Neurodiversity: The Other Kind of Diversity

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Jul 22, 2019

In recent years, several celebrities have spoken out about and openly celebrated their neurodiversity. For example, actor Will Smith and Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps have spoken publicly about their ADHD, and business mogul Richard Branson has discussed how his dyslexia has played a role in his success. The term “neurodiversity,” first coined in the early 1990s, is part of efforts to shift people’s thinking towards mental health conditions and disabilities – to have them viewed as strengths as opposed to deficits.

While there is a seemingly boundless range of human brain functioning and behavioral traits which should be embraced within the workplace, a poll by the CIPD shows that 72% of HR professionals in the United Kingdom have not considered neurodiversity in their people management practices, despite 10% of the population being neurodivergent in some way.

What exactly is neurodiversity, and how can it be embraced in the modern workplace?

In his work The Power of Neurodiversity, Dr. Thomas Armstrong says, “There is no such thing as a standard brain.” Neurodiversity is beginning to enter the HR lexicon as an umbrella term to encompass a range of conditions including autism, ADHD, dyslexia, OCD and mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression.

Employers that do not consider neurodiversity in their hiring could be missing out on talent. Very often, only small, reasonable adjustments can help support different ways of thinking and working. Generally, awareness training and advocacy at senior levels is also key to ensuring a comfortable workplace for all.

Assessments may be useful

For example, in recruiting, research suggests that behavior-based assessments may be beneficial with neurodiverse individuals compared to traditional, self-report measures. Game-based assessment provider Arctic Shores follows guidelines from the British Psychological Society that say neurodiverse individuals respond better when feedback is positively worded and reiterated throughout an assessment. These assessments measure for attributes which are often strengths among neurodiverse individuals such as altruism, innovation potential and sociability.

Software company SAP has transformed the way it recruits and trains staff to be as inclusive as possible by introducing gamified interviews to better suit candidates with autism. The interviews involve building a robot to assess candidates on their problem-solving approach. Children with ADHD performed best when motivated with a gamified version of a working memory task.

Adjusting the environment

The physical working environment can create barriers for those who are neurodivergent – particularly if they have acute sensory sensitivity. So, making office lighting neutral or natural, providing neurodivergent individuals with a quieter area to work or allowing headphones, and using equipment has clear operating instructions all can help.

The benefits of supporting neurodiverse talent include higher motivation and engagement, reduced stress levels and increased self-efficacy – an individual’s belief in their ability to achieve goals. As understanding of neurodiversity develops, smart employers will champion industry best practices and embrace a range of human brain functioning and behavioral traits within the workforce.