This week is Neurodiversity Celebration Week, a worldwide initiative which aims to challenge stereotypes and misconceptions about people with neurological differences such as autism, dyslexia, dyspraxia and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Such individuals are often described as neurodivergent and it is estimated that they make up between 15% and 20% of the population of the UK. Despite the number of benefits that having a neurodiverse workforce brings, there continues to be a lack of neurodiversity and understanding of it within the workplace. For example, only 16% of autistic adults are in full-time paid employment and 45% of people with autism have lost or left their jobs because of the challenges they face.
What is "neurodiversity" and why is it important in the workplace?
"Neurodiversity" refers to the diversity of the human brain and neurocognitive functioning, recognising that people's brains work in different ways, but that such differences are natural variations.
The benefits of having a neurodiverse workforce are being recognised across multiple industry sectors. Promoting different skillsets, ways of thinking and ways of working can be hugely beneficial to organisations, leading to enhanced creativity and productivity, a broader talent pool, and a challenge to long established ways of thinking.
Whilst important to avoid making assumptions about the skills profile of neurodivergent people, they may perform higher in some areas, and lower in others, when compared to neurotypical workers. For example, some dyslexic and dyspraxic people may be stronger at problem solving and ‘thinking outside the box’. Similarly, autistic employees may also bring analytical thinking, focus, and attention to detail to their work, whilst those with ADHD may have high energy levels along with a capacity to be innovative and creative.
For employers struggling with the costs of and competition for the 'war for talent', greater awareness of neurodiversity – and of its potential – comes at a perfect time to address skills gaps and plan for the long term.
Legal issues to consider
Neurodivergent conditions may constitute a "disability" under the Equality Act 2010. An employer must make reasonable adjustments to remove substantial disadvantages that disabled job applicants and employees face during the recruitment process and at work. Further, disabled job applicants and employees benefit from a wide range of protection against discrimination, including direct and indirect discrimination and unfavourable treatment because of something arising in consequence of their disability. Disability-related harassment is also unlawful, which can cover making offensive remarks about neurodivergence.
Employment tribunal claims relating to neurodiversity discrimination are on the rise. In particular, recent cases have highlighted the difficultly employers can face when an employee commits misconduct which is linked to their neurodivergent condition. Such cases need to be handled carefully.
What can employers do to build an inclusive and neurodiverse workplace?
There is, of course, no one-size fits all approach to building an inclusive and neurodiverse workforce, but steps employers might consider taking include:
- Senior leadership advocacy and championing of neurodiversity;
- Introducing neurodiversity training for HR and managers;
- Rolling out wider workforce training – for example, having a specialist speaker and/or focused sessions on neurodiversity to ensure awareness is cascaded; and
- Signposting guidance and information so employees can readily access this as needed.
- Introducing a neurodiversity policy that considers reasonable adjustments across the employment lifecycle, with a focus on fostering an inclusive neurodiverse culture. This could range from adapting recruitment processes, such having individual 1-to-1s instead of group interviews, to catering for adjustments that apply during employment, such as remote working, extra time to complete tasks and flexible hours;
- Adjusting the workplace sensory environment such as harsh office lighting and noise levels in open plan workspaces to accommodate for those sensitive to noise and lighting, whilst maintaining the privacy of employees; and
- Providing inclusive technology such as dictation tools, mind mapping software, alternative dark mode screen filters and reading support.
- Establishing private networks to share experiences, tips, challenges and feedback to management to help inform and drive change;
- Providing neurodiverse staff with access to mentoring; and
- Providing guidance for employees, which can include resources such as Neurodiversity Celebration Week.
If you would like more information on how best to manage these issues in your business, please get in touch with your usual Mishcon de Reya contact or Anisha Vyas in the Employment team.