Why employers need to recognise neurodivergence

Article by Jamie Mackenzie, director at Sodexo Engage

scan of a brain, science museumDiversity remains a highly topical issue for employers and HR professionals. From quotas to anonymised CVs, companies are increasingly striving to ensure parity in the workplace.

However, issues of diversity typically tend to relate to race, ethnicity, sexual orientation and gender, while neurodivergence, which refers to different ways of thinking and learning, is often overlooked. While this area may not be discussed very often, employers need to recognise the value neurodivergent individuals can bring to a business and extend support to all their team members.

What is neurodivergence?

No two employees look the same – and neither do their brains. Neurodivergence describes a wide range of conditions, ranging from autism and dyspraxia to ADHD or dyslexia. Regardless of the specifics, those not considered “neurotypical” may feel stigmatised if they reveal their condition to an employer or recruiter, even if it doesn’t get in the way of their work.

Neurodivergence may have only recently entered workplace discourse, but statistics show it’s not uncommon. Research from 2016 revealed an estimated 15% of people in the UK are neurodivergent, which means many of the UK’s workforce could feel unsupported at work. Concerningly, a study by the CIPD found only 16% of autistic people are in full-time employment, but 77% want to work, showing that those on the autistic spectrum are struggling to enter the workplace.

How employers can benefit from a neurodiverse team

Woodrow Wilson once said: “I not only use all the brains that I have, but all that I can borrow,” and it’s true that more minds equal more variety. Diversity is frequently linked to higher profits and better returns, with new perspectives generating dynamic exchanges between team members and lively discussions. Specific traits that some neurodivergent individuals possess, such as punctiliousness and perseverance, will also benefit the workplace.

What’s more, it seems like young jobseekers are prioritising diversity when looking for employment. Working in a team where differences aren’t scrutinised or perceived negatively is comforting for candidates and therefore makes an employer more attractive.

What can your business do?

Organisations frequently look to quota-based solutions. With demonstrable, speedy results, this is the “fast-food” option. However, quotas don’t resolve the fundamental issue; they’re often perceived negatively, as they can feel condescending or lead to people filling positions out of their depth. It’s therefore important that businesses cultivate a supportive culture where employees are promoted on merit.

Certain companies, like software giant SAP, have adjusted their recruitment processes to encourage neurodiverse applicants. SAP now has neurodivergent employees across multiple parts of the business, including HR and research, with the increased diversity boosting productivity and efficiency. Leaders in all businesses can do the same. By ensuring the recruitment process is accommodating to everyone, potential talent won’t be put off from applying.

Ultimately, company culture is driven by the messaging from those at the top, so diversity of all kinds needs to be spoken about and promoted. Getting staff involved at all levels will also help to encourage change and put a spotlight on this area. After all, the more staff that believe in the company vision, the more involved and engaged they’ll be.

Jamie SodexoAbout the author

Jamie has been with Sodexo since 2013 and is responsible for the company strategy, proposition development, brand management and communications. He brings over 13 years of business and consumer marketing experience in senior roles within blue chip organisations. Jamie is also an advocate for diversity and inclusion at work and has spoken frequently about the ways to create a positive workplace culture.

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