Diversity and Inclusion has become one of the most important topics in both workforces and society as a whole, and rightly so. HR and business leaders have long been striving to diversify workforces, but still neurodiversity has remained somewhat under-represented and under-supported in the world of work. Even in 2021, after many social movements and raising of awareness, there is still some way to go in ensuring everybody is offered equal opportunities at work: those who are neurodiverse are frequently left behind.
However, those who are neurodiverse bring with them a huge range of unique skills that businesses should be looking to invest in. Not only does it give a real boost to the career prospects of those who are neurodiverse, but increasing diversity, neurodiversity and inclusion in the workplace can have a hugely positive impact on workplace culture and ultimately on the bottom line.
There is work already being done by some companies to build more diverse and inclusive workplaces, with some sectors further ahead than others. For example, within the tech industry, neurodivergent individuals can bring specific and rarer skills to a role. If companies want their employees to be the most productive that they can be, they should consider the benefit of hiring those with a range of diverse brains to capitalise on some of these skills.
Increasing diversity, neurodiversity and inclusion in the workplace also has tangible benefits for businesses. A diverse and inclusive culture accelerates innovation and fosters greater creativity ‘in a survey by PwC, 78% of CEOs said D&I helped them to innovate. In groups with more cognitive diversity, teams are more likely to embrace different perspectives, providing opportunities to change and evolve. The survey also found that inclusive workforces tend to be more customer-centric. Where employees understand diversity firsthand, they are far better able to make improvements to ways of working based on customers’ backgrounds, resulting in more relevant offerings and better experiences.
Perhaps most importantly for organisations, research has found that the impact of D&I on revenues can be significant. Increased inclusivity creates a more cohesive environment for employees, leading to enhanced productivity. McKinsey has found that companies in the top quartile for diversity have an average of a 36% uplift in profitability compared to those who fared worse. Boston Consulting Group has also found that in companies with more diverse leadership teams, innovation revenue is as much as 19% higher.
With this said, how can employers ensure they are supporting existing neurodiverse employees and attracting prospective employees who are neurodiverse? People often worry about hidden biases and about being judged on the perception that they have a ‘disability’ or need additional support with certain tasks. To combat this, employers should create an environment of openness from the very beginning.
Creating a more open culture can start by having conversations about how best to work with others who think and learn differently. The reality is, we all think and learn differently and we should be talking to our colleagues about our individual preferences. These important conversations need to run through the employment process into onboarding and retention. For example, a manager could have an honest conversation with a new team member in which they openly share their issues with executive function. This could involve asking them to ensure meetings or Zoom calls are always kept concise and agendas are shared in advance, as they struggle with maintaining concentration. By building a culture where existing employees start this conversation openly, we can help to normalise the idea that everybody works, thinks and learns differently.
Technology is currently the best route to increasing HR’s focus on neurodiversity. There exists the capability and tools for mapping brain profiles and understanding areas of both strength and weakness. Being able to identify how people’s brains work could assist in improving diversity in hiring: if people are required to take a cognitive assessment as part of the onboarding process, it becomes easier to see cognitive differences and apply those diversities to roles and teams. This leads to a more open and inclusive workplace culture overall, but would also ensure employers and employees are better armed with the tools they need to work effectively, improve support structures and reach their full potential together.