Dr Nancy Doyle C. Psychol. AFBPsS, psychologist, founder and CEO of Genius Within, states that it is imperative that people take into consideration the neuro-differences of their colleagues when working towards an inclusive and supportive culture
15-20% of the UK population has a neurodevelopmental or acquired condition. Whether it’s an individual with ADHD, Dyslexia, mental health issues or anxiety, or a mixture of any of the neurominorities in the graph below, it’s clear neurodiversity can no longer be seen as an anomaly, it’s part of our natural makeup. We have specialist thinkers for a reason, but they are disabled by our institutions which require jacks of all trades. And, when you add neurodiversity to the number of people with some kind of physical disability, it’s easy to see why organisations need to think differently about how they recruit, train and retain their workforce.
Many people are not diagnosed with disabilities, either because they never got around to it, shied away from the process, or have developed such effective coping skills that they can live ‘under the radar’. But living as a neurominority can mean that the average working environment is more stressful that it needs to be, that colleagues can misunderstand an individual’s needs or untapped strengths. Many organisations have been vocal about their commitment to creating an inclusive and supportive culture, which I applaud wholeheartedly, but often the approach taken— which can be to cherry-pick certain types of stereotyped groups e.g. autistic male software developers and make adjustments for them alone— can be isolating, discouraging and ineffective.
Too often the process for organisations deciding upon and implementing adjustments for disabled people focuses on the individual rather than the organisation. This requires the employee to be underperforming or having difficulties, rather than the organisation itself embracing systemic inclusion. No one wants to be the focus of attention for anything other than their achievements and many, understandably perhaps, might feel that speaking out about their difficulties to deliver to the best of their ability might get them labelled ‘difficult’, or not a team player.
Systemic inclusion is what is called for. We need to look at an organisation as a whole and deal with common issues and pinch points in an employee’s journey. From recruitment, including how we articulate and advertise a role, to the interview process, which is rarely a good way of assessing someone’s ability to perform the duties required of them, to the day-to-day working environment, it’s time for companies to improve inclusivity, for the benefit of people with disabilities and people without them.
Bullying cultures thrive when companies haven’t embraced inclusion. Even without negative intention, misunderstandings can compound and be interpreted as malicious when there is a power imbalance. Alternatively, an open-minded approach to differing opinions, alternative views and nuanced discussion are natural biproducts of having variety and complementary cognition in the workplace. The power of cognitive diversity prevents ‘groupthink’ and stale environments where challenge is rebuffed and seen as threatening.
Working with different people means that it can take longer to understand each other. More time is required to develop trust and a level of common ground. But there are some straightforward ways to support and include neurodiverse colleagues at work. The language used, the working environment and the open communication of adjustments available can help neurodiverse people succeed, and stop others feeling they are walking on eggshells.
Systemic inclusion looks at the organisation’s ability to ensure people with disabilities can join from the start— not wait until they recruit a colleague with a disability and then make an adjustment. Systemic inclusion for disability might include flexible hours and environments, improved HR practices through recruitment, induction and appraisal, and communication with all staff so that everyone knows the adjustments that are available.
Think through every step of your employee’s journey and consider how you can make improvements that will benefit everyone. Take the interview process, for example. Everyday companies are missing out on some excellent candidates because the interview process has been set up to make them fail. Interviews are notorious for disadvantaging neurodiversity, as the pressure of the unfamiliar social expectations causes undue anxiety. So, consider this. Do you need to interview? Is the role one where face to face communication with no preparation will be essential? If not, consider a work sample test instead, as the interview will not be a good assessment of the skills for the role.
Secondly, if you do feel that an interview is required, acknowledge that performance on the day will not translate into performance in a role where someone is comfortable and understands the parameters. Equally, many people have struggled at school and their academic achievements are not reflective of their potential. For this group, an interview might be a chance to shine! The key is to ensure that the method of selection matches the eventual job role. Do you need someone who has the gift of the gab or someone who will be 100% accurate with data? Make it match and this will remove obstacles and increase diverse inclusion.
You can make straightforward adjustments that cost nothing to your business. You could offer interview questions in advance; explain in advance the layout of the room, who will be there, their job roles and the exact timing and some expectations. Minimising sensory distractions such as harsh lighting, noise interruptions and room temperature will help people perform at their best. Ensure directions to the location are provided well in advance as well as any parking requirements.
Everyone benefits from systemic inclusion. That’s not just a theory. Our work with hidden disability results in an average 61% improvement in productivity, a 25% promotion rate, and 95% job retention. If you asked any business leader if they wanted that kind of return on investment they wouldn’t hesitate to ask ‘how?’ And, when the answer to that question is to remove some of the barriers that have become business as usual, they are bound to follow up that question by asking ‘when?’
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