Neurodiversity future-proofs your organisation – and here's why

Ahead of the Neurodiversity at Work event on the 19th August, this article outlines why this strand of diversity and inclusion is slowly, rightfully, gaining attention and support
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By Dods Group

16 Aug 2021

Take 'Think different', the slogan that Steve Jobs used to describe Apple and stand out from its competitors in the 1990s, and you have neurodiversity explained simply. The strapline conveys the quality of a machine, but the trait is also true to our brains.

The theory was coined in that decade by Australian sociologist Judy Singer when she recognised that the neurocognitive function in humans varies from person to person. And isn't your brain a sophisticated machine, too?

Today, neurodiversity considers developmental conditions such as dyslexia, autism, attention deficit or hyperactivity disorder, and even tics — otherwise known as learning difficulties and hidden impairments. And in the UK, these are disabilities protected in the Equality Act 2010.

Consequently, neurodiversity is a strand of diversity and inclusion in the spotlight, slowly gaining attention and support. For example, billionaire Richard Branson has credited dyslexia for some of his success as an entrepreneur? "My dyslexia has shaped Virgin right from the very beginning, and imagination has been the key to many of our successes," he wrote in this blog post.

Branson argued that Thomas Edison, Henry Ford and Steve Jobs were all successful dyslexics and that people with the condition are likely to have "the skills of the future". The business mogul was talking about the World Economic Forum's top 10 skills of 2025. If you check the list, you will notice cognitive flexibility, creativity, visualisation and complex problem solving among the skills.

The same skills are recognised as strengths in dyslexic people in the report The Value of Dyslexia by consulting firm EY. The document is a rallying cry to recruit and retain neurodiverse talent for innovation and business success.

Smoke and mirrors

But despite the rising awareness of such benefits to organisations, neurodiverse people struggle to find jobs and progress their career when they have one.

Data from the Office for National Statistics suggest that only one in five autistic adults have a job in the UK. And according to the National Autistic Society (NAS), there are around 450,000 autistic people of working age. "Our research shows the vast majority want to work. This is a huge waste of autistic people's talents and potential," said Jane Harris, director of external affairs at NAS, commenting on the findings.

Indeed, the UK government has reported that 6.3 million people have dyslexia – that's around 10% of the UK population.

The real figure could be higher due to access to diagnosis is difficult for underrepresented minorities, as Daniel Aherne, founder and director of Adjust, explained at the inaugural Dods Diversity & Inclusion Annual Conference. Aherne will expand on this argument at our event Neurodiversity at Work on 19 August. He will discuss neurodiversity as a workplace asset rather than an obstacle.

For Jane Hatton, founder and director of accessible job site Evenbreak, barriers in the recruitment process and practices, policies, procedures and training within organisations prevent neurodiverse people from flourishing.

Hatton says the way a job advert is worded and placed can be off-putting or very welcoming for neurodiverse candidates. Evenbreak is the UK's only not-for-profit specialist job board run by disabled people for disabled people.

"Interviews are a very poor predictor of future performance for anybody, so making the recruitment process more accessible benefits everyone, not just neurodiverse candidates." Jane Hatton, Evenbreak

"Most recruitment processes rely on CVs and interviews, and most neurodiverse candidates won't have had the opportunity to demonstrate their skills [with these tools]," says Hatton. She explains they would have been discriminated against previously, so their CV may well not show what they're capable of, or they aren't very good at interviews. "Interviews are a very poor predictor of future performance for anybody, so making the recruitment process more accessible benefits everyone, not just neurodiverse candidates," she adds.

Hatton recommends employers scrap the CV and the interview because they're not going to show you the potential of the candidates you're assessing. "Instead of asking someone how good they are at doing something, get them to show you, and you will be evaluating the candidate on their ability to do the job," she says.

You can catch up with Hatton at our Neurodiversity at Work event. She will lead the interactive session 'How to attract and recruit neurodiverse talent'. Secure your place now, and you won't be disappointed.

Opportunity and benefit

Assuming you have a disability-inclusive recruitment process, how do you go about supporting your neurodiversity staff?

Daniel Brooke, founder and chief executive of consultancy firm Neurodiversity Specialists, explains that supporting individuals and helping them overcome or gain more control over their neurodivergent challenges requires awareness and a safe environment for disclosure. "Providing awareness training really helps – and that's how I found out that I was dyslexic," he reveals.

Brooke argues that when business leaders understand neurodiversity and raise awareness within the organisation, people are more likely to step forward. "You need to shout about good practice and highlight with case studies and examples what you do to support your neurodiverse staff," he adds.

Brooke says that when those individuals do get the proper support, the organisation massively benefits from it. "You will see increases in productivity, innovation, and creativity. And I'm using the World Economic Forum's top 10 list of skills of the future as evidence," he adds, noting eight of those top 10 skills are commonly found in neurodiverse people.

Building on science-backed data, Karen Royle, occupational psychologist at neurodiversity coaching Genius Within, will be leading the workshop 'Managing a neurodiverse workforce and ensuring fair progression' at our conference. Grab your ticket today, and you will come away with actionable insights.

Overcome the stigma and stereotypes

Are you interested in supporting your colleagues with neurodiverse conditions? Then you'd be surprised to know many neurodiverse people don't know they are. And those who do know face the 'tell or not to tell' dilemma.

"You will see increases in productivity, innovation, and creativity. And I'm using the World Economic Forum's top 10 list of skills of the future as evidence." Daniel Brooke, Neurodiversity Specialists

Hatton explains: "The dilemma is, if you don't talk about it, then you can't explain gaps that you may have in your CV, or why you haven't had the kind of jobs that you are fully capable of doing. But if you do talk about it, you wonder what others are going to think. We encourage candidates to talk about it, but in a very positive way. Say, 'I'm autistic and I'm very good at X, Y, and Z'"

It's unsurprising to see that employers keen on fostering a neurodiversity-inclusive workplace are still nervous around the topic because they're not familiar with it. Indeed, neurodiversity is a new challenge for human resources with the inherent risk to stereotype people under the same label.

For example, people tend to think that staff in IT departments – programmers that are a bit geeky or loners – are neurodiverse. But as Hatton explains, many neurodiverse people have skills in that area, but it's a mistake to assume every neurodiverse person is good at coding.

Hatton says: "What we need is new thinking and innovation, and employers can see that neurodiverse people have much to offer. It's usually about precision, attention to detail, and finding patterns. These skills will be useful in retaining knowledge, finding knowledge, and solving problems. And whatever sector it might be, neurodiverse people would be very well geared to roles that require such skills."

And how about supporting your neurodiverse colleagues at work? For Hatton, it's all about being sensitive and not making assumptions. "Find out what works for each individual because everybody is different," she concludes.

Are you an employer that seeks innovation and business success? Do you want people who will think differently, come up with innovation, creative problem-solving skills, and challenge your thinking? Then you do need neurodiversity within your board and at every other level within the organisation.

Neurodiversity at Work: Thinking Differently & Supporting Unique Talents is a CPD-certified event, taking place online on 19 August.

Explore the agenda with the speaker line-up and register today!

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