Just in case you missed my last post, its purpose was to explore the ways in which conditions such as Autism, ADHD and Dyslexia can adversely impact the life trajectories of people living with these conditions, and the public and social costs of ignoring these implications. This time, I’d like to focus on the opportunities we have to embrace neurodiversity in our workplaces, and realise significant benefit as a result.
There is no getting away from the fact that the stats I’ve (again) included below clearly illustrate that currently our organisations are not (to a large extent) channelling and capitalising on the talents of our neurodivergent communities:
“Only 16% of adults with autism are in full time paid work. Of those surveyed, over three quarters (77%) say that they want to work.” (1)
“A high percentage of people with ADHD are likely to experience difficulty at work including regular loss of employment. ADHD affects 5% of children and nearly 3% of adults. The effect of inadequate support for those with ADHD across society including health, education, criminal justice, work and benefits,homelessness and social care is vast and little understood or discussed, let alone addressed.” (2)
“For some people, dyslexia can present a serious obstacle to finding a job. A bad experience in education may have left individuals lacking in confidence and self-esteem, or they may find that problems with reading and writing can make it difficult to apply for jobs that would otherwise be a good fit for their skills.” (3)
“People who are dyslexic are five times more likely to be unemployed than those who are not.” (3)
To the uninitiated, this would seem to suggest that organisations are getting on very nicely with their existing talent pools (thank you very much), but a bit of not very close inspection clearly illustrates that’s not the case. According to the Open University’s 2018 Business Barometer (4), the UK skills shortage is costing organisations £6.3 billion, and in 2018 “91% of organisations have struggled to find talent with the skills they require in the last 12 months.”
The report goes on to say that (again over the last 12 months):
- 64% of employers have spent more on recruitment in the past to find applicants with the right skills
- 63% recruited at a lower level than intended because of the skills shortage
- 56% increased the salary on a role to recruit someone with the right skills
- 51% left a position vacant because they could not find an appropriate candidate
- 47% hired temporary staff because they couldn’t find an appropriate candidate
Without wishing to be dismissive of the very real challenges organisations have in successfully recruiting and retaining the right talent, I think it’s clear that there is something amiss when often neither candidates nor employers are gaining what they want from existing recruitment practices. It is also clear that these challenges do not only apply to those living with Autism, ADHD or Dyslexia, but a lack of diversity in various guises is a big cause of concern for organisations themselves.
“Various sources offer conflicting statistics, but one thing is starkly apparent –UK manufacturing has a shamefully large gender and diversity disparity, and progress appears to be moving at a glacial pace.” The Manufacturer: (5)
“Despite the business benefits being clear, women continue to be under represented in the transport workforce. The latest EU figures show that women occupy just 22% of UK transport jobs.” JFG Communications: (6)
“Ethnic minority professionals perceive a ‘glass ceiling’ to progression, and companies do not have strategies to bring about change in ethnic minority representation at senior levels, or even beyond entry at graduate level.” Equality and Human Rights Commission, Race Discrimination in the Construction Industry: A Thematic Review:(7)
Additionally interesting to observe is that factors including gender, ethnicity, socio-economic status, sexual orientation, gender identity, neurodiversity and physical disabilities can all have an impact on the levels of confidence individuals have about securing a job, and therefore whether they will submit an application for a specific role- or even start it. For example, it is well known that women are particularly prone to not applying for jobs unless they meet all the criterion on the job spec.
So again, if you are a company that’s struggling securing the right talent, it’s worth reflecting on whether there are ways you can alter your current recruitment strategy to expand the pool of good quality people applying to work in your organisation.
But again, why does this matter? Principally, because a business with a genuine and practical (rather than aspirational) commitment to diversity and inclusion is a more successful business, and as I’m sure you’re all pleased to know, I’m not the only one who thinks so:
In 2015, McKinsey & Company’s published their report ‘Why Diversity Matters’ which illustrates that:
“Companies in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity are 35% more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians” (8)
“In the UK, greater gender diversity on the senior executive team corresponds to the highest performance uplift in [their] data set; for every 10% increase in gender diversity, EBIT rose by 3.5%” (8)
Boston Consulting Group report that “employees who do not believe that their company is committed to diversity are three times more likely to leave than those that do.” (9)
PWC’s 2015 report also illustrates that over 80% of the more than 10,000 millennials asked the question, said that that “an employer’s policy on diversity, equality and workforce inclusion is an important factor when deciding whether or not to work for them.” (10)
In a nutshell therefore, an organisation’s approach to diversity and inclusion not only impacts their brand’s general reputation, but also the talent they are able to acquire and cultivate, and their financial performance. To make things even more interesting, whilst I have no desire to perpetuate the myth that every person on the ASD spectrum is Sherlock Holmes or Rain Man (or ideally a female protagonist who also happens to be on the autism spectrum), it does seem to be the case that certain characteristics frequently manifest in individuals who also happen to be neurodivergent. For example, and as recently observed by the Institute of Leadership & Management, “Dr Kevin Antshel, of Syracuse University in the US, investigated anecdotal claims that ADHD people perform well in entrepreneurship, finding that their traits do indeed result in high entrepreneurial performance.” (11)
One of the main facets of entrepreneurship is disrupting the status quo and changing how our society operates. Therefore frequently the individuals who frequently exhibit this trait are significantly less likely to accept the status quo without challenge. They are also significantly more likely to feel constrained by very rigid working patterns or a working culture that prizes long hours in the office over outcomes. Importantly, this does not only apply to people with ADHD but is fairly typical of many people working in more creative and entrepreneurial professions, and this is often facilitated as almost a given for these types of individuals. What this illustrates is that organisations absolutely are willing to be flexible if they believe the gain is greater than the loss. On this basis I believe it is clear that if we choose to, we could easily be better at supporting neurodivergent people in the workplace… in exchange for some extremely tangible gains.
The Covid 19 pandemic has forced thousands of businesses across the UK (and almost everywhere else) to dramatically change how they operate. One of the most obvious examples is the vast swathes of people who were previously spending significant time and resource commuting, and suddenly found themselves working entirely from home. Amongst them will undoubtedly be a large number of employees who had been petitioning for a more flexible work structure for months and even years, but were told by their employers their requests were impossible.
Thus far, the implications of Covid 19 have been catastrophic almost without exception. However, the newly found ingenuity, agility and bias for action our businesses have been forced to acquire, can now start to be utilised to improve these businesses, and the lives of the employees that work for them, now and in the future. The business world now knows it can do things it previously thought were impossible, and this could mean great things on a huge scale. For the purposes of this post though, I want to explore what this could mean in relation to how organisations can better channel the professional gifts of our neurodivergent communities. To return to the example of ASD therefore, another reasonably common traits amongst those on the ASD spectrum is intense sensitivity to sound.
As stated by Web MD, “Loud noises may be painful. The din of a city street or a mall can be too much. When overwhelmed, people on the autistic spectrum may cover their ears to try to block out the noise. They may also start up self-soothing behaviors such as rocking or shaking their hands. Some people with autism also have central auditory processing disorder (CAPD), a condition that makes it difficult for them to perceive subtle differences in sound and language.
Touch. Just like sound, physical sensations can be exaggerated and overwhelming to people with autism. Feelings that most people barely register — the sensation of clothing on the body, a breeze — can be unpleasant.” (12)
So what this means is that (for some and categorically not all) people on the ASD spectrum it may not be possible or desirable to travel to work using public transport (which is hardly a restful experience for anyone), and/or it may be that a busy, noisy office is also very stressful. I’ll reference also that this could also be relevant for ADHD people, who often (as above) respond poorly to rigid working patterns, but are often extremely hard workers… at least in part because they tend to have huge volumes of energy. My point again, are these not exactly the types of qualities that businesses frequently say they want in their employees?
This could be really simple. If it is not crucial that the role in question is office based (or whatever other flexibility measures may be required), make it crystal clear on the job specs, and that might encourage individuals with these types of conditions to apply for roles that they might otherwise consider impossible. Great idea to get one of these as well.
So far I appreciate that this all sounds like a lot of effort, so other than being nice, why should organisations bother?
Again, because it’s good for business, and one company that is already reaping the benefits of a more progressive approach to recruiting neurodivergent people is Direct Line. As Mark Evans (Managing Director, Marketing & Digital at Direct Line Group) wrote for the Institute of Leadership and & Management’s Edge Magazine earlier this year,
“At Direct Line, one of our core values is to ‘bring all of yourself to work’… By taking this approach, we are galvanized to create a fair and accessible career path for any individual who chooses to join our company… It might seem obvious, but if we are to succeed in serving a very diverse range of customers throughout the UK, then we need to be powered by a workforce that feels supported in its diversity.
Neurodivergent people are hardwired to think differently, and approach problem-solving from unexpected directions as a result. This is often likened to having ‘superpowers’. Therefore, if we prize innovation so highly in our business, it’s a no-brainer that we would want to employ people who are adept at solving some of our customer’s trickiest challenges.”
One of the ways they’ve been doing this is through working with an organisation called Auticon, an organisation who have recognised that:
“Autistic adults often have extraordinary technical or cognitive abilities, yet many find it difficult to secure or maintain mainstream employment. The ongoing STEM skills shortage poses a real challenge to UK businesses. Auticon recognises this potential and is the first enterprise to exclusively employ autistic adults as consultants. By creating autism-positive work environments and offering highly individualised, sustained support mechanisms to autistic employees, auticon provides its corporate clients with a means to tap into the amazing talents of autistic people while creating well paid long term careers for its team.”
Back to Mark at Direct Line who wrote
“We also actively recruit through auticon, a consultancy that specialises in recruiting autistic people into businesses via unconventional methods. Auticon does not use CVs or or interviews to match talent to assignments, since these often systematically disadvantage autistic candidates. Instead the use skills tests and tasks to assess an individual’s suitability to a role and organisation.
In one instance, auticon’s style of recruitment enabled us to identify an analyst who reworked a very complex data processing activity in under two months. This task would have typically taken a small team over six months to accomplish.”
This really is just one example of very many, and throughout I’ve tried to include as many links to different articles and organisations for anyone seeking further information as I can. Thank you for taking the time to read this, and again, if any of this resonates with you or anyone you know, please seek assistance with any of the below.
National Autistic Society: https://www.autism.org.uk/about/benefits-care.aspx
Autism Services Directory: https://www.autism.org.uk/directory.aspx
The ADHD Foundation: https://www.adhdfoundation.org.uk/
The UK ADHD Partnership: https://www.ukadhd.com/support-groups.htm
British Dyslexia Association: https://www.bdadyslexia.org.uk/
The Dyslexia Association: https://www.dyslexia.uk.net/about-the-dyslexia-association/
1) Autism Employment Gap Report, National Autistic Society, 27th October 2016
2) ‘ADHD in the Workplace’ Unison: the Public Service Union Conference 6th July 2018
3) British Dyslexia Association
4) Open University’s 2018 Business Barometer: http://www.open.ac.uk/business/apprenticeships/blog/uk-skills-shortage-costing-organisations-%C2%A363-billion
10) PWC’s 2017 report ‘No Holding Back: Breaking down the barriers to diversity’, they cite a finding from a previous report in 2015 of more than 10,000 millennials (people born between 1980 and 1995), and “over 80% said (https://www.pwc.co.uk/human-resource-services/assets/documents/real-diversity-2017-no-holding-back.pdf)
11) ‘ADHD can drive entrepreneurial success’ Edge Magazine, Spring 2020, The Institute of Leadership & Management