Comment: It’s time for business to embrace neurodiversity

Kate Burnett, MD of DMA Talent, discusses the benefits neurodiversity awareness and implementing associated best practice can deliver for businesses.

There is a huge opportunity for businesses, especially within data and marketing, says Burnett.
There is a huge opportunity for businesses, especially within data and marketing, says Burnett.

World Autism Awareness Week, starting on 1 April, will inspire people across the UK to take part in activities to raise awareness and money for the National Autistic Society. However, the business world is falling short in its ability to accommodate those with neurodevelopmental conditions.

Neurodiversity is essentially a collective term used to describe people who think differently to the majority and is often stated in relation to neurodevelopmental conditions such as ADHD, dyslexia, dyspraxia and autism – to name a few. According to the National Autistic Society there are around 700,000 people on the autism spectrum in the UK but just 16 per cent of autistic adults are in full-time, paid employment. Over three quarters (77 per cent) of those who are unemployed say they want to work.

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Senior decision makers, line management and HR teams are unlikely to be neurodiversity experts, as there is limited research on best practice and training. That is why DMA Talent’s Neurodiversity Initiative is working with subject matter experts and those with neurodevelopmental conditions to help define best practice, providing businesses with guidance on a number of reasonable adjustments to recruitment procedures and working environments.

A poll conducted by HR and people development body CIPD in 2018 found that just 10 per cent of HR professionals in the UK say consideration of neurodiversity is included in their organisation’s people management practices. Given around 10 per cent of the UK population is neurodivergent in some way, more needs to be done to support neurodiversity at work.

There is increasing recognition of the skills ‘people who think differently’ can offer, especially in relation to problem solving and creative input. For example, many autistic people are very logical thinkers and have a strong attention to detail. Many individuals with ADHD and dyslexia are hugely creative and can bring a different perspective when generating new ideas. Of course, this isn’t the case for everyone with a neurodevelopmental condition, but the point is there is an overlooked talent pool that can be a huge asset in the workplace.

Within the data and marketing industry, there is significant demand for analytical, data-minded individuals, which will inevitably lead to the talent pool becoming stretched without more being done to embrace diversity. The Institute of Direct and Digital Marketing’s (IDM) “Professional skills census 2018” report highlighted the data-related skills gap as a key area to be addressed. There is a huge opportunity for UK businesses, especially within their data and marketing teams.

As a professional community, we need to start addressing these alarming statistics by helping employers to understand what they can do to employ and support neurodiverse individuals. Awareness-raising workshops and events are a good way to start the conversation around neurodiversity but they should not be considered as comprehensive training.

We need in-depth training schemes for key personnel, such as line managers and HR staff, to give them the tools to make sensible and realistic changes within their own organisation. Post-training support, via toolkits and community forums, is essential to ensure the relevant personnel are able to implement measures that will benefit all staff. Additionally, a platform where consultation is available and best practice is continuously developed would help to sustain progress.

It’s important to remember that when considering changes within your organisation to be more welcoming to a diverse talent pool, this means doing what is best for your employees – they are all individuals who will thrive in the right environment.

The adjustments that we tend to recommend during our training workshops are those that would benefit everyone. Generally speaking, the majority of people profit from clear communication, structure, and a flexible working environment to accommodate sensory differences.

The neurodiverse community is underrepresented in the business world and we want to change that. Many businesses aren’t utilising the skills of this unique pool of talent. If you want the best people employed by your organisation, it’s time to recognise that perhaps we aren’t looking in all the right places.

DMA Talent, in partnership with Matthew Trerise – who has 15 years’ experience working with individuals on the autism spectrum – is developing a new set of free neurodiversity guidelines to raise awareness among employers. The first edition focuses on autism awareness and not only highlights the benefits of employing people with autism, but provides guidance from a number of experts about adjustments that someone with autism may benefit from within the workplace.