Introducing a new hot topic to HR: Neurodiversity

A collaboration article between Sandra Nielsen, Daniella Rideout and Kevin Lyons

Diversity, equity and inclusion – one of the trending and hottest challenges impacting parts of HR, has received consistent attention in the media. Indeed, through recent years, the conversation has been focused on gender, with nationality and race coming more recently to the fore. It is a crucial element of ensuring that everyone has equality in the modern world, where we move across borders and live in a culture so different from our own.

However, when talking about diversity, equity and inclusion, there are minority groups that rarely come to mind as the focus in society and media has been on gender, race, nationality – and rightfully so, because this truly is a challenge that we need to tackle and continuously work on. Yet, this does not mean we should not focus on inclusion of other groups.

One of these groups are individuals with Neurodiversity which alone in the UK refers to almost every 7th individual! Thus, it is crucial that we in HR educate ourselves on what it is, what we can do to ensure inclusion and how we support individuals with neurodiversity correctly. This is something we would like to help you with in this series, on what it is and what YOU can do.

This series of blogs is created to empower you with knowledge to both understand neurodiversity and act in the best possible way. The goal is for you to have awareness and be able to help fighting discrimination.

What is neurodiversity?

Neurodiversity refers to the different ways in which an individual’s brain processes information. It is an umbrella term, including the alternative thinking styles of e.g. dyslexia, dyspraxia, autism spectrum disorders and ADHD. You might know of these as “disorders” and have an idea of these individuals struggling through life, not being “normal” in social circumstances or even consider them stupid? This is unfortunately the interpretation it has had for a long time, but that is not true or accurate.

Have you heard about those brilliant individuals with autism, being able to calculate extreme numbers, remember all the details of a city they see and their ability to manage large datasets as if their brain was a computer? Or how creative, extremely determined and hard-working individuals with dyslexia can be? Well, these might not be the truth in every case, but this is far more correct than the negative connotations. Because this is a proper representation of what humans are like. All of us have great potentials, all of us have talents – we can all be extremely determined and hardworking, we can all have a skill that is beyond the norm, and we all have our own struggles as well. In that sense, we are all “the same”.

Individuals with neurodiversity simply think in a different way, giving them other talents and opportunities to think creatively or critically – their brain works a little differently, which should be seen as an asset and a great opportunity. It is true they might need support, but that is no different than what every single employee needs: we all need support, we all need training, we all need to know that our work is valued and that we are as talented as we are.

Individuals with neurodiversity – getting a job?

Yet, many individuals either decide to not tell they are neurodiverse when applying for jobs or do not even know they have one – because of the negative connotation, the bad reputation, stigmatisation or because of a lack of knowledge, understanding or diagnosis. This is where HR has a real opportunity to change the perception of neurodiversity through education and understanding, and to emphasise the talent that neurodiverse people offer the workplace, and by creating a safe environment where it is not shameful or a risk to share that one has a neurodiversity.

What can HR do?

There are various things HR can do to support the inclusion of individuals with neurodiversity in the workplace;

- Create a safe environment for everyone to be who they are

- Educate themselves and the organisation on neurodiversity, including challenging the negative connotation and stigmatisation

- Emphasize and acknowledge that support is for everyone in their respective individual circumstances, and not simply for individuals with neurodiversity

- Ensure that the inclusion of neurodiverse talent continues once the individual is hired, by creating the adjustments and inclusive workplace to ensure the talent is realised

- Work with the individual and listen to their needs and collaborate on creating the best workplace for everyone to succeed

- Invite external experts and employee resource groups to help make the entire organisation an inclusive place for all talent, rather than only doing so “when it is needed”

There are various opportunities for HR to improve the inclusion of neurodiversity. And most of it does not cost more than the provision and training and support given to any other employee. We strongly believe that this is the next game changer in the diversity, equity and inclusion journey – which we will address in the upcoming piece.

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