Why cater to neurodiverse people in the workplace?
As part of the 2020 Computer Weekly diversity and inclusion event, in partnership with Spinks, we ran a number of workshops in the leadup to the day covering a range of different topics relating to diversity and inclusion in the technology sector.
One of those workshops, run by Rachel Morgan-Trimmer, neurodiversity coach and consultant, explained various neurodiverse conditions, their challenges and strengths, and most importantly why the workplace should care about catering to them.
Diversity and inclusion is a term used to describe the adjustments made to make a whole host of different types of people feel safe and welcome to be who they are at work – in the technology sector the most widely discussed is how to encourage more women into the industry.
Neurodiversity is a topic often left by the wayside, but as explained by Morgan-Trimmer making small changes to cater to neurodiverse talent can bring a wealth of benefit to businesses.
Put in simplest terms, neurodiverse talent are more able to understand neurodiverse clients, they are fast learners, and are often more productive than neurotypical people.
Businesses often freak out when they think making changes to cater to people is going to cost too much money, but as Morgan-Trimmer explains 60% of adaptations to help neurodiverse people don’t cost anything.
“A lot of people are afraid that hiring a neurodiverse person and making those reasonable adjustments that you’re legally required to make is going to be expensive and it’s going to be difficult and blah blah blah,” she says.
“Sometimes it’s as simple as offering flexible working or putting a desk by the window.”
And guess what? These changes can benefit everyone – for example neurotypical people will also benefit from flexible working practices if they have children, or elderly parents, or chronic illnesses.
Inclusive workplaces benefit everyone, and in return there are often fewer staff absences, higher staff performance, less staff turnover and increased revenue.
But there’s a right way to go about building inclusive practices, and one of those is not to “set it and forget it”.
“Neurodiverse people are not a slow cooker, that means once you’ve got people into your organisation you can’t just leave them to get on with it,” says Morgan-Trimmer.
“If you’re invested in that person’s professional development you get so much more out of them.”
Other things to be aware of are to avoid a “one size fits all” approach and instead cater to people as individuals, and to change up the way the business looks for and hires talent.
“I understand that it can be a little bit challenging and it can be hard to keep people on board when you’re looking at your rulebook for how to recruit people” says Morgan-Trimmer, but “the old ways don’t work for neurodiverse people.”
Also as part of the workshop, Morgan-Trimmer took the time to explain different types of neurodivergent conditions, including dyslexia, dyspraxia, ADHD and autism, in a bid to help people understand what it can be like to live with these conditions.
But overwhelmingly, Morgan-Trimmer also made it clear some of the incredible strengths neurodivergent people have, most commonly creativity.
She also made it clear companies who want to build a more inclusive environment need to be committed, open minded and have the right attitude to be successful.
“Neurodiverse people have always been excluded, we’ve always been left out, we’ve always been told that we’re a problem, or we’re a challenge or we need to be managed,” she said.
“So when you come to us with that positive attitude and that open mind and that willingness to listen to us and to include us it really means a lot to us.”
Building inclusion in an organisation to make it easier for neurodiverse people is no different to other diversity and inclusion practices – when people feel like they’re supported and are more able to be who they are at work without having to worry, they’re likely to be happier and perform better.
It’s beneficial, both morally and economically.