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Essential Themes from 'Supporting Neurodiversity in the Workplace' Panel Discussion

At our latest event, 'Neurodiversity in the Workplace', AbilityRE were proud to host a panel of experts who shared their thoughts and experiences on supporting neurodiversity in the workplace.

We would like to give a great big thank you to our panellists: Prof. Nancy Doyle, Founder of Genius Within, Dr Nasser Siabi OBE, CEO of Microlink PC (UK) Ltd, Gillian Burgis-Smith CEO/Founder of Strawberry Leopard, Amy Skippings, Workforce / Workplace Consultant at JLL and Sadia Toar, Senior Inclusive Design Consultant at Buro Happold. The event was a great success, with a fantastic audience and lively atmosphere. The engaging discussion and insightful contributions from the panelists were very well received, making for a memorable, enjoyable evening for all. Here's an ultra-quick high-level overview of a few of the discussion themes.

Reducing stigma

Firstly, the panel addressed the stigma around neurodivergent individuals in the workplace and offered insights on how to address it. Creating a culture of awareness, accepting neuro differences, and generally designing both organisational policies/procedures and the workplace itself were identified as critical steps towards reducing stigma. The topic of specific Neurodiverse hiring initiatives came up, and whilst it was seen as a positive step overall, it was highlighted that individuals want to be valued for their contributions and skills and not seen as a "pity project". Companies could create more inclusive hiring procedures by considering the actual skills they need for a specific role, and hiring for those specific skills alone, rather than expecting all employees to be great at everything. Furthermore, companies seeking to make job hiring processes more inclusive should consider whether online applications or use of AI for screening might be ruling out Neurodiverse individuals inadvertently. It was also recommended to use different tools to assess job candidates which were specific to the role/skill involved and providing choices in interviews such as a choice between virtual or face-to-face interviews.

Workplace and Adjustments

It was agreed by the panel that creating a neurodiverse-friendly workplace often requires making various adjustments that cater to the unique sensory and cognitive needs of different individuals. One important aspect mentioned is wayfinding, which includes clear and visible signage for washrooms, as well as information on how to exit the area. Another area featured the need to create a multisensory experience, considering factors such as sight, touch, smell, taste, temperature, and lighting. On the flip side of this, was there an almost ‘non-sensory’ calm space for individuals who needed to calm or decompress? The view of the panel was that by incorporating these elements, neurodiverse individuals can feel more comfortable and supported in their work environment, allowing them to thrive and contribute to the workplace community. Equally important to having the space, was ensuring that the culture enabled those individuals to be empowered to use them as needed.

Gender, race and socio-economic factors

The final big theme of the evening was centred around the intersectionality of gender, race and socio-economic factors with Neurodiversity. Neurodiversity encompasses a wide range of cognitive and developmental differences, including ADHD, autism, dyslexia, and others. It was acknowledged that these conditions equally impact people regardless of gender, race, and socio-economic status, however due to differences in presentation, and some standards within our medical profession, it was much more likely for a white male to receive a diagnosis and consequent support, than it was for a black woman. Furthermore, due to the underfunding and under-resourcing of CAMHS, it was noted that often diagnosis, and consequent support, was often the privilege of those who could afford to pursue it privately, lending a socio-economic factor to the impacts of Neurodiversity as well.

One significant consequence of this injustice is that many individuals who lack access to private diagnoses are not receiving support at an early age, hindering their ability to thrive and reach their full potential. Moreover, due to the societal stigma attached to Neurodiverse conditions, individuals may be prone to chastising themselves for what they perceive as a behavioural weakness, rather than recognising it as a Neurodiverse condition, leading to impacts on self-esteem and mental health, with Neurodiverse individuals are significantly more likely to be diagnosed with anxiety or depression. This lack of support and understanding can have far-reaching consequences, with Neurodiverse individuals at higher risk of being excluded from schools, committing suicide, or ending up in prison. The costs to society from these outcomes are staggering, amounting to billions of dollars annually.

Panel Conclusions

The panel concluded that creating an inclusive culture that accepts neuro-differences and generally designs for neurodiverse standards is critical to reduce stigma. Best practice wise, organisations should seek to support Neurodiverse individuals to unlock their talents, but also, seek to support employees who may not have a diagnosis due to gender, race or socio-economic factors by being aware if an individual is struggling with something and working to support that, so that they can focus on and demonstrate their strengths.

The panel were unanimous that inclusive work environments and cultures are better for everyone, not just Neurodiverse individuals. Creating safe spaces, offering job candidates choices and using creative ways to assess skills can help make job hiring processes more inclusive and are steps in the right direction. Another step is to make workplace adjustments specific to individuals (rather than blanket for a specific diagnosis) and to design spaces which address sensory needs.

Finally, the panel acknowledged that access to Neurodiverse diagnosis and treatment, may not be as accessible for women, people from Asian or black ethnic backgrounds, or less privileged socio-economic backgrounds, and that therefore, as organisations seek to improve the overall diversity profiles of their business, it would be wise to seek to support individuals who seem to be struggling, rather than only those who have a diagnosis and the confidence to seek help. This will involve awareness training for hiring and line managers and a change in approach to adjustments for many organisations.

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