Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) has become a vital topic as society and workplaces open themselves up to more diverse perspectives. D&I has been a consideration for HR leaders for a long while, but what we think of when we talk about this issue is changing. Certain sub-trends are developing, neurodiversity among them, which are driving the conversation forward in interesting and new ways.
Neurodiversity has remained somewhat under-represented and under-supported in the world of work, and even in 2021 there is still some way to go in ensuring everybody is offered equal opportunities. This means those who are neurodiverse are frequently left behind.
However, those who are neurodiverse bring with them a huge range of unique skills that businesses should be looking to invest in. The advantages of committing to this are multifold: not only does it give a real boost to the career prospects of those who are neurodiverse, but increasing diversity, neurodiversity and inclusion in the workplace can have a hugely positive impact on workplace culture and on the bottom line.
The concept of neurodiversity isn’t new, but it’s something that still isn’t widely understood. In contrast to some other types of diversity, our cognition exists entirely on a spectrum – we all think and perceive the world differently. There tends to be the assumption that learning difficulties only affect a small percentage of the population.
However, it’s now known that up to 35 per cent of the population have a learning need which, for the majority of individuals, has been unidentified and unsupported throughout their earlier education. Given the issue is so widespread, and that many are not being identified as having learning needs until later in life, much of the onus now falls on workplaces to ensure all employees are supported to achieve their best.
The work already being done by companies to build more diverse and inclusive workplaces is vital and must continue, and increased awareness of neurodiversity is arguably the next step within this.
It is increasingly being addressed in some sectors; for example, within the tech industry, neurodivergent individuals can bring specific and rarer skills to a role. If companies want their employees to be the most productive that they can be, they should consider the benefit of hiring those with a range of diverse brains to capitalise on some of these skills.
Increasing diversity, neurodiversity and inclusion in the workplace also has tangible benefits for businesses. A diverse and inclusive culture accelerates innovation and fosters greater creativity – in its Annual Global CEO Survey, PwC found that 78 per cent of CEOs said D&I helped them to innovate.
In groups with high cognitive diversity, teams are less likely to make similar assumptions and are more likely to look for alternative perspectives, providing opportunities to change and evolve. The survey also found that inclusive workforces tend to be more customer-centric: 75 per cent of CEOs said that D&I helped them serve new and evolving customer needs. Where employees understand cultural nuances and diversity firsthand, they are far better able to make improvements to ways of working, resulting in more relevant offerings and better customer experiences.
A diverse and inclusive culture also reduces employee turnover.
The Centre for Social Impact found that culture is a major driver of turnover: 40 per cent of employees have left a job because of ‘unfairness’ in their workplace. Different people bring different ideas, skills and opportunities to innovate. The benefit of attracting diverse talent is self-perpetuating, providing the diversity is paired with an inclusive culture which helps to integrate employees.
Perhaps most importantly for organisations, research has found that the impact of enhanced D&I on revenues can be significant.
Increased inclusivity creates a more cohesive environment for employees, leading to enhanced performance and productivity. Boston Consulting Group found that in companies with more diverse leadership teams, innovation revenue – revenue generated from new products or services – is 19 per cent higher on average. McKinsey also found that companies in the top quartile for ethnic and cultural diversity have an average of a 36 per cent uplift in profitability compared to those who fared worse on diversity.
With this said, how can employers ensure they are supporting existing employees with additional needs and attracting prospective employees who are neurodiverse? Employers should create an environment of openness and support from the get-go. People often worry about hidden biases and about being judged on the perception that they have a ‘disability’ or need additional support with certain tasks. Creating a more open culture can start by having conversations up front about how best to work with others who think and learn differently.
These important conversations need to run through the employment process into onboarding and retention. For example, a manager could have an honest conversation with a new team member in which they openly share their issues with verbal memory. This could involve asking them to always follow up with actions after a meeting, because they might forget and not process actions as effectively from verbal instructions alone. By building a culture where existing employees start this conversation openly, we can help to normalise the idea that everybody works, thinks and learns differently.
Technology is currently the best route to increasing HR’s focus on neurodiversity. There exists the capability and tools for mapping brain profiles and understanding areas of both strength and weakness. Being able to identify how people’s brains work could assist in improving diversity in hiring: if people are required to take a cognitive assessment as part of the onboarding process, it becomes easier to see cognitive differences and apply those diversities to roles and teams.
This leads to a more open and inclusive workplace culture overall, but would also ensure employers and employees are better armed with the tools they need to work effectively, improve support structures and reach their full potential together.