many are 3D thinkers, holistic thinkers, mechanical aptitude, and have entrepreneurial inclination.
    • ADHD: hyper focused, creative, inventive, spontaneous, energetic.

How Can Employers Foster A Neurodiverse Workforce?

Once inside an organisation it is crucial that people with neurodiverse conditions are supported in order to achieve their full potential.

1. Do Away With Traditional Interviews!

A big part of the traditional hiring process is the interview, which allows the employer to assess how well the potential employee will fit with the rest of their workforce. But when you are hiring for neurodiversity, the standardised interview process is not very relevant.

They might not possess the smooth social skills that play well in a traditional interview, which is why a more skills-based approach is recommended. Set up an interview that allows the potential employee to demonstrate their work rather than how well they can articulate why they should be hired.

Measures that should be taken while holding an interview:

      • Ensure job descriptions are jargon free and clearly signal that your organisation welcomes neurodiverse individuals.
      • Many recruiters depend on applicant tracking systems where applicants are filtered out if they do not meet minimum standards-review your approach to ensure talented individuals are not screened out.
      • Ensure interviewers are informed about neurodiversity so that they are fair and empathetic in the interview process.
      • Choose a quiet interview space, avoid rapid fire questions and understand why some people might not make direct eye contact.

2. Workplace Adjustments

Avoid really bright lights in your office that can be distracting or lead to sensory overload. Consider how noisy open plan environments can be distracting or lead to individuals feeling overwhelmed. Complete a desk assessment for any new joiners, helping them make sure their computer screen isn’t too bright and they have everything they need to organise their files and folder.

Presenting them with a welcome kit on their first day to work can be a great idea to help them get familiarised with the organisation.

3. Educate The Rest Of The Workforce:

Hopefully, you have hired an open-minded, flexible workforce who will have no trouble adapting to a more neurodiverse office. Make sure everyone is on the same page.

      • Have a meeting or send out a memo about the initiative and the reasons behind it, and make it very clear that this is for the benefit of the company.
      • Explain any special accommodations that will be made for the new employees, and let workers know they can come to you with any questions or concerns.
      • Train line managers so that they feel confident and able to assist neurodiverse employees at work and help them make the most of their skills.
      • Make sure neurodiversity is welcomed at the senior level too and that a culture of celebrating differences is encouraged throughout the organisation.

4. Be Flexible:

Some of the structures and routines of your office may not allow the neurodiverse employees to do their best. For instance, be prepared to find a separate space for those employees if the main office environment is too loud or chaotic. But most importantly, be open to new ideas that are non-neurotypical employees come up with, ideas that may challenge your past assumptions.

All of the above suggests that companies must embrace an alternative philosophy of fitting irregular puzzle pieces together. The payoff for companies will be huge if they manage to do. The whole reason for having a more neurodiverse workplace is fostering creativity and innovation by incorporating different perspectives and ways of thinking. Recognise the needs of different employees in your organisation and find ways to help them become a part of your work culture.

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