Reaping rewards of a diverse workforce

Finding, recruiting and retaining top-tier talent has been a long-term challenge for businesses of all sizes, with in-demand staff becoming more aware of their bargaining power as unemployment rates remain low. This shifting dynamic is driving companies to re-assess how they can tap into the skillset of an increasingly diverse workforce, in particular those with neurodiverse traits.

“In the modern workforce, most companies pride themselves on having a diverse and inclusive workplace when it comes to age, gender, sexuality and ethnicity. But the idea of a neurodiverse workplace is still relatively new,” says Jason Gordon, UK workplace solutions manager at Texthelp, a leading provider of literacy support solutions.

It’s estimated that more than 10 per cent of the UK population have some form of hidden disability, including dyslexia, autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or ADHD. These types of hidden disabilities are now more understood than just a few years ago and businesses are growing acutely aware of the importance of ensuring work environments are welcoming to neurodiverse staff.

“Organisations are beginning to learn that they need the benefits that diversity can bring. For example, neurodiverse individuals may not flourish in a traditional interview format, but they still have lots to bring to the table, including the ability to approach problems from a different angle and consider innovative solutions to business challenges,” says Mr Gordon.

Similarly, people on the dyslexia spectrum may be a good fit for careers in creative industries, due to their unique strengths in interpreting and visualising designs. Autistic people, too, are usually disproportionately skilled in data analysis and IT-related tasks, compared with their neurotypical counterparts.

Many high-profile businesspeople, politicians and celebrities have spoken openly about their neurodiversity, such as UK health secretary Matt Hancock, Virgin Group founder Sir Richard Branson and Apple co-founder Steve Jobs. Prominent examples of neurodiverse individuals making their mark on the C-suite and, in part, crediting their rise to the benefits of their neurodiversity, clearly show how alternative thinking styles can make a real impact in business.

Yet the full potential of neurodiverse people isn’t being realised as a result of both structural and informal workplace barriers, starting at the recruitment stage. “If you think of how companies recruit staff, it can be an unnecessarily complex process for neurodiverse job seekers. If you go on to the vast majority of job websites, they ask for a cover letter and CV, which means a lot of writing and literacy skills will be required in this process,” says Mr Gordon.

When he advises organisations on how to reach out to the large number of talented neurodiverse job seekers, Mr Gordon always asks: “Do you want a member of staff who is good at interviews or one that is good at doing the job? For task-orientated jobs, like coding, it’s better to have a task-oriented interview, where applicants are given a task to perform, demonstrating how they will actually do the work itself, rather than how they can answer questions.”

Once a neurodiverse candidate has been hired, there can be issues around line managers not fully understanding what exactly autism or Asperger’s is and how to support staff who are neurodiverse. Relatively simple workplace adjustments, such as providing a screen reader or noise-cancelling headphones, can drastically change the work environment for neurodiverse people. Software, too, can be a key enabler.

“I’ve spoken to many people who, because of their neurodiversity, have had the glass ceiling imposed on them when starting a new job, but once they begin using our software, they start to climb the corporate ladder. It’s a small piece of software that turns their career into a success story,” says Mr Gordon.

Texthelp’s solutions help businesses better support both their neurodiverse and neurotypical staff, alongside internal and external customers, and ensure compliance issues around reasonable adjustments and the Equality Act are dealt with in the most effective way.

“As a global company, with offices in the UK, America and Australia, we hear stories again and again, from the classroom to the boardroom, of how our software creates a more inclusive environment where students or staff can reach their full potential and thrive,” says Mr Gordon.

“Diversity and inclusion are rapidly moving up the C-suite agenda, and what I would say to organisations is, don’t be afraid of recruiting someone from a neurodiverse background. They can bring a great strength and a real depth to your business that you’ve never had before. This can enable your organisation to be more productive, more creative and experience more success in the future.”

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