Neurodiversity Celebration Week (13th - 19th March 2023) is a worldwide initiative founded by Siena Castellon in 2018. It challenges stereotypes and misconceptions about neurological differences and aims to transform how neurodivergent individuals are perceived and supported by providing organisations with the opportunity to recognise the many talents and advantages of being neurodivergent.
“I founded Neurodiversity Celebration Week in 2018 because I wanted to change the way learning differences are perceived. As a teenager who is autistic and has ADHD, dyslexia, and dyspraxia, my experience has been that people often focus on the challenges of neurological diversity. I wanted to change the narrative and create a balanced view which focuses equally on our talents and strengths.”
Siena Castellon, Founder of Neurodiversity Celebration Week
CIPD, the professional body for HR and People Development, note that the term Neurodiversity refers to the natural range of difference in human brain function, but in a workplace context, it’s an area of diversity and inclusion that refers to alternative thinking styles, such as dyslexia, autism, ADHD and dyspraxia, with the growing wealth of data surrounding autism, dyslexia, and ADHD increasing global awareness of neurodiversity.
While it’s important to note that no two people are exactly alike, and indeed, as Thomas Armstrong writes in The Power of Neurodiversity, ‘there is no standard brain’, it is estimated that around one in seven employees are neurodivergent. With this in mind, it’s vital that organisations are actively taking the necessary steps to make the workplace a better, safer place for all employees.
How can I create a more neuro-diverse workplace?
Evaluate your interview process
Do your hiring managers hold unconscious bias? Train them to understand different personality types and to avoid drawing conclusions based on what they perceive to be different during the interview process. For example, what may be perceived as negative body language and lack of eye contact may not be because of a lack of interest and may be the candidate’s way of processing information or managing their social anxiety.
Make reasonable adjustments to ensure your candidate is comfortable; Some candidates may require use of their own laptop or device rather than a company provided device during a competency assessment, or follow a different process to the face-to-face interview, such as a trial work period to demonstrate their skills. You may also need to rethink your typical interview questions, reworking more abstract tasks such as ‘How many balls would fit into this swimming pool’ to focus more on specifics and skills needed for the role.
Create an inclusive work environment
Does your working environment act as a barrier to neurodivergent employees? Your typical employee environment and set-up may prevent neurodiverse employees, particularly those with acute sensory sensitivity, to perform at their best. Things to consider include bright office lighting, which can be distracting and induce sensory overload, noise levels, as a noisy open plan space can also disrupt productivity and computer and desk equipment; for example, your standard computer screen might be too bright.
Embrace flexibility and routine
Create a culture which allows for flexibility and routine; Flexibility can be very important for neurodiverse workers and can allow for appointments and self-care activities. It may also be preferable to allow for remote working if there is hesitation around an office setting or a daily commute. There really is no ‘one size fits all’ here and alternatively, some neurodiverse workers will thrive when working to a routine, with the predictability providing comfort.
Respect individual differences and preferences
Understand how your team works best; Line Managers should take the time to get to know how each of their employees works best, and how they require information and tasks to be translated to them, adapting their style accordingly. Autistic people, can for example, find a lack of clear, direct information very challenging.
Is there pressure to attend social events? Team building activities and work social events can be a great way of allowing your team to interact and get to know each other in a more informal setting, however it’s important to understand that, neuro-diverse or not, some workers may prefer not to attend these events for a number of different reasons, including social anxiety, introversion or the impact this will have on theory routine. Think about other ways in which you can foster a culture of belonging and teamwork within your workplace without after-hours activities.
Provide tailored career opportunities
Not everyone wants to be a leader; It’s important to understand that climbing a traditional ladder to management isn’t for everyone, and that personal growth and career development looks different to us all, whether neurodivergent or neurotypical. While some employees may strive for a leadership role, others may prefer to work alone. Think about ways in which your team can feel valued and benefit from progression if they feel a management role isn’t the right avenue for them.
Train your team to think differently and talk about neurodiversity
Organise a Neurodiversity Awareness Workshop; Training will help employees better understand aspects of neurodiversity and remove any misconceptions and stigma, such as recognising typically ‘negative’ body language doesn’t mean a lack of interest. Adequate training should help colleagues understand that a neurodiverse employee finding a particular aspect of the role challenging doesn’t equal ineptitude, opinions which can lead to neurodiverse employees feeling unwilling to disclose this information for fear of a similar reaction.
Senior leadership advocacy
Make it clear your organisation takes neurodiversity seriously; If your senior leadership team champions neurodiversity this will send a positive message to both your neurodiverse and neurotypical network both internally and externally. This might include speaking at an event about neurodiversity in the workplace, publishing a blog on your website and company LinkedIn page or starting a neurodiversity at work internal programme to ensure your commitment to creating a neurodiverse workplace continues to be driven forward.
As we are increasingly challenged as employers to rethink our strategies for hiring and retaining staff, it’s important we take these steps to embrace the potential of neurodivergent employees and create an inclusive environment for all employees. Accommodations can often be cheap, simple and easy to implement, but make a huge difference to someone’s working day and ability to reach their potential.