After attending our EqualTech report launch and learning more about the state of play for neurodiverse job seekers, Daniel Nelson, Supply Chain Consultant at Allegis Global Solutions, shares his views on neurodivergence in the workplace.
This is a guest blog, written by Daniel Nelson, Supply Chain Consultant at Allegis Global Solutions.
“21% of employees work for businesses that tailor their recruitment practices to neurodivergent candidates”
(Sparta Global Equal Tech Report 2023)
This figure is alarming when we think of the variety of people that work in companies, but what is ‘Neurodiversity’ and why is it important for businesses?
Put simply Neurodiversity refers to the wide range of human neurology, thinking and communication styles and expression.
The types of people who are usually excluded come from a wide spectrum of neurodivergent conditions such as Autism Spectrum Disorder, ADD, Dyslexia, Dyscalculia, Dyspraxia amongst others.
The conditions stated above are also referred to as ‘Invisible Disabilities’ which means that they may restrict people from certain everyday activities or affect their ability to make sense of an ever-changing world, but they aren’t visible like other disabilities.
Looking at this another way we could suggest that these aren’t disabilities but just differences in thinking, expression and understanding communication processes and society's rules.
If we embrace Neurodiversity and the contributions all those who think differently can make this can have benefits for business in the long-term enabling their teams to collaborate more with increased idea generation therefore increasing profitability and sustainability.
One such company who are making huge strides in ensuring Neurodiversity is an integral part of their corporate objectives is Sparta Global which is a forward thinking, progressive technology services company specialising in supplying highly skilled technology consultants who are trained up to add value to any workplace.
They performed their own research within their sector ‘Tech’ in 2022 where they surveyed more than 500 individuals from organisations across almost every industry sector to understand the unique perspectives neurodiverse employees present to the technology industry.
These insights formed a report that highlights the potential of a neurodivergent workforce in technology and the unique additions they can make to fast growing and forward-thinking technology teams.
Sparta invited recruitment and staffing professionals to a special evening to present their findings and also included a panel of neurodiverse professionals to provide some insight into their employment journey as well as providing a snapshot of their life as a neurodivergent individual.
I was privileged to join a couple of other AGS colleagues to attend this evening but was largely unprepared for the powerful insights and revelations to come.
After an introduction address by Gaia Caruso – Head of ED&I for Sparta - and Chief People and Compliance Officer, Purnima Sen, the audience was introduced to Maddy who is an employee of Sparta working for a major broadcaster and telecoms company. Maddy disclosed they have ADHD and gave a personal account of their journey as a tech consultant with ADHD.
This led into an open and informative discussion with the panel of neurodivergent business and tech professionals.
On the panel was Dan Harris who is founder and CEO of ‘Neurodiversity in Business’ an organisation and movement dedicated to promoting the awareness of neurodiversity in business. Cherelle Williams is the Global Accessibility Lead and Diversity & Inclusion at Shell. Cherelle was at the forefront of providing adjustments to applicants with disabilities as well as collaborating on personal development courses for neurodivergent and disabled individuals.
Dr Christian Faber is Chapter Lead at Admiral Group with a PHD in Theoretical Astrophysics and is championing the necessity and power for diverse perspectives within organisations. Kim To is a management consultant-turned-entrepreneur and founder of Flair who is dyslexic and has ADHD and has used this in her company and become a certified ADHD Coach.
Finally, Gabriella Field who is a Strategist on the Unilever Dove team, who joined as an apprentice in 2018 and now works across PR, Brands, Advertising and social media. 2019 was the launch of ‘ReWired’ Ogilvy’s first network dedicated to neurodiversity and industry first. Gabriella was also featured in ‘Women Beyond the Box’s’ Top 50 influential Neurodivergent Women 2022. Gabriella is also autistic.
What followed was a series of discussions around a particular element of neurodiversity in technology or businesses.
There was a lively debate around business cases that could be used to support the argument for a neurodiverse workforce, to which Dan stated that there was no business case needed as all individuals should be embraced rather than to be put in the ‘too difficult to deal with bracket’. He continued to elaborate all individuals have strengths, highlighting how 15-20% of the population is neurodiverse and it’s about doing right by the people that you have currently in the business.
The recruitment process is not about hiring neurodiverse talent but about what people can bring to the table. Dan passionately believes it’s wrong to focus on neurodiversity.
Cherelle also stated that neurodiverse individuals in a company have a competitive advantage and that crucially neurodivergent and other individuals can work together to create something amazing. Her focus was also on disability hiring which was around giving Disabled people their independence and the opportunities that they deserve. It’s very easy when disabled to focus on your restriction, but providing roles boosts self-confidence and makes everyone feel part of a unit.
So, what are the benefits of Neurodiversity in terms of adding value to businesses or organisations?
Dr Christian advised the benefits are that individuals who already have analytical thinking as part of their make-up, have no requirement for training or mentoring, and can hit the ground running. From a technology perspective this is crucial when it comes to creativity and meeting timeframes for projects.
There followed an interesting discussion about the move from a manual to automated approach and the panel were in agreement that automation - whilst a fear for most people - is actually something exciting for the neurodiverse population as they tend to think in non-linear ways, and they see this as an opportunity for further contribution to society.
Kim gave a personal insight into her life as someone living with ADHD and working in tech. Kim feels that individuals with ADHD can bring innovation to tech teams which is especially important for progressive digital tech teams. She also talked about ‘Hyperfocus’, which is an intense fixation on a hobby or activity for an extended period of time.
This is unique to ADHD as it enables individuals to learn new skills in a day and they have a need to learn new skills all the time unlike other individuals. This essentially broke down the stigma of ADHD as someone who has behavioural problems.
Gabriella feels companies are now opening doors to neurodiversity and shared that as an autistic woman, her desire to be ‘unmasked’ outweighed her anxiousness. There is a need for different perspectives in business so neurodiversity is the key. Gabriella stressed the need for the right kind of language to be used which can then ensure all individuals feel included. This also in effect allows for idea generation and creativity. In her professional world of advertising, if you don't have other people in the room, it's as if they don't exist. Talking about it opens doors for people encourages inclusivity.
An interesting discussion took place about COVID and neurodiversity which although was an anxious time for a lot of people brought a shift in mindset especially with flexible work in the way it made work more inclusive. This is reflected in the report’s findings when respondents were asked if organisations’ commitment to neurodiversity changed after COVID, 54% said yes. This shows that there are initial discussions happening across companies about how they can work towards having a neurodivergent workforce – with a primary focus on the wellbeing of their employees. Cherelle added that on a personal note, she experienced sensory issues and there was a benefit to now not having a requirement to go into the office.
So, there is a question of how employers support neurodiversity professionals within business. Dan stressed the importance of listening to what these individuals need and understanding that they aren’t requesting these provisions to be difficult. Once this happens all individuals can collaborate and create something great to drive organisations forward.
With reference to Neurodiversity and skills in tech, the report found that there was a sense of fear around neurodiversity regarding language and what should be used. 61% of those who were surveyed felt that categorisation is ok to a certain extent, whilst 28% thought that categorisation could be discriminatory, and the remaining 11% aren’t sure what language they could use. This confliction highlights that people generally don’t want to talk about neurodiversity for fear of offending people with a lack of knowledge.
Sparta’s findings have showed that employers are excluding neurodiverse individuals. As Purnima – Chief People and Compliance Officer for Sparta states in the report;
‘If employers do not assess and adapt their hiring processes to accommodate, support and encourage neurodiverse professionals – this is the reality’.
It’s clear Neurodiversity in business is the key not just in terms of new business but in retaining talent. Whilst Neurodiversity is a difficult subject to approach, it’s important to use the correct language to ensure there is a uniform understanding. Neuro-inclusive teams are more likely to have competitive advantage and its clear from the evening’s insights Sparta Global are leading the pack with this forward-thinking approach.
Click to download our Equal Tech Report: How neurodiverse professionals bring in-demand perspectives to tech.