Neuro Inclusivity Network Champion, Doug Price
It would be hard to disagree that innovation and diversity in organisations (including our own) are two topics that have really come to the fore in recent times. And for good reason – we must find new, better ways of doing things, addressing unmet needs and seizing opportunities. And that means we need to be more innovative.
Our workforce needs to better reflect the society around us; we need to make sure that employment opportunities, career progression and development opportunities, as well as conducive working conditions are there for all, regardless of gender, disability, ethnicity, sexual orientation or faith. I’m sure we’d all agree that diversity & inclusion (D&I) matters and everyone has a part to play.
It is widely thought that around 15% of the population display one or more conditions that are considered neurodiverse (having a condition in the human brain which affects sociability, learning, attention, mood, coordination, balance etc).
What’s this got to do with either innovation or D&I?
Well, there is now a lot of evidence that a more neurodiverse organisation can make a big difference to its ability to find novel solutions, be creative and find alternative perspectives to challenges. At the same time, as with many aspects of D&I, many neurodivergent individuals struggle with discrimination, lack of opportunity and will frequently feel misunderstood. More of that in a moment.
People who are neurologically diverse will include those with various forms of Autism, Dyslexia, ADHD, Dyspraxia and Dyscalculia. Often these conditions are referred to as hidden disabilities, or specific learning difficulties, because they do entail difficulties and challenges for the individuals as they seek to succeed in the world around them.
At the same time, there are plenty of examples of neurodiverse people who achieve great things:
- Dr Temple Grandin, Professor in Animal Sciences at Colorado State University
- Sir Anthony Hopkins, Actor
- Bill Gates, Co-founder of Microsoft is widely thought to display traits of autism, but the diagnosis has never been confirmed
- Scott Kelly, US Astronaut
- Charles Schwab, Entrepreneur, also dyslexic
- Emma Watson, Actor
- Richard Branson, Entrepreneur
- Whoopie Goldberg, Actor
- Pete Conrad, US Astronaut, also thought to have had ADHD
- Daniel Radcliffe, Actor
- Emma Lewell-Buck, Member of Parliament
- David Bailey, Photographer
There are plenty of less high profile examples of people using their characteristics to achieve things for their organisations. The software company SAP, Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL) and many silicon valley firms are cases in point.
I have to declare an interest – I have both ADHD and Dyspraxia myself.
I firmly believe that you can have a fulfilling and varied career and be neurodiverse. And, as a manager, I also believe it is vital to break down barriers and support neurodiverse people across DE&S, especially since we need diversity of thought more than ever.
The challenge in large organisations like our own, where we rightly strive for consistency and standardisation in our processes, is how to provide the right working conditions and reasonable adjustments. And, importantly, accept that people come across differently to each other in the workplace.
Autistic people may struggle to make eye contact, people with ADHD may lose focus in long meetings, and dyspraxic people may appear clumsy compared to others but all of these conditions present differently in different people so you must never assume someone with a particular condition will always display the commonly listed behaviours.
None of these challenges should have any bearing on how people are viewed by their colleagues in the workplace, but they frequently do.
In those cases, everyone loses out – the organisation, the team and the individual.
A recent study by the Institute of Leadership and Management worryingly discovered that 50% of managers admitted they would not hire a neurodiverse person. The same study also found that whilst 74% of neurotypical people believed that neurodiverse people were well-supported by their employers, only 50% of neurodivergent people would agree. This in itself shows there is more to be done.
In DE&S we are fortunate to have a very active and growing Neuro Inclusivity Network (NIN)
Its members and leaders have already done much to raise the profile of neurodiversity in a very constructive way. In addition, the D&I team in HR are working with our recruiters to pilot an autism hiring programme and in conjunction with the NIN recently provided more links to information for delivery managers on the types of reasonable adjustments that can be made. There is growing interest and new groups being formed to support neurodiverse people across MOD.
During Neurodiversity Celebration Week, the NIN will be running a range of online events involving high profile external speakers and senior leaders from DE&S and across the MOD. This is just one of the ways we are trying to raise awareness and promote neurodiversity inclusion at DE&S.
Find out more about our efforts to accommodate better working practices to support neurodiverse candidates through the recruitment process, and our accreditation from the Centre for Applied Autism Research (CAAR) at the University of Bath here.
Read more about Diversity and Inclusion at DE&S.