Taking the neurodiversity-smart approach to inclusivity in the workplace

"We need to admit that there is no standard brain" - Thomas Armstrong, author of The Power of Neurodiversity.

Neurodiverse individuals experience and interact with the world in a variety of different ways. There is no one ‘correct’ way of thinking and behaving, and differences should never be viewed as deficits. Neurodiversity represents a key area of organisational equality, diversity and inclusion, which aims to spread awareness and support for all types of thinking and processing styles, including dyslexia, ADHD, autism and dyspraxia.

While there is a growing number of organisations that are more forward-thinking in their approach to neuroinclusion (see our client spotlight article featuring auticon, an award-winning global consulting organisation and majority-autistic business), a significant number of employers are still lagging behind when it comes to inclusion practices in their own workplaces. 

recent BBC article highlighted the need for change, with less than a third of autistic adults currently in employment in the UK. Furthermore, according to a study from Birkbeck University of London, 65% of neurodivergent employees fear discrimination in the workplace.

While employers are obligated to provide reasonable adjustments for employees with disabilities (which many neurodiverse conditions are classified as) under the Equalities Act 2010, diversity and inclusion should also be a key part of every organisation’s values and goals. However, many neurodiverse individuals experience barriers and discrimination when it comes to getting into and staying in work because of outdated one-size-fits-all approaches to selection and development. 

The working environment should meet everyone’s needs. So, what can organisations do to better support neurodiverse employees, and what adjustments need to be made to the working environment to encourage best working practices for the whole workforce?

  1. Job analysis can help to reframe the behaviours and skills that are actually needed rather than applying a generic job description which may be limiting or exclusionary (and may even no longer be relevant).
  2. Selection processes need to be transparent and flexible in order to attract talent and be appropriate for neurodiverse individuals who may find traditional practices, such as interviews, challenging.
  3. Tailored induction and onboarding for neurodiverse employees should be put in place and ongoing training (for the whole organisation) should be provided and regularly reviewed. 
  4. Neuroinclusion should be championed from the senior leadership down, with line managers fully trained on how to support their teams.
  5. Organisational culture should reflect a positive and inclusive approach towards neurodiversity.

Ability assessments may be useful in identifying talent and providing employers with important insights into where an individual’s particular strengths may lie, and in which areas they may need support. By understanding all aspects of a person, employers can better support their neurodiverse employees and therefore create a more innovative, creative, collaborative – and successful – workforce. For those who are not sure where to start with ability assessment, you can refer to Hogrefe’s guide to ability tests

Personality assessments can also be used in this context, ensuring that they are fair and accessible. By using a carefully selected battery of personality assessment tools, employers can obtain a holistic view of the individual's personality traits and preferences. This type of assessment for neurodiverse individuals must be approached with sensitivity and flexibility, in order to provide an inclusive and empowering experience that accurately reflects their full potential.

For further guidance on how to become a more neuroinclusive workplace, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) has developed a Neuroinclusion at Work guide. This guide is for professionals and leaders across functions who want to learn more about neurodiversity, the benefits of having a neuroinclusive and fair organisation, and how to support neurodivergent people to be comfortable and confident at work.