Creating a culture where neurodivergent talent thrives

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Posting date: 31 May 2023

While around 15-20% of the population has some kind of neurological difference, neurodiversity in the workplace has some way to go before becoming an equal or even an entirely ‘safe’ place for people with these conditions. According to ONS figures just 22% of autistic adults in the UK are in any kind of employment and recent research from inclusion and technology solutions business auticon found only 16% of autistic adults in full time employment, compared with 48% among disabled people in general.

At a time of skill shortages neurodiverse candidates offer an important untapped resource. Moreover, the technology sector can be a great destination for these individuals, valuing their skills such as cognitive analytical thinking, trend spotting, problem solving and retention of information. However, simply attracting these candidates is not enough. To be truly inclusive, employers must provide a holistic employment experience which means neurodiverse candidates don’t just choose to join their business, they choose to stay.

Getting into work when you’re neurodivergent

According to auticon’s research, 35% of neurodiverse adults find settling into a new organisation the most challenging part of their career. 27% believe holding on to a job is the most challenging aspect, highlighting the need for organisations to address these issues if they want to get the best from their talent in the medium or long term.

Being neurodiverse essentially means thinking differently from most people. It covers conditions such as Dyslexia, DCD (Dyspraxia), Dyscalculia, Autism and ADHD. How these conditions affect an individual can vary immensely which means, as with other disabilities, employers need to be ready to listen to employees and make specific and reasonable adjustments to help them in the workplace.

According to auticon, 64% of respondents asked their employer for a reasonable adjustment to enable them to work. Of these, 56% got the adjustment they asked for while 42% were given only part of the adjustment. Perhaps employers can do better here to encourage neurodiverse talent into their teams. Auticon also found 70% of respondents shared their autism spectrum condition at work but worryingly, only 44% believe they can be their authentic selves at work - a clear barrier to retention for organisations.

A culture for neurodiversity

Unlocking the workplace for neurodiverse people requires the creation of a company culture that supports their inclusion. Emma Walker, regional director for Scotland at auticon says employers should look at this before they even consider taking on someone with a neurodivergent condition: “You first need to look at ensuring you have everything in place – you need the right culture, your line managers need to have the appropriate training to support and retain this talent once they’re in the business. You need to make sure that mechanisms are in place to help this – such as the ability to act on workplace adjustment requests. All these steps will enable talent to perform at their best.”

At Harvey Nash, one initiative used is the Employee Relations Group (ERG) NashAbility, created to identify and act upon the needs of diverse employees and ensure the business is always improving its support. The ultimate aim is for neurodivergent people to come to work without feeling that they have to ‘mask’ their condition. Like anyone else they don’t want to constantly self-censor at work – indeed trying to be someone you’re not exhausting and can lead to burnout. If the business promotes and practices inclusive values all workers – including those with neurodiverse conditions – can feel safe and appreciated. 

With company culture delivering the right messages and support, employers can be confident in attracting and recruiting neurodivergent staff. It is worth bearing in mind that more than a third of neurodiverse workers in auticon’s research said the recruitment process is a challenge for them, and again employers can make a difference through a few adjustments. For example, job descriptions should focus only on the essential skills required for a job. Why? Because neurodivergent talent is more likely to opt themselves out of a role if they don’t think they meet 100% of the required criteria.

One step at a time, one candidate at a time

Even if recruitment processes are designed to treat everyone equally it should be remembered that a ‘one size fits all' approach may not allow all candidates to highlight their skills appropriately. Simply asking what adjustments could be made in the hiring process could result in the business taking on exceptional talent. Importantly, if the company culture is right, a newly appointed neurodivergent candidate will find their workplace expectations met and will want to stay.

At the basic level, neurodivergent candidates are really no different from anyone else in their expectations from work. They want to do something with purpose, they want to feel they have a good career ahead of them and they want to feel valued. They want to work in an environment where they can deliver their best work, make a clear contribution and work comfortably with their fellow workers. If the company culture is right, and the relevant support or adjustments are in place, they will achieve this and alongside this the business will achieve more.

About auticon

auticon is a global award-winning social enterprise driven by our mission to address the inequalities in employment for autistic and neurodivergent people.  For over a decade we have enabled autistic people to thrive in successful careers as IT consultants, and in doing so we have had a measurable impact on the organisations we work with, changing perceptions of the commercial and cultural benefits of a neurodiverse workforce. We are proud to be a majority-autistic organisation and we share our depth of lived experience through our holistic training and advisory services, to empower more businesses to be confident neuroinclusive workplaces.  Our vision is to see neurodiversity work at work!

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