Thinking differently about neurodiversity in the workplace

November 30, 2021

Amid the challenging hybridity of today’s workplace, where along the spectrum – from full office recall to full remote working – does the future lie? For employees with learning or thinking differences, the uncertainty of it all can be particularly obtrusive. As they grapple with this new environment, Yvonne Yancy, Chief of Human Resources at Understood, says to employers, “We Can’t Unhear Employees’ Disclosures of Invisible Disabilities.”

About 20% of people are neurodiverse, with conditions such as autism, ADHD and dyslexia. Yancy explains that the transition to home working has meant they have had to redevelop ways of managing their disability “in a remote world”. The swift environmental shift has also revealed more cases of neurodiverse symptoms in both children and adults. Fortunately, many employers have already implemented measures for the neurodiverse, for example recorded calls, text-to-speech software, and closed captioning. Yancy suggests that in some ways, the exposed need to accommodate invisible disabilities has been a bittersweet silver lining from the pandemic.

Neurodiversity is a critical emerging DE&I issue in the workplace, and it’s great to see that many employers are considering it. Microsoft consistently surveys its employees, and has put real thought into designing truly flexible workplaces. Those of us who find it hard to (re-)adjust quickly, are unable to work without the right routine, or struggle to ably communicate, will find it reassuring that hybrid best practice is being designed with all people in mind.

But while we can see promise in the accommodation of the employed neurodiverse, the unemployed demographic is far larger. Only 22% of autistic people in the UK have long-term employment. Industries such as finance and tech have begun to cotton on to the valuable contributions the neurodiverse can make to our predominantly neurotypically oriented workforces, and are introducing special inclusivity measures in their employment practice. Examples of these include Barclays, JP Morgan and SAP. Other companies are going further, forming high-profile partnerships with NGOs, for instance Santander with Ambitious about Autism, and Aviva with GAIN (Group for Autism, Insurance and Neurodiversity).

Such neuro-inclusivity is vital for future workplaces, and while progress has been made in this largely under-represented field, we must continue, as Yancy says, “to think harder about how people work best” and “how we can create a workplace that’s inclusive and flexible”.

Author: James Scott