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Are you a neurodiversity-smart organisation?

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Striving for a diverse and inclusive workplace is a way to help all employees feel accepted and valued - and businesses see great benefits, too.

This includes what’s known as ‘neurodiversity’, too. Did you know if your organisation is in a technical or engineering sector, your employees are more likely to have traits normally associated with autistic spectrum disorder? That’s compared to businesses in non-technical sectors.

Research by Cambridge University shows that people who work in STEM professions (science, technology, engineering or mathematics) have more autistic traits than those who work in less technical professions.

This backs up the idea that autistic people often have ‘systems-thinking minds’ so excel at analysing and constructing systems - which can help them succeed in STEM careers.

At RHL, we see this every day. In our work recruiting for clients in sectors including energy, life sciences and manufacturing, many of our roles call for gifted candidates who excel at problem-solving, analytical thinking and attention to detail.

Supporting staff with autism

Despite often having great strengths, many autistic people also experience challenges that make aspects of the workplace uncomfortable.

People on the autistic spectrum tend to process sensory and social information differently - it affects how they perceive the world and interact with others.

So if your existing team includes employees with autism, there are ways you can help them thrive and reach their full potential, including:

Seek feedback

Make it clear that your organisation takes neurodiversity seriously. The aim is to help existing staff feel comfortable talking about the challenges they have and feel accepted to be their authentic selves at work.

It’s vital to be sensitive to the fact that not every employee who displays traits of ASD has had a formal diagnosis or identifies as being autistic. Many people don’t realise they may be autistic until adulthood, especially if they have school-age children who’ve been diagnosed.

Be aware of communication issues

People on the autistic spectrum often struggle with social communication and find it hard to read social cues. At work, that means interacting with colleagues day to day, handling meetings effectively and navigating work events can pose problems - and these issues may need extra sensitivity and support.

Make workplace adjustments

Open plan offices are great for collaboration, but many people with ASD have sensory sensitivity - so for example too much noise or light can make them feel overwhelmed. Headphones or earplugs, and a desk in a quieter area, could help.

Look at specific mentoring

Unwritten rules and etiquette in the workplace can be confusing to navigate for people with ASD (even something as simple as offering to make tea for the team if you want a cup of tea yourself). Autistic employees who are able to discuss things confidentially to a trusted workplace mentor, or buddy, generally cope better.

Raise staff awareness

People with autism can often seem aloof or uninterested without meaning to. They can be brutally honest to the point of appearing rude. It’s important that other employees understand that these things are down to communication difficulties rather than anything else - and their colleagues might need extra accommodations. Above all, it’s key to raise awareness of the great strengths autistic employees can bring to the team.

Recruiting autistic candidates

Only 16% of autistic adults are in full-time employment, despite many having huge strengths and skills that can benefit businesses.

Many autistic people struggle with job interviews - especially if they find it hard to make eye contact, and tend to speak candidly about their weaknesses or suffer from low confidence. So think about alternatives to interviews, like work trials or practical assessments. 

Striving for neurodiversity

Neurodiversity is an umbrella term that covers conditions like autistic spectrum disorder (ASD), dyslexia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and dyspraxia, among others.

It’s becoming increasingly important in the modern workplace, as businesses recognise the value in respecting the different ways employees’ brains process information.

And with the Harvard Business Review even describing neurodiversity as ‘a competitive advantage’, it seems that neurodiverse candidates are also an untapped pool of great talent. There’s another reason why being a truly inclusive employer is a good thing.

More information

Find out more on recruiting and managing staff with neurodiversity, including those with other conditions like attention deficit disorders (ADHD and ADD), dyslexia and dyspraxia:
https://www.acas.org.uk/neurodiversity 

Read CIPD’s Neurodiversity at Work white paper:
https://www.cipd.co.uk/Images/neurodiversity-at-work_2018_tcm18-37852.pdf