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Neurodiversity: Harnessing untapped talent

Most people are neurotypical, meaning that their brain functions and processes information in the way society expects. However, it is estimated that approximately 15-20% of people are neurodivergent, with the number of diagnosed neurodiverse individuals increasing every year, which means that their brain functions, learns and processes information differently. Despite this, there has been a significant lack of awareness and understanding around neurodiverse conditions – which include Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Autism Spectrum Disorder, dyslexia and dyspraxia – that presents a barrier for individuals trying to gain access to the workplace.

Over the last decade or so, educators have developed a range of tools and strategies to support neurodiverse individuals which allow them to feel supported and included, and to achieve their potential in education. Arguably the current generation of young people are more open about their condition and more literate in their understanding of their potential than any previous generation, with a higher expectation that others will adapt their approach to accommodate their neurodiversity.

So it’s important that the employment market is ready to adopt similar strategies as this generation enter the job market, to harness this growing cohort of diverse talent.

Employing neurodiverse individuals

The number of individuals with a particular neurodiverse condition varies considerably, with at least one in ten people estimated to have dyslexia, 3-4 in 100 adults with ADHD and at least one in 100 of the population on the autistic spectrum.

Although there has been a bias against recruiting individuals with neurodiverse conditions – disabled people with neurodiverse conditions such as autism and other severe or specific learning difficulties are among the disabled people with the lowest employment rates in the UK – neurodiverse employees bring a number of strengths and benefits to the workplace. Depending on the particular condition and their individual circumstances, neurodivergent individuals can excel in analysing data and problem solving, and in innovation and creativity. In addition, some neurodiverse individuals show exceptional attention to detail while others are particularly good at recognising trends and patterns, or at seeing things from an unconventional viewpoint.

Yet, without a conscious effort to include this group of individuals in their workforce, employers may be disregarding strong job applicants with a range of valuable skills.

The recruitment process

If a neurodiverse condition is shared by a candidate, an employer will most likely have a legal obligation in the UK to make reasonable adjustments to the recruitment process to accommodate their needs. In these circumstances, the employer should ask the candidate whether they require any reasonable adjustments and speak to them directly if their condition makes it difficult for them to communicate electronically.

It’s important to avoid oversimplistic labelling drawn from stereotypes and generalisations across all neurodiverse conditions – for example not all individuals with ADHD will find it difficult to concentrate. Individuals’ circumstances will vary, so employers must ensure their needs, and their strengths and weaknesses, are assessed on an individual basis throughout the recruitment process.

There are a number of steps you can take to provide greater equality for neurodiverse individuals in the recruitment process which will enable you to have a more neuroinclusive workplaces and reap the benefits that come from this talent pool. Is your organisation ready to embrace the individual in this way? Do your recruitment processes and your policies focus on your core values and foster an inclusive culture?

Article written by Heidi Watson, Employment Partner at Clyde & Co. You can see Heidi speak on the topic at the forthcoming Spinnaker Maritime People & Culture Conference.

Heidi Watson and the Employment Team at Clyde & Co can advise on how to adapt your processes and policies and how best to bring them to everyone’s attention. In addition, we can provide training for recruitment managers and interviewers on workplace culture, discrimination and unconscious bias, and making adjustments to the recruitment process for neurodiverse individuals.

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