The term ‘neurodiversity’ is used to describe the concept where neurological differences are recognised and respected in the same way as other human variations, rather than as purely a deficit. The term refers to many different conditions including autism, dyslexia and dyspraxia, ADHD and others.
On the whole society and businesses are aware of the benefits of a diverse workplace in terms of age, gender, ethnicity and sexuality etc. Inclusivity and diversity have been high on the agenda of businesses for years, but there has until now been one factor missing from these initiatives, neurodiversity. A survey conducted by the Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development (CIPD) showed that 72% of the UK’s employers do not include neurodiversity in their diversity policies. It is however, slowly starting to move up the agenda. So what are the benefits of neurodiversity in the workplace?
Harnessing untapped talent
Many people are starting to focus not on what people who are neurodivergent find difficult, but on what it is that they excel at. Everyone has things that they are good at and things that they find more challenging. For most the disparity between the two things isn’t drastic, but for those who are neurodiverse the difference between their strengths and weaknesses tends to be far greater. Whilst they may struggle with reading comprehension to a level where they need instructions told to them not written down, they may have genius level spatial reasoning that allows them to envisage an entire building in their heads and draw the blueprint.
Often those who have a neurodiversity have skills that would be extremely beneficial in an office but are untapped because employers don’t take them on. 20% of the UK’s entrepreneurs are dyslexic, including business tycoons Richard Branson, Lord Sugar and Jamie Oliver. Given that only c. 10% of the UK population is dyslexic, this is disproportionately high. Head of policy at the British Dyslexia Association Sue Flohr explained this by stating that “they [dyslexics] tend to see the whole picture while other people have to work systematically through things. Because of this big picture style of thinking they often have the ability to think long term about what they need to do to achieve their goal, something that is extremely beneficial when starting a business.
Those with neurodiversities are able to put their talents to good use when given the chance. JP Morgan found that those workers with autism took on average just 3-6 months, as opposed to the usual 3 years to do the same level of work in it’s Mortgage Banking Technology Division. When we stop to think about it it’s not surprising that people have talents that are being underutilised. The ability to hyper-focus or be extremely detail orientated is an obvious talent that would benefit any business or team.
Diversity of Thought
Neurodiverse teams are capable of coming up with more creative solutions to problems and are better at addressing them from different angles, purely because of the fact that the team is made up of people who all think differently. The greater the diversity of the team’s members, not just in background but in the way that they think, the greater the probability of generating truly original creative insights. This will become vital, especially in the increasingly competitive environment; the companies that are capable of thinking outside the box will be the ones to flourish. How can a team think outside the box if all it’s members think in the same way?
Understanding and appreciating neurodiversity can also benefit co-worker collaboration overall. Without it there can often be lengthy ‘getting to know you’ periods where the team members work to figure out how to work and think together as a unit. ULTRA Testing, a software testing company that has been making a continuous effort to hire neurodiverse staff members from it’s inception, has managed to find a solution to this to help it’s autistic team members communicate most effectively. They created what they call the ‘bio deck’, a book containing 28 data points about each team member, including their communication preferences, so that every team member is aware of this from the start. Though the idea was born out of creating effective communication within teams of people where many of them are autistic, it can be applied to any corporate team to the same effect.
Studies have shown that customers and job seekers both prefer brands that are socially inclusive. Whether they are choosing between two possible purchases, or two possible companies to work for, a company with strong moral policies and inclusivity policies will have added allure. This is particularly true for millenials, which is important as by 2025 they will comprise 75% of the workforce. In 2016 a study by the Cone Communications Millenial Employee Engagement Study found that just under 2/3 of millenials consider companies social and environmental commitments when they are deciding where to work. As many as 64% stated that they only wanted to work for an employer with strong corporate social responsibility values.
What often prevents employers from seeing neurodiversity as a strength is both anxiety over what they ‘won’t be able to do’ and over how much effort and money reasonable adjustments will cost them. What many people don’t realise however is that the average cost of making reasonable adjustments for an employee is just £700, whereas to replace an employee on minimum wage costs an average of c. £4000. To replace someone on £25,000 a year or more can cost up to £30,000.