With growing awareness of conditions like autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), dyslexia, and other learning disabilities, discrimination cases brought to employment tribunals by neurodivergent people have increased by one-third in the last year, according to research by employment law firm Fox.
Neurodiversity in the workplace
People who are considered neurodivergent include those with conditions such as:
Autism: a developmental disorder that includes differences in social communication skills, motor skills, speech, and more
ADHD: a neurodevelopmental disorder that includes features of inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity
Tourette's syndrome: a tic disorder involving involuntary, repetitive movements and vocalisations
It also encompasses learning disabilities, including:
Dyslexia: impairs language skills, especially reading
Dyscalculia: causes people to struggle with basic mathematics
Dysgraphia: creates difficulty in writing and understanding the alphabet
Dyspraxia: relates to movement and coordination issues
Only 15% of the estimated minimum 700,000 autistic adults in the UK are in employment, according to a report by the National Autistic Society. This is not for a lack of trying or ability, but because workplace culture was designed around ideas of neurotypicality – for individuals who think, perceive and behave in ways that are considered the norm by the general population.
Not only is discrimination against those with characteristics protected under the Equality Act (2010) illegal and immoral, but it also costs businesses and the economy money. Recent research by the Centre for Business & Economic Research and diversity and inclusion champion INvolve, indicates that discriminatory pay practices cost the UK economy £127 billion in lost output every year.
Supporting your neurodiverse workforce
Promoting inclusion in your workplace will allow you to find neurodivergent talent who may not have been utilised to their full potential before. If your business can build a reputation of inclusivity – which consists of all minority groups, not just a few – then more people will naturally be attracted to your roles.
According to Ascend, Harvard Business Review’s careers microsite for young professionals, in the right job, neurodivergent people can be up to 140% more productive than neurotypical people. For example, people on the autistic spectrum are often proven to have greater focus, analytical and problem-solving skills than neurotypical people.
There is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to neurodiversity, so employers must be flexible enough to accommodate the needs of their individual employees. It doesn’t have to cost anything to ensure your employees feel comfortable in the workplace.
Here are some considerations for promoting inclusion and neurodiversity:
Reasonable adjustments - Neurodiverse people might need a certain type of environment to feel comfortable. Providing options for them to work from home, or in a quiet place in the office, allowing them to communicate mostly by text, and wear noise-cancelling headphones, will be greatly appreciated for those who need those adjustments.
Inclusive language - Language is always changing, and what was once acceptable might no longer be the right words or phrases to use. It’s important to be aware of what is appropriate to say and what isn’t – especially in the workplace – because using offensive vocabulary could be discriminatory, disrespectful and unlawful.
Many seemingly harmless words such as ‘weird’, ‘dumb’, and ‘crazy’, when used to describe someone, are ableist and could hurt someone more deeply than you realise. Conversely, calling certain people or traits ‘normal’ could be offensive to those who don’t share the trait you are describing as such.
It is fine to make mistakes, as long as you learn from it and don’t repeat it. If you’re not sure what is acceptable to say to someone, ask them what terms they feel comfortable with.
Learning and development - Through education, or learning and development, more people will understand what is acceptable and what isn’t when it comes to language, micro-aggressive behaviours, biases and more.
Discrimination can be completely subconscious and unintended, but it has the same impact and is still illegal whether you meant to offend someone or not. Therefore, the key to eliminating discrimination is increasing awareness.
Learning to understand and accept certain behaviours and promoting inclusivity will significantly improve the performance of neurodivergent people and increase their already-high retention rates.
Bias training - At all stages of recruitment, employers must be completely unbiased to choose the right person for the role. Providing unconscious bias training is the best way to ensure you are not excluding anyone from the process with traditional requirements that aren’t necessarily relevant.
From the job description and person specification to onboarding, you must ensure you are choosing based on the individual’s suitability for the role and company, not choosing your favourite person.
Neurodiverse people can often find it difficult to form bonds the way neurotypical people do, and this type of bias towards someone with excellent social skills or ‘team player’ ability – which might not be essential to the role – is exclusionary.
Improving diversity reporting - Employers don’t always know their employees are neurodivergent because conditions like autism can be masked. This is often a deliberate attempt to avoid discrimination. However, there are more reasons why people don’t or can’t disclose their neurodiversity at work.
Often, candidates have no way of reporting their neurodiversity when they apply for a role. Most application forms have ‘disability’ or ‘mental disability’ options, but neurodiverse people would not necessarily choose to identify themselves as having a disability, just that they have a different way of thinking.
Whether or not their difference makes them ‘disabled’ simply depends on the job or the workplace and how their difference helps or hinders them in their work. It would help to have a checkbox for this type of condition in your applications, so you can ensure you provide the right support.
Providing the right support - Everyone learns in their own ways, and employers have a responsibility to create an environment where each employee can be comfortable being themselves and working to the best of their ability. However, some employees may find it patronising if you offer to help more than they need you to – ask individuals what they need before assuming anything.
Being an advocate - And finally, calling out toxic language and behaviours in the workplace, and encouraging your workforce to do the same, is crucial to maintaining the inclusive environment you have created.
Overall, promoting inclusion for neurodivergent people within your workplace will require flexibility, awareness, and a conscious effort to make change. Reasonable adjustments are easy to make for neurodivergent people, and don’t necessarily cost anything at all. It’s all about respecting people’s identities. If you’re not sure, just ask – respectfully.
If you’re looking for advice on hiring or managing a neurodivergent professional, Reed can help – find your nearest Reed office today.