Diversity and Inclusion - Are you overlooking Neurodiversity?
The spotlight is growing on diversity and inclusion within our industry and now more than ever the topic of neurodiversity is coming to the forefront.
When we think about the issues around diversity and inclusion, we often tend to talk about inequalities related to gender, race, sexuality, and disabilities but I wanted to take the opportunity to highlight the issues faced by neurodiverse employees in the workplace which is sometimes referred to as a hidden disability and is often overlooked as part of a firm’s diversity and inclusion policy.
During the most recent Diversity and Inclusivity Finance Forum (DIFF) held in May 2022, the attendees took the opportunity to address this issue head-on and with a great degree of success. The annual event which covers a wide range of D&I topics in the financial markets, placed focus on this underrepresented group and spoke about key change drivers and leadership initiatives to help those within financial services who may be suffering in silence. Ali Crossley, managing director of distribution for Legal & General Retail, spoke on a panel at the event to discuss the concept and outcomes of recent reverse mentoring schemes in a trial at L&G, she continued to add that “during the scheme, the executive team found that the work environment was vital for neurodivergent people to succeed, and they could bring a huge amount to an organisation.”
It’s encouraging to see that this isn’t a new initiative, to add to the DIFF discussion, last July the Bank of England, the PRA, and the FCA joined forces to produce a paper on Diversity and Inclusion within the financial sector setting out that it is a critical aspect of their work on culture and governance within firms, particularly for boards and senior management. It is now the time that organisations within financial services and the mortgage industry mirror the work of trade bodies and start to consider ways to better support their colleagues with neurodiverse needs.
What is neurodiversity?
As of December 2020, 20-21% of adults in the UK reported having a disability (14 million people). Leeds university estimates that approximately 70% of these disabilities are invisible.
According to Harvard Medical School, neurodiversity is a term to describe the idea that people interact in the world around them in very different ways and supports the idea that there is no one “right” way of thinking, learning, or behaving, taking the view that these differences should be embraced and not seen as “deficits”.
Neurodiversity encompasses a wide range of neurological differences and in the UK it is estimated that around 1 in 7 people are neurodivergent which represents around 15% of the population. Autism, ADHD, dyslexia, dysgraphia and Tourette’s syndrome are all neurodiverse conditions and affects everyone differently.
Some of the challenges brought about by being neurodiverse might affect a person’s ability to concentrate, impact on short-term memory, concentration and handwriting or make time management more difficult.
What are the benefits to a workforce?
There are many benefits to having a neurodiverse workforce with some analysts seeing this as a competitive advantage. High-profile employers such as Google, Microsoft, Ford, and Ernst & Young all have programmes in place to attract a neurodiverse workforce. High achievers in the business world who are neurodiverse include Richard Branson who has both dyslexia and ADHD, as well as Bill Gates, Lord Sugar, and Theo Paphitis who all reported to have dyslexia. So, what are the benefits of a neurodiverse workforce?
Neurodiverse employees are known for their creativity and the ability to think outside the box can bring enormous benefits to potential employers and are often associated with higher productivity levels as well as driving efficiency.
Autistic employees often have superior intellectual capabilities and by adopting a more well-defined approach are not afraid to challenge the status quo and display strong attention to detail and pattern recognition which helps highlight solutions neurotypical employees may miss.
Neurodiverse adults also offer other qualities such as tenacity, and empathy and often have superior long-term memories.
How to support neurodivergent employees
Creating a supportive working environment for neurodiverse employees will not only help attract an untapped talent pool but will go further than work placement and will look at the development of a work setting that is focused on all employees reaching their full potential.
The start of any employee journey starts with the hiring process. For neurodiverse job seekers this can present some additional challenges which can be accommodated by making small adjustments:
Consider providing interview questions in advance to reduce anxiety levels
Try not to interrupt candidates as it may take longer for them to answer the question
Breakdown questions into shorter sections rather than ask one longer question
If testing is part of the interview process, consider if this is appropriate or if extra time can be allowed
Noisy open plan offices can be distracting for many employees but this is heightened for neurodivergent adults so consider creating quiet working spaces which will offer fewer distractions.
Time Management and Organisation
Anyone affected by a neurodiverse condition will often develop their own strategies to compensate for challenges with time management and organisation of workload, but employers can help by being aware of the need to provide additional time to complete tasks, and help develop effective time management tools or increased use of checklists.
Creative a supportive working environment
Finally create a supportive culture where employees feel they can ask questions without feeling stupid, develop a mentoring system and raise awareness of neurodiversity amongst the entire workforce.
There is still much to be done to address the stigma associated with employees with hidden disabilities and this in turn can lead to potential workers being reluctant to disclose their diagnosis. As an industry we are doing such great work to embrace diversity and inclusion in the workplace, let’s take the lead in ensuring that neurodiverse employees are very much part of the change we are all working so hard to bring about.
Benefits of SMP membership for neurodiverse employers and employees
Members of the SMP get access to Future Me which is a career development platform for both employees and employers within the financial services industry. What is fantastic is there is a dedicated support section covering a wide range of neurodiverse topics within Future Me providing valuable information and insights. The subject matter includes information for employers looking to gain a better understanding of how to support neurodiverse employees, how to both recognise and support colleagues with ADHD, and job hunting tips for Autistic candidates to name but a few.
The information available is a great place to start for any employer looking to really embrace a diverse workforce and highlights the wide range of support and toolkits available for new and existing SMP members who are committed to developing an all encompassing diversity and inclusion policy.