Why understanding neurodiversity and ensuring inclusion is essentialby
Many employers understand that neurodiversity is highly valuable for business success but is L&D really doing enough to support these colleagues so they can reach their full potential?
Labelling can be detrimental, but neurodiversity as a term can help explain variations in human processing such as attention, learning, sociability, and mood, leading to the diagnosis of conditions such as dyslexia, ADHD and autism, as well as many others.
More than 1% of us are on the autistic spectrum and 10% of us are dyslexic, 10% are dyspraxic and ADHD in the adult population is thought to be around 3%. Individuals with neurodiversity therefore represent a significant percentage of the working population, but these often-talented individuals still struggle to get good jobs, including in the learning and development sector. Over 80% of autistic adults are unemployed and 28% of the long-term unemployed are dyslexic.
The unique set of skills neurodiverse workers may bring include innovation, analytical scrutiny, intuitive reasoning and resilience
Companies such as JP Morgan, EY, Google Cloud and SAP and many other big names actively search for neurodiverse talent. But as training and facilitating professionals, are we doing enough to harness and celebrate this talent pool?
The unique set of skills neurodiverse workers may bring include innovation, analytical scrutiny, intuitive reasoning and resilience. Being able to recognise, value, adjust to, support, learn and benefit from them will naturally lead to learning and development success because they come together to create a productive, healthier working environment. So how can we ensure better inclusivity of this talent?
Ten ways towards neurodiversity inclusivity
1. Challenge ‘the norm’
The ‘norm’ profile doesn’t always mean the best. Recognising biases is the first step to breaking down the barriers. Challenging the norms and respecting and valuing individual’s difference means desiring input from all sorts of talented workers who can bring different things to the table. Ultimately businesses that value neurodiversity appreciate other viewpoints, attitudes, original ideas, talents, strengths and innovative thinking. Neurodiverse talent is an opportunity, rather than a drain on resources or an extra hassle.
2. Drop ‘group think’
Innovation, creativity and a fresh perspective is good for business but without inclusion and diversity, a group may simply have the same mindset and goals. They will agree and collude rather than stretch the possibilities in thinking, ability and creativity. Instead, be open to other’s ideas and share your own for interesting, productive and creative group collaboration and teamwork.
3. Create a support kit
This may comprise where to go for guidance and assistance and finding ways to share knowledge. Having regular talks or posts on work forums about neurodiversity creates an environment that is welcoming to all.
Encourage training leaders with neurodiversity to be open and transparent about their experiences as well
4. Offer internal training to those who are unfamiliar with neurodiversity
Equally, provide training to neurodiverse colleagues that suits their way of learning, whether that be in small groups, or as trainers being aware of the importance of sound, lighting and personal space for example.
5. Don’t assume
You may think you know what individuals need because we are all exactly that, individuals with our own set of needs. Talking to our colleagues and clients who may have different requirements to our own to find out what works best, is beneficial for both of you. Plan ahead and provide plenty of time for any required adjustments.
6. Recognise neurodiverse applicants in recruitment strategies
They may require alternative recruitment strategies to identify and recognise all their skills and potential, so provide this option during the application process to promote equal opportunities. Ensuring that your company encourages neurodiverse applicants to apply not only provides opportunities for those that may usually be overlooked but ensures the added potential of a broad set of skills.
7. Create an environment of openness and transparency
Raise awareness about neurodiversity within the training and learning development environment. Encourage training leaders with neurodiversity to be open and transparent about their experiences as well. Explore and use appropriate language to discuss differences to prevent causing offence.
8. Create a friendly training environment
This thrives on the importance of respecting and supporting each other to create an inclusive, safe learning environment. Ensure any sort of stigma, discrimination, prejudice, bullying, victimisation, harassment, or a lack of inclusion is challenged and that there will be consequences for any of these sorts of behaviour. Active, genuine inclusion is the single most effective way of eliminating dysfunctional behaviour.
Inclusion allows us to have greater awareness, be educated, integrate with others who we might not normally be drawn to, and to evolve
9. Look after mental health and create safe spaces for all
Training lacking in inclusion can affect employee wellbeing, triggering isolation and feelings of anxiety, anger, and injustice. An inclusive culture has happier and healthier workers who are comfortable sharing, and feel listened to, cared for, and valued.
10. Demand inclusion as the norm
Inclusion allows us to have greater awareness, be educated, integrate with others who we might not normally be drawn to, and to evolve. It promotes a range of perspectives, diversity, equality, harmony and unity, and creates a culturally rich environment which celebrates differences in age, physical abilities, gender, ethnicity, race, sexual orientation and religion, as well as life experiences and personalities.
Thom Dennis, CEO at Serenity In Leadership, the premier culture integration, change and leadership specialists.
Interested in this topic? Read How to ensure that training is inclusive for neurodiverse learners.