Neurodiversity in Employment by Sean Gilroy and Leena Haque

So, what is Neurodiversity and why are we interested in it?  Well, Neurodiversity refers to conditions which cause a person to process information differently; Autism Spectrum Condition, Asperger’s, ADHD, Dyslexia, Dyspraxia and other neurological conditions are becoming increasingly known by the term Neurodiversity and they affect at least one in 25 people.

We started working together around 3 years ago, after I (Leena, Hello) joined the BBC through the Extend Scheme – an employment scheme aimed at people with disabilities.  This is when I met Sean, who was to be my line manager (Hello.)  Now, while we each had relevant experience of each other’s respective fields, we noticed that there was a lack of information regarding Neurodiversity from the perspective of the new employee and for the employer.

Specifically, we felt there was a lack of information regarding awareness of hidden conditions and the effective management of neurodiverse individuals. Likewise we felt that there was similar lack of resources for people with hidden conditions to access when facing the prospect of applying for roles or starting employment.   Basically, where was the consolidated best practice for employers to draw on which provided support for both managers and staff.

So, we set up an anonymous, online survey to explore both the employment experiences for people with hidden disabilities and the knowledge and awareness of line managers. We promoted the survey via social media – an excellent forum often frequented by Neurodiverse individuals and anonymous so as to encourage people to tell us how they really feel.

We managed to get an excellent response to this, 470 people completed the survey broadly split 70/30 between staff and managers.  There were positive stories out there from people that replied, citing the individual creativity of line managers and where people felt they were being actively supported.  But there was also the message that Stigma is still a concern for people and that managers didn’t always know where to go for support and information.

Until recently the disadvantages and negatives of hidden disabilities (if not all disability) have been focused on, while the special talents that often come with these conditions are overlooked. From our perspective on this project, the need to increase awareness is mainly about dispelling the myths, perceptions and even prejudices people may have about these conditions, especially in employment.

This situation is possibly easier to understand if we consider that the conversation around diversity in the work place usually concentrates on visible differences; race, religion and physical disabilities. Increasingly though, more companies are now recognising the need to embrace, nurture and facilitate those with hidden disabilities, especially in those areas where Neurodiversity tends to excel – Creativity and Technology.

While organisations are increasingly aware of the broadest spectrum of what Diversity means, there are still those barriers to employment which Neurodiverse individuals have to overcome in order to get the chance of employment.

Take for example the application and interview process, once you have managed to find a job you’re interested in.  The first barrier is having to complete an application form, which is often full of employment jargon, non-specific descriptions of responsibilities and hidden expectations.  The type-face and font may not be easy to read and decipher and it can be unclear as to who and how you might ask for assistance.  There is also only the one way to apply – in writing, which is not necessarily someone’s preferred method.

Then, if you manage to be selected after deciphering the application, the second barrier is having to suffer a face-to-face interview.  How best to cope with the protocol of maintaining eye contact, answering open-ended questions based on hypothetical scenarios or being invited to give a brief history of your experience to date.

To be fair, as well as anyone with ASC for example, this process is something many of us will probably relate a certain sense of anxiety to.  Which brings us on to a rather interesting side-effect of our research…

When we highlight some of those aspects we’ve identified as being problematic for Neurodiverse conditions, we often receive a positive response from Neurotypical people.  Whether it be the anxieties of applications, the patterns on the wall or floor being distracting, social cues at work being misunderstood, buildings being difficult to navigate or emails difficult to read; it appears that we all share certain things that we would like to change, that perhaps we are all on the spectrum?

So, if we can make changes to help people with Neurodiverse conditions the payback could be larger, in that these changes are likely to help a wider population.  If we can review our recruitment practices, we may begin to identify new streams of talent.  And if we look at making the working environment accessible for all, considering both physical and hidden disabilities, that retention rates and working efficiency could improve for everyone.

We believe it is important to keep in mind that an individual is a unique learner; that no two people are exactly the same and no two people learn and work in exactly the same manner. If we can open up to new ideas and allow individuals to demonstrate skills and talents in a way they feel best able, might we not be able to find more appropriate ways to identify and retain key talent in the workplace.

 

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  1. BBC Cape Project for neurodiverse talent in the workplace | DCN - Disability Cooperative Network for Museums

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