Fostering neuroinclusivity: Empowering your entire workforce through inclusive practices

By Amy Finn, Jennifer Islip

The term 'neurodiversity’ is still relatively new in the working world. With an estimated 15 to 20 percent of the UK population being neurodivergent, this calls for a collective effort to move the dial away from a deficit model to one which celebrates the myriad of cognitive perspectives and abilities, enabling those with neurodiverse conditions to excel in the workplace.

In recent years, we have witnessed a notable rise not only in the willingness of individuals to disclose their neurodiversity, but also in our comprehension of what neurodiversity means for organisations and their employees, presenting a promising opportunity for meaningful change.

In a 2022 mental health explainer, the World Economic Forum (WEF) stated: “Teams with neurodivergent professionals can be 30 percent more productive than those without them,” citing how teams with neurodivergent members had higher morale. This is likely attributed to how those with neurodiverse conditions often bring diversity of thought, which can foster innovation and creativity, enhance ways of working and, as a result, improve outputs at individual, team, and organisational levels.

However, despite the noticeable and welcomed increase in corporate and societal engagement with neuro-inclusion, the neurodiverse community continues to contend with hidden barriers. The same WEF article suggests there is a notable prevalence of mental health challenges, including anxiety and depression, among neurodivergent individuals. This is further supported by a 2023 Birkbeck study that reported low levels of wellbeing in the neurodiverse community. One hypothesis is that this is a consequence of supressing neurodivergent behaviours, known as ‘masking’, emphasising the need for a more comprehensive and supportive approach to neuroinclusion.

As employers continue to evolve their diversity, equity, and inclusion practices, they should focus on supporting neurodiverse populations by educating and empowering people managers, reimagining ‘reasonable adjustments,’ and creating psychologically safe environments.

Educating and empowering people managers

An important first step is empowering those with management responsibilities to support their teams.

Effective education helps to ensure that managers understand the nuances of neurodiversity, including the strengths that neurodivergent people bring to the workplace, and the challenges they may experience. Providing comprehensive training equips leaders with the knowledge to combat myths, and the confidence to create an inclusive and supportive work environment.

Managers should be empowered to use their judgement to accommodate and adjust different working styles and practices that resonate with neurodivergent colleagues. The benefits of this approach are twofold. Firstly, managers become well positioned to effectively support neurodivergent employees with confidence; and secondly, it shows neurodiverse communities that their needs are being considered and accommodated.

Establishing visible leadership sponsors for neurodiverse communities plays a role in modelling inclusion from the top and demonstrates a readiness to embrace neurodiversity. Senior people who champion activities to promote neurodiversity actively advocate for inclusive practices, signalling a commitment to inclusivity and allyship.

Reimagining ‘reasonable adjustments’

Again, education is key. Many people need more information about the reasonable adjustments that are available. And people teams should take the lead in ensuring this information is clear, accessible, and that requests are quickly actioned.

To create truly neuro-inclusive environments, organisations must go beyond reasonable adjustments that often focus on the physical workplace and instead consider the end-to-end employee experience. This requires organisations to challenge assumptions and redefine what ‘good’ looks like.

Organisations leading the way are likely to:

  • Transform traditional approaches to talent management to create more accessible, equitable practices
  • Move away from traditional approaches to career progression to enable a fairer evaluation of the diverse strengths and capabilities of the workforce
  • Recognise and value a broader spectrum of skills, talents, and perspectives.

By enabling flexibility, for example, in promotion criteria, a greater emphasis can be placed on an individual’s strengths and help avoid inadvertently excluding neurodivergent people.

Neurodivergent adult unemployment rates are three times that of people with disabilities. This emphasises a need to reconsider the suitability of recruitment processes, exploring potential biases to accommodate and adjust to neurotypical candidates both internally and externally. Routes to improvement may include reconsidering the language, format, and media of job advertisements to ensure equitable accessibility. Additionally, introducing flexibility in assessment techniques, which can be adapted depending on the candidate needs, will result in a more positive experience, as well as provide an equitable assessment based on strengths.

By adopting a more inclusive talent management approach, organisations not only benefit neurodivergent employees, but also foster a culture of diversity and inclusion that resonates throughout the entire workforce.

Creating psychologically safe environments

When learning about neurodiversity, assuming there is positive intent behind actions, behaviours, and questions is a foundational principle for fostering a supportive environment. Embracing this perspective encourages people to approach interactions with trust and goodwill, minimising misunderstandings, and promoting constructive dialogue.

By assuming positive intent, colleagues are more likely to engage in open and honest conversations about their experiences, including challenges they may face due to neurodiversity. Others feel more confident asking questions to neurodivergent colleagues on how they can most effectively work together. This helps to cultivate a culture where employees feel comfortable sharing their unique perspectives and insights without fear of judgment.

Open conversations enhance empathy and awareness while contributing to a collective understanding of neurodiversity. Shared knowledge is instrumental in tailoring initiatives, as the more insights are exchanged, the better equipped organisations become to provide effective and purposeful support that meets the diverse needs of their workforce.

We know that neurodivergent individuals often bring unique perspectives, cognitive styles, and problem-solving approaches that enrich overall team performance. By adopting the three approaches discussed, organisations can create environments which empower neurodiverse employees to flourish.

The accommodations and adjustments made for neurodiverse employees often lead to improvements in overall workplace communication, collaboration, and wellbeing for all colleagues. So fostering neurodiversity is a proven strategic advantage, unlocking hidden potential, enhancing team dynamics, driving organisational success, and creating a truly diverse workplace.

We’d like to thank Dr Ian Iceton from the Autism Centre of Excellence for his contributions to this article.

About the authors

Amy Finn PA people and talent expert
Jennifer Islip PA people and change expert

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