What's normal anyway? The value of neurodiversity in the workplace

In today's fast-paced and ever-evolving business landscape, diversity has taken centre stage. Companies worldwide are continuously recognising the value of diversity in fostering innovation, improving problem-solving, and driving success.

Yet, despite these acknowledgments, a significant portion of the workforce remains stuck with misconceptions about neurodiversity.  

These incorrect beliefs need challenging, and the untapped potential of individuals with neurodiverse traits must have more light shed on them, including those with conditions such as autism, ADHD, dyslexia, dyscalculia, dyspraxia, and selective mutism.  

In the UK, around 15–20% of the population is neurodivergent, but a significant portion faces unemployment. For example, despite there being roughly 700,000 people on the autism spectrum in the UK, according to base-UK only 21% are in employment. These statistics emphasise the pressing necessity for a shift in our approach to recognising and supporting neurodiversity within the workforce. 

The 'neurotypical' misperception 

One of the most pervasive misconceptions about neurodiversity is the tendency to default to the idea of the 'neurotypical' as the norm. This mindset often leads us to view neurodiverse individuals as exceptions or outliers, fundamentally hindering progress toward building inclusive workplaces where unique talents and abilities can flourish.  

Neurodiversity can often be misunderstood as a disadvantage, when considering its listing under the 2010 Equality Act as a disability. In reality, the strength of any organisation lies in its diversity, not in conformity. It is through the inclusion of diverse perspectives and abilities that businesses can truly thrive.

JP Morgan and Chase's Autism at Work initiative discovered that autistic employees outperformed their neurotypical colleagues, demonstrating a remarkable increase in productivity – 48% faster and up to 92% more efficient. 

Embracing neurodiversity 

Within the vast umbrella of neurodivergence, there are many variations in emotions, development, learning, attention, and mood.

While it is important to consider the ways in which these variations may present challenges, it is arguably more important to appreciate the impressive talents and capabilities that neurodivergent employees bring to the table. There is always space within a team for different perspectives and skillsets, and the best are often the most diverse. 

The pitfall of labelling 

One of the key issues contributing to the misperception of neurodiversity is the labelling of individuals with neurodiverse traits. When we reduce someone to a single label, we oversimplify their identity and indirectly contribute to discrimination and exclusion. Embracing the concept of intersectionality, which recognises the multiple aspects of an individual's identity and talents, is crucial to fostering an inclusive environment.

It is essential to remember that individuals with neurodiverse traits are not defined solely by their condition. Just like any other employee within a company, they possess unique skills, perspectives, and experiences that contribute to the diverse ecosystem of any organisation. 

Why neurodiversity matters to business 

Leading corporations, such as Dell, GCHQ, and Microsoft, have recognised the incredible skills and perspectives that neurodivergent individuals bring to the table. These companies understand that diversity in the workplace leads to greater insight, promotes creativity, fosters understanding, and enhances brand reputation. Neurodiverse employees often excel in lateral thinking, analysis, consistency, and innovation, making them valuable assets to any organisation, regardless of size. 

Supporting neurodiverse colleagues 

To fully harness the potential of neurodiverse talent, organisations must take concrete steps to support their neurodiverse colleagues. This includes creating neuro-inclusive recruitment practices that seek out diverse candidates, and nurture welcoming work environments where everyone can thrive. 

Transparency, communication, support, and consideration are key elements organisations must uphold with their neurodivergent employees. Open and honest discussions about neurodiversity should be encouraged to create an environment where employees feel comfortable disclosing their neurodiverse traits or any issues. This openness leads to greater understanding and acceptance among colleagues.

Fostering awareness is another crucial aspect of supporting neurodiverse colleagues. Many people are unfamiliar with neurodiversity and the challenges that neurodiverse individuals may face. Providing training to staff can help bridge this knowledge gap and promote a more inclusive workplace culture.

Organisations must be proactive in supporting neurodiverse employees during transitions, whether it's onboarding, job changes, or other significant shifts in their roles. Offering necessary adjustments and accommodations ensures that neurodiverse individuals have equal opportunities to succeed within the organisation. Change can be disruptive for the majority of us, but for many neurodivergent people, particularly those with autism, they need support and due warning to ensure a smooth transition.

Closing thoughts

It’s time to dispel the misconceptions surrounding neurodiversity in the workplace. Neurodiverse individuals are not hindered by their differences, and with the right support they can bring an array of unique talents and perspectives that can drive business success.

By embracing neurodiversity, we can create more inclusive workplaces that benefit everyone involved. It's about recognising and valuing the richness of human brains and the immense potential they hold. The businesses that lead the charge in embracing neurodiversity will undoubtedly reap the rewards of a more innovative, creative, and successful workforce.