Inclusive leadership: strategies for supporting neurodiverse talent

Inclusive leadership: strategies for supporting neurodiverse talent

16 Feb    Advice, Finance News

Whether you’re looking to build a thriving company culture, access top talent, or foster fairer opportunities and outcomes – diversity and inclusion are absolutely imperative in the workplace.

Nevertheless, promoting true equality as an employer often requires careful planning, particularly when it comes to the oft-overlooked neurodiverse community, which can come up against unique challenges.

What is neurodiversity? And how does it affect people at work?

Neurodiversity is an umbrella term that describes any brain function seen to deviate from the ‘norm’. Think of it as a bell curve. Whilst the majority will fit within this bubble of standard behaviours, information processing and thinking, certain people will inevitably fall outside these parameters. These people are often diagnosed with – or identify as living with – conditions like dyslexia, dyspraxia, autism and ADHD.

Michael Doolin, the Group Managing Director of Clover HR. explains that whilst the ways in which each neurodiverse individual struggles will inevitably differ, it’s commonly things like in-person meetings, spontaneous plans and phone calls that prove a challenge, particularly for those with autism. Likewise, reading through vast amounts of information can feel overwhelming for dyslexic employees, whilst ADHDers might struggle with a lack of recognition or task variety.

Changing laws

Whilst the initiative to alleviate these struggles for neurodiverse people should always extend beyond obligatory compliance, it’s important to acknowledge that the government’s new ‘Chance to Work Guarantee’ will see a greater number of neurodivergents entering the UK workforce. The scheme essentially means former disabled benefits claimants will be asked to seek suitable employment, with employers being asked to respond with flexible conditions such as allowing people who need it to work from home.

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Reasonable adjustments

When managed correctly, the move could be positive for neurodiverse people previously excluded from 9-to-5 society, who might otherwise feel anxious and intimidated about entering the world of work. It’s all about making reasonable workplace adjustments to allow them to perform well and thrive.

Introduced under the Equality Act of 2010, which protects people from discrimination in the workplace and wider society, reasonable adjustments refer to any changes that employers can feasibly make to ensure those with disabilities – or physical or mental health conditions – are not significantly disadvantaged in their roles. This can be anything from installing wheelchair ramps and giving employees with anxiety their own, isolated desk to purchasing special ergonomic equipment and implementing flexible working, for example.

Supporting neurodiverse talent

For neurodiverse people, reasonable adjustments could mean purchasing standing desks or implementing hot-desking to keep those with ADHD from getting bored. Equally, it could mean creating sound-proof booths for privacy, perfect for reducing phone-call anxiety and mitigating sensory overload. Noise-cancelling headphones, time-management apps and extra time for reading likewise make for more comfortable working lives, as do fixed schedules and pre-established routines for those who prefer them. It’s all about doing things that allow employees to achieve their best, without being held back by their differences or burning out.

Given the broad range of potential accommodations that employers could make – many of which they might not think of themselves – the most important thing to do when supporting neurodiverse people is to speak to the employee concerned and find out what they want. It’s usually a good idea to get HR and occupational health professionals involved in this process to avoid inadvertently coming across as intimidating or causing any unnecessary nerves. You need to make it clear that your goal is to support to employee – not to question their abilities or review their progress.

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Whilst UK employment laws grants people the right to request such conversations on their own behalf, it’s better to take a proactive approach, encouraging discussions before they are forced to reveal their struggles. People will often try to hide their difficulties for fear of getting in trouble, so it’s important to promote trust and transparency from the start.

Other team members

Another way to foster a culture of diversity and inclusion is to teach other members of staff, who are not disabled or neurodivergent, to deal with difference. Without breaching personal confidence, it’s important to teach them about any signs and symptoms that could indicate that colleagues are struggling, particularly if they work in a managerial role. Specialised training courses on equity and diversity go a long way towards eliminating any unintended discrimination, ensuring that help is delivered in a constructive, positive way. This applies to both work-related feedback and any personal, in-office help that might need to be delivered, without appearing condescending.

Beyond caring

Once again, the primary reason for implementing these changes should be concern for your neurodiverse team members. Nevertheless, there are more tangible reasons for supporting diversity, too. Take, for instance, the fact that a study conducted by Purdue University found ADHDers to be 88% better at out-of-the-box problem solving than other people – or the fact that a 2009 study led by the University of Montreal found autistic people to be 40% faster of solving problems. Likewise, 84% of people with dyslexia have above-average reasoning, according to charity Made by Dyslexia, whilst ADHDers often demonstrate unprecedented levels of creativity, in addition to a thirst for knowledge. By supporting neurodiverse people who may possess these talents, you can nurture unique abilities to create a competitive edge for your business.

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Equal progression

Given the right support, neurodiverse employees are capable of great things. Employers that truly care about creating an inclusive culture should therefore do all they can to ensure they can achieve their true potential. Remember, it’s not just a case of allowing them to perform in their current roles comfortably but also conducting thorough, well-thought-out reviews that result in rewarding career plans and potential promotion.

When inclusive attitudes towards neurodiversity are successfully adopted, businesses can create a culture in which they themselves can thrive, alongside their neurodiverse talent.

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