Neurodiversity - How can leaders embrace it?
Diversity is a key driver of innovation. Businesses thrive when they have a variety of voices, backgrounds and perspectives shaping strategies and ideas - according to McKinsey, diverse companies outperform the competition by up to 35%.
However, there’s a facet of diversity that remains underrepresented and undervalued in many workplaces: neurodiversity.
Despite the evidence of the benefits of a neurodiverse workforce, many leaders remain sceptical, often requiring proof of its value. Research now suggests that teams including neurodiverse people can be 30% more productive. Given this, investing time and resources to create a workplace in which neurodiverse individuals can prosper is critical. It’s like the goose that lays the golden egg fable. To get the riches out of your talent, you need to put some work in.
This isn't just about corporate responsibility; it's about business innovation. This inclusivity should mirror other adjustments we’ve made in our workplaces, such as accommodating parental leave or supporting employees through personal transitions like menopause. With the advent of remote and hybrid working models post-pandemic, we've seen that change isn't just possible, but essential.
Continue reading to understand the unique strengths neurodiverse individuals bring to the table and how to foster an environment in which they - and your business - can succeed, and don't miss our Neurodiversity In The Workplace Guide.
What can neurodiverse people bring to your workforce?
Neurodiversity, broadly speaking, refers to variations in the human brain regarding sociability, learning, attention, mood and other mental functions. This unique wiring often equips neurodiverse individuals with specific skills and insights. They approach problems differently, offering fresh perspectives that drive innovation.
There are many examples of neurodiverse people who are exceptionally talented in areas such as maths, analytics and data, and have the ability to see details, patterns and connections that non-neurodiverse people might miss. Many talented website developers, for example, are on the autistic spectrum and there are more people with dyslexia taking art at university than there are amongst the general student population; neurodiverse individuals are often very creative.
Their out-of-the-box thinking can lead to more efficient solutions and processes, and their heightened abilities in certain areas can provide teams with specialised expertise. Embracing neurodiversity is about inclusivity, of course - and it’s also a strategic advantage.
So, how can businesses ensure that neurodiverse people can thrive in both their workplace and their culture?
8 ways to create a neurodiverse-optimised workplace
Creating an inclusive workplace for neurodiverse individuals requires thoughtful strategies and genuine understanding. Here are eight ways in which businesses can build an environment where everyone thrives:
1. Mentors and buddies
Assigning a mentor or buddy isn't just about having someone to answer questions; it’s about providing a consistent and familiar touchpoint for neurodiverse employees.
This individual should be someone trained to understand their unique needs, ensuring that they understand the rules of the organisation, their transition into the workplace is smooth and that they continue to have ongoing support as they navigate their role. Neurodiverse employees should have someone they can feel safe with in asking questions to help them understand others, as well as being understood themselves.
2. Leadership coaching
Coaching leaders goes beyond a basic, one-off workshop. Regular training sessions, access to resources and open forums for discussion are necessary. When leaders have a deep understanding of neurodiversity, they are better equipped to champion initiatives, make informed decisions and drive an inclusive culture from the top down.
Leaders should also consider the language used around differences, making sure it’s positive and engaging.
3. Human-centred leadership
Similarly, it’s important to think about employing Human-centred leadership, which puts people first, can help neurodiverse individuals by building a connection and showing empathy. It’s also important for leaders to show their own vulnerabilities, admitting when they are wrong and asking for (and accepting) feedback.
This leadership style is also an effective approach to take when engaging all employees in organisational change, as it smoothes transitions and opens the floor for honest communication.
4. Acceptance and inclusion
A culture of acceptance begins with awareness campaigns that celebrate the strengths and uniqueness of neurodiverse individuals. Highlighting their achievements and contributions can set a positive tone for the organisation. Inclusion also means actively seeking their input in decision-making and valuing the diverse perspectives they offer.
5. Clear communication
Clarity goes a long way in reducing anxiety and uncertainty. Providing things like clear guidelines, written instructions and regular feedback can help neurodiverse individuals better understand their roles and expectations. Visual aids, structured schedules and regular check-ins can further streamline communication.
But note, making these different communication channels available shouldn’t shine a spotlight on someone’s differences. Different types of support and communication methods should be provided to anyone who needs them - and don’t forget that neurodiversity is different for different people (see point six).
6. Flexible environments
Beyond quiet spaces, consider varied lighting options, noise-cancelling headphones and spaces that minimise sensory overload. Allowing flexibility in work hours or the option to work remotely can also accommodate various needs, ensuring that neurodiverse individuals can work in environments in which they are most productive.
7. Individual approaches
One-size-fits-all rarely works. Offering regular one-on-ones to discuss individual needs, seeking feedback and being open to tailoring approaches to tasks or projects can help. Recognising and accommodating each person's own strengths and challenges can significantly improve their work experience.
8. Adaptive culture
Businesses often go the extra mile to accommodate exceptionally gifted talent, understanding and adapting to their unique quirks. This mindset should be universal.
For neurodiverse individuals, this might mean adjusting communication methods, being more understanding about unique behavioural traits or modifying the workspace to suit their needs. Every employee should feel that their attributes are valued and understood.
How Hanover can you support neurodivergent talent
Workplaces that don’t cater to the needs of a neurodiverse workforce will fall behind. But it's not just about hiring; it’s about retention and creating an environment in which every employee feels valued. You need to have this environment established in order to hire top neurodivergent talent.
If your leaders need guidance on fostering a neurodiverse-friendly culture, contact me to talk about how I can help you champion neurodiversity in your workplace.