There are so many conversations about wellbeing in the workplace and inclusivity, but what about neurodiversity specifically? A term that covers a range of neurological conditions including autism, dyslexia, dyspraxia and ADHD, created to enable employees to seek support without having to reveal their specific diagnosis.
Despite 10 per cent of the UK being neurodivergent, CIPD research found that just one in 10 organisations say neurodiversity is included in their people management practices. Bear in mind the number of neurodivergent employees is likely to be higher if we include those blending and masking their condition with non-disclosure or no formal diagnosis.
Adding to that, in 2016 the National Autistic Society reported that only 16 per cent of autistic adults in the UK were in full-time employment. While neurodiversity reaches well beyond autism, arguably this stat provides a good measure of the struggles many people with ‘invisible’ disabilities have when it comes to landing a job, or keeping one for that matter.
But who are the employers who are getting it right and supporting neurodivergent people into employment?
1. GCHQ: A dedicated neurodiversity support service
Alongside law enforcement and intelligence agencies, GCHQ protects UK Government systems from cyber threat. As a ‘Disability Confident’ level 3 employer they have actually been running a neurodiversity support service for over 20 years with a dedicated Neurodiversity Advisor. What is particularly impressive about their approach is that they don’t just support employees with neurological conditions, they help diagnose them.
One of their employees, named Mark for anonymity, shares his experience as an neurodivergent employee with Asperger’s syndrome: “My experience could have been a different story if I hadn't have found myself working for an employer who not only helped me diagnose my syndrome but also saw the positives. I’ve experienced how we are consistently striving to be even better at supporting neurodiverse staff. It is great to see the department leading the way with education and looking for more opportunities to deploy neurodiverse staff in a way that ensures their skills are best employed.”
Through their support he was not only diagnosed but also encouraged to embrace the positive aspects of his condition, including attention to detail, ability to focus on a task, and ability to make independent and unbiased decisions. All these attributes are crucial to GCHQ's work and the main reason they encourage neurodivergent talent, ensuring that there are no barriers to employment with accessible recruitment campaigns. GCHQ Director Robert Hannigan explains: "To do our job, which is solving some of the hardest technology problems the world faces for security reasons, we need all talents and we need people who dare to think differently and be different."
2. Microsoft: Autistic recruitment campaign
A brand that needs no introduction, this technology giant is on a mission to empower ‘every person and every organisation on the planet to achieve more’. In their own words: “Being inclusive is not something we simply do, but rather, it stands for who we are...
“The diversity of our workforce and inclusion of talented people from different backgrounds is the fuel that keeps the engines of innovation and growth running. This is essential to our long-term success. In order to build the best products for everyone, we need to have a diverse and inclusive workforce across all abilities.”
In particular, they know that candidates with autism hold an untapped talent with skills aligned to what they do every day. Speaking at the #DiverseMinds conference earlier this year, Digital Inclusion Lead at Microsoft Michael Vermeersch echoed this message adding that Microsoft’s drive to hire autistic talent has an 80 per cent success rate. A statistic that represented the greatest feedback he had ever received with one employee saying: "For the first time in many years I feel like it is not a weakness to have a disability.”
Their pilot project to hire autistic people specifically was launched in April 2015 when they received 800 CVs. However, Vermeersch knew that CVs weren’t the best way to assess talent. To break down the barriers to employment they invited people in to see how they could code and hiring managers looked at the different ways people solved problems. An approach that Vermeersch believes drives innovation. "We have to ask ourselves, are we trying to get people in the organisation who are successful at interviews or are we trying to get people in with the best talent?"
3. Enterprise Rent-a-Car: diversity partnerships and focus groups
It’s not just the IT industry that is recognising the positive attributes of neurodivergent candidates. Enterprise Rent-a-Car is actively involved in local and national diversity recruiting efforts, working closely with neurodiversity savvy partners like the Business Disability Forum. In addition to working closely with diversity organisations and minority media, Enterprise Rent-a-Car has a focus group that helps them to continually review their website and assessment interview format. Many of their neurotypical employees also volunteer as mentors.
HR director of UK and Ireland at Enterprise Rent-A-Car Leigh Lafever-Ayer believes that more leaders need to take responsibility and action on the back of their own biases. To truly make a difference leaders need to address their unconscious biases and reframe their approach to management. In a HR Magazine article she said: “I’ve seen people who have been so concerned about their results on unconscious bias tests that we’ve organised for them to have extra sessions with our diversity trainers… They’ve then talked about what they need to do to improve their leadership. That’s where it gets really fascinating; when they make the connection between diversity and leadership and take it seriously. Some, of course, never get to that because they treat diversity as a tick-box exercise.”
4. Direct Line Group: three-step neurodiverse strategy
One of Direct Line Group’s core values is to ‘bring all of yourself to work’ - a commitment that includes creating opportunities for neurodivergent people. They actively celebrated National Autism Day in March and Dyslexia Awareness Week in October, and are keen to become recognised as an autism-friendly employer.
Speaking at ProcureCon Marketing on the subject was Direct Line Group’s Marketing Director and a member of Campaign's Power 100, Mark Evans. There he announced his passionate belief that neurodiversity is the “next thing in the talent conversation”.
Direct Line Group’s neurodiversity strategy includes a three-step approach: raising awareness, manager support, and sympathetic recruitment processes. An approach that Evans believes will help them attract top talent, he said: “It is my belief that neurodiversity could become a source of competitive advantage and therefore I encourage all forward-thinking marketing leaders to become more curious as they look to build high talent teams.”
5. JPMorgan Chase: Autism at Work Initiative
The financial industry has only recently started to add neurodiversity into its recruitment strategy. JPMorgan Chase announced their Autism at Work initiative at the end of last year. Executive Director James Mahoney explained that, with 80 to 90 per cent of autistic people unemployed, it was important they helped close that gap: “for us, that’s a talent pool. If you look at areas like technology – there’s a huge shortage of good people with high-level skills. It’s a sector that we know many autistic people excel in.”
JPMorgan Chase have been adapting their traditional interview process and working closely with senior leaders across the firm to identify roles that would benefit from the talents of autistic adults. Managers are also trained on how to understand autistic communication, “often people give feedback using metaphors, humour or sarcasm and, often, autistic people don’t take these social cues. It has to be crisp and literal and we need to train our managers to empower our autistic employees.”
Quality Assurance Analyst at JP Morgan Chase, Jon, knows that he excels at his role because his strongest attribute is to assess situations and come up with the best possible solutions in order to make them more organised and more efficient. “I would encourage anyone on the spectrum to embrace what makes them different and see it as their greatest strength,” he said. “I firmly believe that companies could always benefit from having employees who see things in an unconventional way, which is something to remember any time an individual on the spectrum is seeking a job.”