Neurodiversity: what is it and how can companies embrace it?

Neurodiversity: what is it and how can companies embrace it?

This week is Neurodiversity Celebration Week, a worldwide initiative to challenge stereotypes and misconceptions about neurodivergent people.  But what exactly do we mean by the term ‘neurodiversity’ and how can it be an asset in the workplace?

Neurodiversity is a term that describes the range of neurological differences found in humans; that is how people experience and interact with the world around them.  People diagnosed with conditions such as autism, ADHD and dyslexia may be described as “neurodivergent”, yet there is no "right" way of thinking, learning, and behaving, and differences should be embraced, rather than viewed as deficits.

It is estimated that around 15-20% of the population are neurodivergent.

There are many world-famous neurodivergent individuals who have left their mark on the world, by embracing their talent for thinking and behaving atypically. These include Charles Darwin, Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, Michaelangelo and Andy Warhol – to name but a few.

In recent years, there has been an increasing awareness of the benefits of neurodiversity in the workplace, and many companies are now actively seeking to embrace it.

One of the main advantages of neurodiversity in the workplace is that it brings a diverse range of skills and perspectives to the table. Neurodivergent individuals often have unique strengths that can be harnessed to improve productivity and innovation. For example, people with autism may excel at analytical tasks that require attention to detail and precision, while those with ADHD may be particularly adept at multitasking and creative problem-solving.

However, neurodivergent individuals may also face challenges in the workplace that are not always well understood or accommodated. For example, those with sensory processing difficulties may struggle in noisy or overstimulating environments, while those with social communication difficulties may find it hard to navigate office politics and build relationships with colleagues.

To create a truly inclusive workplace, it is important to recognise and address these challenges. This may involve practical support, such as noise-cancelling headphones, flexible work schedules, or home-working. It is also a good idea to run neurodiversity awareness sessions for employees and managers, to help foster a culture of understanding and acceptance.

Some companies have already taken steps to embrace neurodiversity in the workplace. For example, software company SAP has a programme dedicated to the recruitment and support of neurodivergent employees, while accounting firm EY has launched a company-wide training initiative to help managers better understand and support their neurodivergent employees.