Why Diversity Builds Success

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This week is National Autism Awareness Week and schools, workplaces and individuals have been baking, running and dressing up to raise money and awareness nationwide. 

Understanding autism and other differences are, of course, something we all need to embrace in life and work, and it’s really got us thinking at Cordell Health this week. We have spent a lot of time exploring neurodiversity and how we can work with our clients’ businesses to embrace it and use it to build success. There is proven evidence that the two go hand in hand if we can only remove the stereotypes and truly understand what neurodiversity is all about.

In modern thinking, neurodiversity is being used to express the belief that we should reject the social norms and stigmas that affect neurological differences such as autism, dyslexia or ADHD. They are natural human variations that cannot and should not be ‘cured’. We are ultimately ALL different and should be seeking to embrace and maximise the talents of people who think differently.

In February this year, the CIPD released a new guide to neurodiversity in the workplace. It’s a wordy but fascinating read for any conscientious HR professional with a gap in the workforce or tasked with managing a neurodivergent employee.

It is widely accepted that more than 10% of the country is likely to be neurodivergent in some way.  This means that one in ten interviewees will likely have some kind of neurodivergent condition and HR need to be aware that a person’s ‘differences’ may be regarded as a disability under the Equality Act 2010.

Considering these 10% an ‘inconvenient truth’ is not a good business strategy, they are a high performing talent pool that has high-value skills not always accessible to the nondivergent 90%.  A diverse workforce is good for everyone. The CIPD makes a brilliant analogy that when picking a football team you pick from a cross-section of the best in all areas; the fastest runner, the best kicker, the highest jumper!  Not every employee is going to be able to be a highly creative big picture (right brain) thinker and not every employee detailed and process focused (left brain) tasked.

Neurodiversity enables us to remove the stigma and barriers of employment that are associated with dyslexia, autism or ADHD etc.. so we can stop thinking about what they CAN’T do and can start thinking about what they CAN do. Their ability not their disability.  Whilst group labels are helpful for the individual, for diagnosis or understanding the neurological difference, they should not be used as ‘one size fits all’. NO two individuals are the same whether neurodivergent or not.

When overhauling a business approach to divergent thinking there is much that can be done. Senior management needs to champion the process and work with HR and line managers to make change happen. They need to be trained and equipped with the skills and ability to bring a diverse team together. To see the team as a whole, of which each member has different strengths and weaknesses and requires a different kind of support.

According to the CIPD, the interview process can unintentionally exclude neurodiverse talent. Job descriptions should be clear without jargon and with very clear lists of the core skills and experience  ‘must haves’ and ‘nice to have’.  Always include a diversity and inclusion statement that states you are ‘happy to discuss reasonable adjustments’ and that signals that you welcome candidates with different identities and thinking styles.

In the interview process, ensure interviewers are trained to be empathetic to people’s differences and able to understand that a lack of eye contact or unconventional body language is not necessarily rudeness. Consider rethinking the standard interview format, as the CIPD points out, all a traditional interview demonstrates is your social skills, not your ability or talent to complete a set task.

Make sure the ethos permeates to the core of the brand. Include diversity and recruitment statements on the website as well as links to support groups or internal case studies and information.

The rewards of integration come thick and fast. A diverse workforce, within which each member is working to their individual strengths, is motivated, loyal and highly productive. JP Morgan Chase started a pilot program in 2015 introducing employees on the autism spectrum into the workplace. They reported that ‘after three to six months working in the Mortgage Banking Technology division, autistic workers were doing the work of people who took three years to ramp up, and were even 50% more productive’.

For more information about Autism in the workplace visit the National Autistic Society or the .gov website or find out about the Disability Confident Scheme.

Have you ever thought about overhauling your recruitment process and actively encouraging a diverse workforce and the many benefits it could bring?