Many businesses are failing to accommodate an increasingly diverse workforce. World Autism Awareness Week, taking place during the first week of April this year, will inspire people across the UK to take part in activities to raise awareness for autism charities.
However, as an industry, we need to do more in terms of promoting equality across the workforce – this all starts in our awareness and understanding of conditions like autism.
Neurodiversity is essentially a collective term used to describe people who think differently to the majority and is often stated in relation to neurodevelopmental conditions such as ADHD, dyslexia, dyspraxia and autism – to name a few.
According to the National Autistic Society, there are around 700,000 people on the autism spectrum in the UK. Of those, just 16% of autistic adults are in full-time, paid employment. More than three-quarters (77%) of those who are unemployed say they want to work.
A poll conducted by CIPD in 2018, the professional body for HR and people development, found that just 10% of HR professionals in the UK say consideration of neurodiversity is included in their organisation’s people management practices. Alarmingly, 72% of HR professionals said that consideration of neurodiversity wasn’t even included. Given around 10% of the UK population is neurodivergent in some way, more needs to be done to support neurodiversity at work.
There is increasing recognition of the skills ‘people who think differently’ can offer, especially in relation to problem solving and creative input. Of course, this isn’t the case for everyone with a neurodevelopmental condition, but the point is there is an overlooked talent pool that can be a huge asset in the workplace.
Throughout the last 12 months, DMA Talent’s Neurodiversity Initiative has been working with subject matter experts and leading industry figures with neurodevelopmental conditions to help define best practice and develop a forum where businesses can discuss neurodiversity – providing guidance on reasonable adjustments businesses can make to recruitment procedures and working environments to become more neurodiverse friendly.
Through a series of free training workshops around the UK and panel sessions at leading industry events such as Advertising Week Europe 2019, we have made significant progress advancing the conversation around neurodiversity within the professional world – but this is only the tip of the iceberg.
How to support and manage a diverse workforce
As a professional community, we need to start addressing these alarming statistics by helping employers to understand what they can do to employ and support neurodiverse individuals.
Awareness-raising workshops and events are a good way to start the conversation around neurodiversity and best practice, but they should not be considered as comprehensive training.
We need in-depth training schemes for key personnel i.e. line managers and HR staff, to give them the tools to make sensible and realistic changes within their own organisation.
Post-training support, via toolkits and community forums, is essential to ensure the relevant personnel are able to implement measures that will benefit all staff. Additionally, a platform where consultation is available and best practice is continuously developed would help to sustain progress.
Peer support can be very effective and is often preferred by neurodiverse employees, who can sometimes feel misunderstood in the workplace. Providing staff with access to dedicated resources and allocated time for employees to meet and share advice, support each other with challenges, and have a collective voice to raise awareness, are all really important steps that need to be taken.
It’s important to remember that when considering what changes you should implement within your organisation, in order to be more welcoming to a diverse talent pool, this means doing what is best for your employees – they are all individuals who will thrive given the right environment.
The adjustments that we tend to recommend during our training workshops are those that would benefit everyone, not just neurodiverse individuals. Generally speaking, the majority of people profit from clear communication, structure, and a flexible working environment to accommodate sensory differences.
The Neurodiversity Initiative’s toolkit series – Autism Employer Guidelines
If you want the best people employed by your organisation, it’s time to recognise that perhaps we aren’t looking in all the right places.
DMA Talent, in partnership with Matthew Trerise, Training & Liaison Lead, NHS AWP Bristol Autism Spectrum Service – who has 15 years’ experience working with individuals on the autism spectrum – are developing a new series of free neurodiversity guidelines and toolkits to raise awareness amongst employers.
The first edition focuses on autism awareness and not only highlights the benefits of employing people with autism, but provides guidance from a number of experts about adjustments that someone with autism may benefit from within the workplace.
“Many autistic people use intelligence over intuition and have developed strategies to navigate social situations and relationships. However articulate or intelligent someone is, never underestimate how much hidden processing they might be doing during an interaction,” said Matthew Trerise, Co-author of the Neurodiversity Initiative’s ‘Autism Employer Guidelines’.
“A person with autism can struggle to process facial expressions or body language, and is, therefore, more likely to take what someone says more literally. Employing someone on the spectrum doesn’t need to be challenging for either the employer or employee, although we must equip key personnel with the knowledge and tools to support a diverse workforce,” Trerise added.
The Autism Employer Guidelines will be available for free download from the DMA website in May 2019. It will provide a comprehensive overview of how businesses can be better prepared to support and manage a diverse workforce.
The following areas will be discussed:
- Recruitment – work trials and skills testing
- Interviews – things to consider before, during and after the interviews
- Workplace environments – an employee’s first day at work, how to build equality into structure
- Employee feedback and appraisals
- Sensory environment – how to limit work-related anxiety
- Career Development
- Case studies – reviewing a digital agency’s work experience programme with someone on the autism spectrum