One of the most amazing things about being human is that each one of us – like a snowflake or a fingerprint – is entirely unique. We all learn, see things and make decisions in different ways. No two people will have the same approach to a task in the workplace or at home.
As part of our Diversity discussions this month, we have focused on several key areas, including the gender pay gap and LGBTQI issues. There is another strand of inclusion that is every bit as important – neurodiversity.
Neurodiversity, by definition, relates to individuals with dyslexia, dyscalculia, dyspraxia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorders (ADHD) and autism, including Asperger’s syndrome. Some of these words may seem entirely alien to someone who has never encountered any such learning difficulties. This, by and large, is yet another untapped talent pool that could achieve amazing potential within the workplace.
Approximately 1.5 million people in the UK describe themselves as having a learning disability. But only 6.6% of those of working age were reported to be in some form of paid employment. This is perhaps down to three main factors: Employers do not know how to accommodate such members of staff; There are often stereotypes surrounding such learning difficulties; Those willing to work do not have sufficient access to help to find and maintain a job.
The National Institute of Economic and Social Research highlighted this point in a study conducted for ACAS in 2016 (the UK Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service), which explained that there is a “propensity for neurodivergent individuals to be stereotyped according to the more well-known characteristics of their condition.” The report stressed that not all individuals with autism are highly numerate, nor will everyone with dyslexia have insurmountable difficulties around functional literacy.
Employers shouldn’t be afraid to hire staff with learning difficulties – it is estimated that “making reasonable adjustments” to a workplace to support staff with additional needs costs a business just £75 a year. Ongoing support, in terms of renewed training and perhaps a mentor, will enable an individual to feel safe and valued in their workplace.
The reality is, not all of your staff are going to get everything right first time. Neurodivergent individuals are the just the same, in that sense. They may well require a little extra help – but the loyalty you will get in return from members of staff who are so keen to be in employment is invaluable to your business. Particularly if your industry typically suffers from high turnover – employees with a learning difficulty are less likely to constantly move companies.
Businesses should look at their customer base and the wide pool of society that it encompasses. Shouldn’t your workforce be reflective of that? People with learning difficulties are consumers just like everyone else. But if there are no examples of individuals within the workplace, often neurodivergent job seekers fear that no one will give them a chance.
During our Diversity series, we have made it clear: No one should face insurmountable barriers just to get to work. Everyone should feel safe, welcome and included within their workforce, no questions asked. Employers need to look beyond their ideal of the “model employee” and search within new and different talent pools to strengthen their existing workforce.
Diversity initiatives, though they may start small, can often have a big impact.