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Tom Neil: Celebrating neurodiversity

Thursday 21 March 2019

Tom Neil, Acas Guidance writer talks about how we can celebrate neurodiversity in the workplace.

Tom Neil Tom Neil

Tom has a wealth of knowledge and experience in employment relations. He works as a content writer developing good practice guidance. He has worked with a range of stakeholders to ensure Acas guidance is appropriate and useful for everyone to meet their responsibilities and improve their workplace. This has included guidance on neurodiversity.

It is estimated that around 1 in 7 people in the UK have a form of neurodivergence - such as Autism, or Dyslexia. Yet a recent CIPD survey found that only one in ten HR professionals said that their organisation was focusing on neurodiversity at work.

Rather than celebrating difference, we still seem stuck in the mindset that tells us that difference is a bit of a pain because it has to be accommodated and that takes resources that could be used elsewhere.

Writing the new Acas guidance on Neurodiversity in the workplace, it strikes me that much of the good practice it gives is not just good for those with a neurological 'difference', but also for those who are 'neurotypical'.

Everyone wants to be understood, to be listened to and to be made to feel valued and able to contribute to their work in a meaningful way. And we all have a sense of mental and physical wellbeing that needs to be nurtured so that we can thrive at work.

As the Acas guide points out, we need to accommodate difference in practical ways - ways that don't patronise or stereotype individuals.

The guide is full of good practical tips, such as:

  • Educate the workforce by arranging activities, awareness days, campaigns, training and/or workshops
  • Create an inclusive recruitment process by offering multiple application methods, avoiding ambiguous job adverts and training interviewers in unconscious bias
  • Decide whether vacant job roles will benefit most from an individual with broad range of skills and abilities or more specialised skills
  • Identify champions to network and promote awareness of neurodiversity
  • Reduce distractions and obstacles from the working environment
  • Encourage managers and staff to discuss using 'Access to work' to help identify appropriate workplace adjustments.

Many of these changes are relatively easy and simple to do, yet can be hugely beneficial to neurodivergent employees and the rest of the workforce too.

My colleague Andrew Sutherland wrote an excellent article about how we should be celebrating and better utilising diversity in our workplace. It is worth repeating one particular issue he highlights, that "a person's competence doesn't exist in a social vacuum - rather, it's defined by the values of the culture to which we belong." Surely a core value of the modern workplace should be ensuring inclusivity in all its forms?

Yet neurodivergent workers are still regularly unintentionally disadvantaged in the world of work. The psychologist and neurodiversity campaigner Nancy Doyle has written about her frustration at the way so many employers try to apply "standard protocols to specialist thinkers" particularly when it comes to recruiting and developing staff.

It is good that we are beginning to focus talk more about neurodiversity and consider what can be done to support our neurodivergent colleagues. An important first step is accepting that we are all different. And we are all the better for it.

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