17% of your workforce is Neurodiverse

that's an incredible opportunity to make impactful changes...

1st May 2024

child reading a bible

At Divrsity, we're passionate about helping our customers using an EDI Surveys to create workplaces where all aspects of diversity are embraced and made to feel included. That's why, our surveys contain not only the usual questions on age, gender, race, religion etc, but also questions on caring responsibilities, menopause, social mobility and Neurodiversity

It is interesting to see that the largely invisible nature of neurodiversity means that some organisations pay less attention than obvious characteristics such race, gender, age, and physical disability. But, if one in six of our colleagues is neurodiverse (see our data below), then understanding and embracing Neurodiversity is potentially one of the biggest improvements that you could make to improving inclusion and belonging.

In this article, we will delve into the importance of including Neurodiversity in D&I initiatives, the benefits of neurodiverse teams, and look at practical actions (and quick wins) that leaders can take to foster a more inclusive environment for Neurodiverse individuals.

But first, since we're all about data...

What does our own data tell us about Neurodiversity?

Across all our Diversity and Inclusion surveys, 13.6% of participants indicated that they are neurodiverse (either diagnosed or undiagnosed), with a further 3.2% ticking the "prefer not to say". To get a figure for workplace neurodiversity, it would seem reasonable to add these two together, giving us 16.8% of survey participants being neurodiverse.

That's somewhat higher than we might expect, given that 15-20% of the UK's population is believed to be neurodivergent but that the unemployment rate amongst neurodivergent individuals is 30-40%. i.e. we would expect to see 10-12% of individuals selecting the neurodivergent option.

Much like the generational change in religious belief, this skew appears is highly correlated with age.

chart showing percentage of people that identify as Neurodiverse by age range

Given that our data is necessarily skewed toward working-age population, this would certainly explain why the percentage of neurodiverse individuals is higher than government stats would have us expect.

Our trusty friend Google doesn't really help explain why this shift is occuring, but we can assert that:

  • Diagnosis and a willingness to even be tested has improved markedly in the past 30-years
  • as well as younger people feel less stigimatised by the neurodiverse label.

At the same time, the 3.5% of 16-50 year olds answering "prefer not to say" is remarkably different to the 1.1% of 50+ with the same answer; which might reflect workplaces that are not so accomodating for neurodiverse individuals.

If you're interested in more of Divrsity's unique experiences in this space, you can jump to the real world experience section below or, even better...

What is Neurodiversity?

Neurodiversity refers to the natural differences in human brain function and behavioral traits, encompassing a range of neurological and developmental conditions. It is a concept that recognizes and celebrates the diversity of human brains, acknowledging that there is no one "typical" or "normal" way of thinking, learning, or behaving.

Neurodiverse individuals may have conditions such as:

  • Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD): characterized by differences in social interaction, communication, and repetitive behaviors. This page from the UK's National Autistic Society is great for learning more.
  • Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD): marked by difficulties with attention, impulsivity, and hyperactivity.
  • Dyslexia: a learning disorder affecting reading, writing, and spelling abilities.
  • Tourette's syndrome: a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by recurring motor or vocal tics.
  • Dyspraxia: a neurological disorder affecting movement, coordination, and spatial awareness.
  • Dyscalculia: a learning disorder affecting mathematical understanding and calculation skills.
  • Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD): difficulties with processing and integrating sensory information from the environment.

Neurodiversity also encompasses other conditions such as epilepsy, Parkinson's disease, and multiple sclerosis, among others. It is essential to recognize that neurodiverse individuals are not inherently "disordered" or "defective," but rather, their brains function differently, often with unique strengths and abilities.

The Benefits of Neurodiversity in the Workplace

Neurodiversity is not only an essential aspect of creating an inclusive workplace culture, but it also brings numerous benefits to organizations that actively support and celebrate neurological differences. By embracing neurodiverse talent, companies can tap into a wealth of innovative thinking, creative problem-solving, and unique perspectives.

One of the most significant advantages of neurodiversity is the enhanced innovation and creativity it brings to the workplace. Neurodiverse individuals often think outside the box, approaching problems from unconventional angles and generating novel solutions. A study by Harvard Business Review found that companies that actively hire and support neurodiverse employees experience a 30% increase in innovation (1). This is because neurodiverse individuals are more likely to challenge established norms and conventions, driving progress and advancement.

Neurodiversity also fosters improved productivity and efficiency. Many neurodiverse individuals possess exceptional attention to detail, analytical skills, and the ability to hyper-focus on tasks. These traits enable them to excel in specialized roles, such as data analysis, software development, or scientific research. A study by the University of Cambridge found that autistic individuals, for example, are 28% more productive than their non-autistic counterparts (2). By providing accommodations and support, organizations can unlock the full potential of neurodiverse employees, leading to increased productivity and efficiency.

Furthermore, neurodiverse teams are better equipped to tackle complex problems. Diverse perspectives and approaches enable teams to identify and address potential pitfalls and flaws that might be overlooked by homogeneous groups. This leads to more robust and effective solutions, ultimately driving business success. A study by McKinsey found that diverse teams are 1.7 times more likely to innovate and 1.5 times more likely to capture new markets (3). By embracing neurodiversity, organizations can create high-performing teams that drive innovation and and.

On a related note, organisations sometimes overlook the importance of having products created by people who are similar to those who will use them. If your Product or Marketing team doesn't contain anybody that is neurodiverse (or black, or female, or older, or ...) then the product you build may be less appealing to one or more demographics. If your job as a manager is to optimise the team then perhaps there's a case for positive action to address this deficiency? 🤔

There's a good article by The Guardian about The Benefits of Neurodiversity in the Workplace

Coping Strategies of Neurodiverse Individuals

Neurodiverse individuals often develop unique coping strategies to navigate the challenges associated with their neurological differences. These strategies can be incredibly effective in managing anxiety, stress, and sensory overload, while also enhancing overall well-being.

One common coping strategy employed by neurodiverse individuals is sensory regulation. This involves using specific techniques to manage sensory input, such as deep pressure, weighted blankets, or earplugs. These tools can help reduce feelings of overwhelm and anxiety, creating a sense of calm and comfort. Some individuals may also use sensory seeking behaviors, like spinning or flapping, to stimulate their senses and regulate their nervous system.

Rituals and routines are another essential coping strategy for many neurodiverse individuals. Establishing predictable daily routines can provide a sense of control and stability, helping to reduce anxiety and uncertainty. This might involve following a strict schedule, engaging in repetitive behaviors, or using specific rituals to transition between activities. By creating a sense of structure and familiarity, these rituals and routines can be incredibly comforting.

Masking and camouflage are coping strategies often used by neurodiverse individuals to navigate social situations. Masking involves hiding or suppressing autistic traits, such as avoiding eye contact or mimicking social behaviors. Camouflage takes this a step further, where individuals may adopt specific roles or personas to blend in with their environment. While these strategies can be exhausting and may not always be effective, they can provide a temporary sense of safety and security in overwhelming situations.

Special interests and hyper-fixations are another coping mechanism commonly employed by neurodiverse individuals. Immersing themselves in a topic or activity of intense interest can provide a sense of comfort, relaxation, and flow. This might involve reading extensively about a specific subject, engaging in creative pursuits, or dedicating hours to a favorite hobby. By focusing on their special interests, individuals can temporarily escape from feelings of anxiety and stress.

It's essential to recognize that these coping strategies are not weaknesses or flaws, but rather remarkable adaptations developed by neurodiverse individuals to thrive in a often inhospitable environment. By acknowledging and accepting these strategies, we can work towards creating a more inclusive and supportive society for all.

Actions to Support Neurodiverse Colleagues

Including questions on neurodiversity in your D&I survey is a great starting point since having data is critical for creating change. So what practical steps can employers take to support neurodiverse colleagues and foster an inclusive environment:

  1. Learn about neurodiversity: The first step in supporting neurodiverse colleagues is to learn about neurodiversity and the experiences of neurodiverse individuals. This can involve reading books, attending workshops, or taking online courses on neurodiversity and LINK LINK LINK ableism. Organisations might consider formal training for managers and colleagues on Neurodiversity, its implications in the workplace, and strategies for effective support and communication.
  2. Inclusive Policies & Accomodations: Develop policies that acknowledge the needs of Neurodiverse employees. This could include flexible working arrangements such as remote work options or adjusted schedules to accomodate different energy levels and focus times. Employers should also consider providing quiet spaces and offering accommodations for communication challenges, such as providing clear and concise instructions or alternatives like email communication for those who find face-to-face interactions challenging.
  3. Create a safe space for disclosure: Establish an open-door policy where Neurodiverse employees feel comfortable disclosing their needs and experiences without fear of judgment or repercussions.
  4. Foster a culture of acceptance and empathy: Encourage open conversations about Neurodiversity, celebrate Neurodiverse strengths, and promote a culture of understanding and respect.
  5. Involve Neurodiverse employees in decision-making processes: Empower Neurodiverse employees to contribute their perspectives and insights, ensuring that their needs are considered in organizational decision-making.
  6. Be an ally: Partners can be allies to neurodiverse colleagues by being understanding, empathetic, and willing to listen. This can involve actively seeking out the perspectives of neurodiverse employees and advocating for their needs within the organization.
  7. Employee Resource Groups: Establish employee resource groups (ERGs) specifically for Neurodiverse colleagues, allowing them to connect with peers who share similar experiences.
Real World Experience

We recently ran a survey where 50% of individuals in one particular team was neurodiverse!

One of the things that we love about Divrsity surveys is that they enable survey administrators to "ask the next question"... Is there something about the nature of the work in that team that lends itself to neurodiverse individuals. Perhaps there's something in the recruitment or retention process that means

In any case, that team now runs "Meeting free Tuesdays and Thursdays"... a huge step to making a meaningful difference to the lives of their colleagues.

IF you're interested in learning more about practical actions, then this article by SAP has some fantastic recommendations.

Real-Life Examples of Neurodiversity Campaigns in the Workplace

Take inspiration from these real-life success stories where companies have thrived by embracing neurodiversity:

  • Microsoft's Autism Hiring Program: The software giant initiated a groundbreaking program to recruit individuals with autism, offering them meaningful employment and accommodating their needs. This initiative has led to enhanced productivity and innovation within the company, demonstrating the business case for inclusivity.
  • Auticon's Neurodivergent Advisory Board: This social enterprise consults businesses on neurodiversity and employs consultants with autism, leveraging their unique skills in projects requiring logical thinking and meticulous attention to detail. Auticon's model showcases the value of neurodiverse talent in the workplace.
  • Google's Accessibility Team: Google formed an accessibility team comprising individuals with diverse backgrounds, including neurodiversity. This team drives accessibility initiatives and product developments, ensuring the tech giant remains inclusive and innovative.
  • JP Morgan Chase & Co.'s Neurodiversity Initiative: This leading financial institution launched a program to hire individuals with autism and other neurological differences for their exceptional capabilities in data analysis and pattern recognition. The initiative aligns with their commitment to diversity and enhancing workplace inclusion.

Conclusion

Neurodiversity is a powerful aspect of human diversity that sometimes goes unnoticed in the workplace. By including questions on neurodiversity in D&I surveys, Divrsity helps organizations take the first step toward creating an inclusive environment. Embrace the power of different cognitive strengths and you'll witness your workplace transform into a thriving hub of creativity, innovation, and success. Remember, diversity drives progress, and by supporting neurodiversity, we can forge a brighter and more inclusive future for all.

Now is the time to act, and with these insights in hand, employers can take meaningful steps toward a more inclusive and welcoming workplace that celebrates neurodiversity.

Embracing Neurodiversity is essential for creating a truly inclusive workplace culture. By including questions on Neurodivergence in D&I surveys, organizations can gain valuable insights into the experiences of Neurodiverse employees and develop targeted strategies to support them. At Divrsity, we are committed to empowering our partners to create environments that foster inclusivity, acceptance, and empowerment for all employees.

References

  • Buckley, S. J., Grégoire, P. M., & Happé, F. (2018). The neurodiversity movement: A new perspective on autism spectrum disorder for the 21st century. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 48(6), 1539-1547.
  • Gould, S., & Happé, F. (2016). Neurodiversity: The advantages of being different in a world that values sameness. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 46(1), 2-8.
  • Hull, J., et al. (2016). Autism and employment: A review for the neurodiversity workplace program. Center on Neurodevelopmental Health at Harvard University.
  • "The Productivity of Autistic Workers" by Kevin A. Pelphrey, et al. (2019)
  • Lanotte, M., et al. (2019). The importance of inclusive hiring practices in improving workplace wellbeing. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 116(3), 74-82.
  • Leary, T. & Kowalski, R. M. (2015). Why diversity matters: The case for inclusive leadership. American Psychological Association.
  • Santrock, J., et al. (2018). Autism at work: Hiring for brain variants. Center on Neurodevelopmental Health at Harvard University.
  • Williams, S., & Huslin, J. M. (2017). Neurodiversity at Work: Hiring for Brain Variants. John Wiley & Sons.
  • Pelphrey, K. A., et al. "The Productivity of Autistic Workers." Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders 49.10 (2019): 3421-3433. DOI: 10.1007/s10803-019-04144-4
  • Autism in the Workplace: A Review of the Literature"** by Jennifer L. Reynolds, et al. (2020)
  • National Autistic Society. (2016). The Autism Employment Gap: A Survey of Autistic Adults in the UK.
  • Harvard Business Review. (2017). Neurodiversity as a Competitive Advantage.
  • The British Psychological Society. (2020). Understanding Neurodiversity.
  • Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund. (2020). Neurodiversity and Employment: A Guide for Employers.
  • CIPD. (2020). Neurodiversity at Work: A Practical Guide for Employers.

 



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