Written by Dr Idris Mohammed, Senior Business Analyst, BearingPoint
What is it, what is neurodiversity?
Neurodiversity is in its simplest essence the concept that no one brain is the same.
With this basic definition, it becomes easier to understand that our individual interactions and experiences with the world around us are unique to us. The subsequent variety that arises raises the question: is there really a ‘right’ way of thinking, learning, or behaving?
The term neurodiversity is best recognised in conjunction with Autism Spectrum Disorder, ADHD and learning disabilities. The term itself, coined in the early 90’s, was one to promote equality and inclusion of those early advocates described as ‘neurological minorities’. It simply the understanding that neurological differences are normal variation of the human genome and those that express these differences deserve equal access to opportunities.
Why does it matter?
Stigma and lack of awareness in the workplace can engineer a culture of exclusion and silent suffering. Whilst grasping the concept of neurodiversity and the understanding that neural variation is normal, this promotes a culture of inclusion and better working environment where the best of every employee can be realised.
Aside from the negatives however, neurodiversity is in and of itself an opportunity to tap into a world of talent. Imagine seeing the world from the lenses of someone else’s eyes and mind, someone who sees the same problem but in a completely different configuration.
As managers and aspiring managers, we are aware of the advantages diversity brings. Different world views, cultures and disciplines allows for a wider reach and a wealth of human resource. As neurodiverse people are not ‘neurotypically’ wired, they bring a different view to the table, a different way of understanding an issue and within that difference there will be value.
For example, it is well known that in the UK 15% of the wider population is neurodivergent. That, more tangibly, is 1 in 7 people. Business revolves around people, whether it is the delivery of services or selling of products, in its essence, it is a transaction between people. To ensure a holistic approach, where a large proportion of the population are not disregarded, understanding the neurodivergent point of view is essential.
So why don’t companies tap into neurodivergent talent?
The behaviours of many neurodiverse people run counter to common notions of what makes a good employee—excellent communication skills, being a team player, emotional intelligence, persuasiveness, salesperson-type personalities, the ability to network, the ability to conform to standard practices without special accommodations, and all the other great attributes we readily put on our CV’s.
This feeds into the larger issue of a standardised recruitment process which uses, for the most part, similar grading criteria from company to company. Of course, neurodivergent candidates would not fall into these categories, as the inability to capture variation will miss those that ‘live on the edge.’
Are changes being made?
Well, the industry with the best track record for working towards Nuero-equality is the tech industry. It has a long history of hiring people who are different, many of which have now become icons. Interestingly, as the Harvard Business Review points out (when referencing Steve Silverman’s book ‘NeuroTribes’) places like Silicon Valley have high incidences of autism. The consulting industry is increasingly monitoring employees who have Neurodiversity conditions and talking about this area more is a step in the right direction.
So, how can you contribute?
Be aware, advocate.
Some easy adaptations you can make to your way of working to help facilitate the inclusivity we all strive for:
1) Use a clear communication style: avoid sarcasm, euphemisms, and implied messages.
2) Try to give advance notice if plans are changing and provide a reason for the change.
3) Don’t make assumptions — ask a person’s individual preferences, needs, and goals.
4) Be kind, be patient.
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