One in seven of us is neurodiverse. That is roughly 14% of us who have a different way of thinking compared to the 'typical' brain. That's a sizeable number. Individuals with neurodiverse conditions include those who are Autistic, or who have ADHD, Dyslexia, Dysgraphia, Dyspraxia, Tourette's Syndrome or Dyscalculia. These conditions might be formally diagnosed, or they might not.
Some in the neurodiverse community consider that they are disabled, whilst, for a number of reasons, many do not recognise their different way of experiencing the world as a disability. It is often personal choice and more so can depend on the difficulties the neurodiverse person faces whilst living their everyday life.
The benefits in business of cognitive diversity and neurodiversity feature across many articles and pieces of research, and include improved profitability through enhanced business performance, as well as unlocking better creativity and innovation. In this article we consider some problems that exist when attracting and retaining neurodiverse talent.
The most common barrier to understanding your neurodiverse talent (and other diverse talent) can be the lifelong expertise they have developed for 'masking' who they are. Masking really helps with fitting in to environments that are set up for typical brains to flourish. Masking when you're neurodiverse can take a number of forms, including:
- Having to rehearse conversations to make social interactions at work easier, including small talk
- Stopping yourself from stimming - may be a movement or noise you make that has a calming effect on you but can be judged as strange to neurotypicals
- Making eye contact when it makes you uncomfortable to do so
- Pretending not to be bothered by things that are causing you physically painful sensory overload - sounds, smells, touch
- Holding back from pointing out when someone says one thing but does another
- Mirroring someone's tone of voice and mannerisms when unsure how to behave in a certain situation
- Avoiding some tasks that are more difficult to do
- Hiding weaknesses to avoid stigma or judgement from those around you
To some extent or other, we all have cause to mask how we feel or what we are thinking at work from time to time. We will act professionally for the most part and according to the guidelines and policies in place. Now magnify this and consider that almost every conversation or interaction you have - will require you to consider how your mask is, because it is necessary in order to fit in at work all the time. It is stressful and can be impossible to be in an environment where you must fit in at a personal level and be someone who you are not.
In today's modern working world, there is a growing field of choice for talent, and the opportunities to build a career that suits you are also on the rise. So how can business provide the right environment to retain neurodiverse talent in this competitive world? Here are seven ideas to consider.
- Where it is possible, provide the option to work from home for at least some of the time, to release some of the ongoing pressure and stress of masking
- Give people leadership responsibilities to those who are assessed as being good at working with people
- Eliminate as much subjectivity as possible from individual performance reviews, and allow for measurable and clear goals and targets
- Freely allow any basic accommodations at work that people may need e.g. the wearing of headphones, and the ability to work in a quiet zone for focus or sensory needs, flexible working hours and autonomy on how a job gets done
- Provide leadership and management training and reinforce a focus on listening, building empathy and understanding of how to get the best out of individual team members
- Actively encourage and support employee resource groups (ERGs) and their activities
- Encourage sharing of the lived experiences of diverse talent inside and outside of your business, so that everyone in your business can keep hearing, listening and learning.
I welcome your thoughts on this article and the topics raised, and please do comment and add to the conversation, about the problems faced and how business can provide what the neurodiverse community would value most at work. Of course, if you want to know how we can help and support with these challenge please contact us here.
I work at AMS, the global workforce solutions organisation who specialize in talent acquisition and talent advisory organisation. I've worked in the talent arena for over 20 years, and as a people leader for more than 15 years. I also co-lead one of our internal neurodiversity ERG groups at AMS. I am coming near to the end of two years of study for a Masters in Autism and other neurodevelopmental conditions.