How to create a truly (neuro)diverse work culture

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Ian Pilkington demystifies assumptions about neurodiversity and explains what employers can do to ensure their workplaces are inclusive and celebratory of difference

by Ian Pilkington 4 July 2023

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The awareness surrounding neurodiversity and understanding of neurodivergent conditions has improved in recent years. It’s become a much more open conversation, but there is still a long way to go. Society has unfortunately created stigmas, and neurodivergent conditions are still called and viewed by many as a disability. The problem with this is our society (and, by extension, the workplace) is driven by a ‘can’t do’ mentality. By failing to focus on what people can do, we risk missing out on unlocking everyone’s true potential.

Most forward-looking businesses are right to want to create a workplace and culture that allows everyone to thrive and be comfortable with who they are. However, some everyday things about how exactly this can be achieved need to be clarified. I want to outline some of the biggest misconceptions that every organisation must understand, and what they should be doing to enable a genuinely inclusive and neurodiverse culture.

Don’t put people into boxes

Broadly speaking, the primary widely recognised neurodivergent conditions are autism, ADHD, ADD, dyslexia, dyscalculia and dyspraxia. However, no two people with the same diagnosis or condition are the same and should not be treated as such. Conditions can overlap; a diagnosis does not define the person. Furthermore, only some have a formal diagnosis, and everyone is different. It is essential not to categorise and label people based on their neurodivergent conditions.

Although there is a wealth of literature and advice on managing neurodivergent conditions, a nuanced approach is necessary. The individuals themselves should guide companies to create customised accommodations, rather than relying on an over-prescribed or one-size-fits-all approach.

Reinventing the norm

Many work tasks and the methods we are taught to complete them with are designed for individuals with ‘linear’ thinking. Linear thinking follows a straight line from a starting point to an ending point, with connections made in sequential order. However, it is crucial not to confuse linear thinking with being the norm. Our brains are wired differently, and, while we may all achieve the task, the routes we take to get there will vary. Embracing this diversity of thinking can lead to innovative and faster problem solving.

Focus on unique strengths

Our measures of success have traditionally been designed with neurotypical traits in mind, starting from early education. Neurodivergent individuals are often conditioned to believe they will be judged solely on how their brains are wired. It is essential to shift the conversation and attitude from perceived limitations and focus on the unique strengths and contributions everyone, neurotypical or not, brings to the table.

To enable this shift, encourage individuals to create two lists: one highlighting their strengths and how these can be utilised at work, and another identifying perceived weaknesses and strategies to mitigate them. For example, someone who struggles with transcribing information can develop standardised questionnaires to gather the necessary data, resulting in more efficient work processes.

This approach should be applied throughout the workforce and can benefit everyone. When creating an inclusive culture, it is important that accommodations for neurodivergent individuals benefit the entire workforce, rather than singling them out. Just as creating a ramp for wheelchair accessibility benefits not only wheelchair users but also individuals with prams, embracing neurodiversity can lead to improvements for all employees.

It starts with culture

While businesses cannot dictate how individuals with neurodivergent conditions operate, they can foster a culture of acceptance and kindness that allows everyone to feel comfortable and encourages open conversations. Organisations should not assume or approach someone as neurodivergent. It is a personal and sensitive topic that should be left to individuals to disclose if they wish to do so.

To create an inclusive culture, companies can organise regular events and training sessions focused on various topics related to neurodiversity. For example, Accenture runs monthly events on different subjects such as self understanding, time management, ADHD awareness and mental wellbeing. These events are open to all employees and aim to educate and raise awareness of neurodiversity.

Additionally, tailored training sessions should be provided to recruiters, business leads and line managers to help them better understand neurodiversity and create an inclusive work environment.

Furthermore, fostering a sense of community is essential in creating a truly diverse neurodiverse work culture. Accenture has established community groups where individuals can gather regularly to discuss their concerns, share successes, ask questions about recent diagnoses and provide support to one another. These safe and open forums create a supportive network where individuals feel valued and understood. Accenture also offers resources for employees seeking diagnoses and support for neurodivergent conditions, including access to diagnosis and post-diagnosis support services.

Other organisations can adopt similar strategies by providing training, organising events, establishing support networks and offering resources for diagnosis and support. By prioritising inclusivity and neurodiversity, business can create a work culture that not only benefits individuals with neurodivergent conditions but also fosters creativity, innovation and overall success for the entire workforce.

Ian Pilkington is IT implementation expert at Accenture, and leads the firm's neurodiversity network in the UK

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Ian Pilkington demystifies assumptions about neurodiversity and explains what employers can do to ensure their workplaces are inclusive and celebratory of difference. by Ian Pilkington 4 July 2023. Share article on Twitter. Share article on Facebook. Share article on LinkedIn. The awareness surrounding neurodiversity and understanding of neurodivergent conditions has improved in recent years. It’s become a much more open conversation, but there is still a long way to go. Society has unfortunately created stigmas, and neurodivergent conditions are still called and viewed by many as a disability. The problem with this is our society (and, by extension, the workplace) is driven by a ‘can’t do’ mentality. By failing to focus on what people can do, we risk missing out on unlocking everyone’s true potential. Most forward-looking businesses are right to want to create a workplace and culture that allows everyone to thrive and be comfortable with who they are. However, some everyday things about how exactly this can be achieved need to be clarified. I want to outline some of the biggest misconceptions that every organisation must understand, and what they should be doing to enable a genuinely inclusive and neurodiverse culture. Don’t put people into boxes. Broadly speaking, the primary widely recognised neurodivergent conditions are autism, ADHD, ADD, dyslexia, dyscalculia and dyspraxia. However, no two people with the same diagnosis or condition are the same and should not be treated as such. Conditions can overlap; a diagnosis does not define the person. Furthermore, only some have a formal diagnosis, and everyone is different. It is essential not to categorise and label people based on their neurodivergent conditions. Although there is a wealth of literature and advice on managing neurodivergent conditions, a nuanced approach is necessary. The individuals themselves should guide companies to create customised accommodations, rather than relying on an over-prescribed or one-size-fits-all approach. Reinventing the norm. Many work tasks and the methods we are taught to complete them with are designed for individuals with ‘linear’ thinking. Linear thinking follows a straight line from a starting point to an ending point, with connections made in sequential order. However, it is crucial not to confuse linear thinking with being the norm. Our brains are wired differently, and, while we may all achieve the task, the routes we take to get there will vary. Embracing this diversity of thinking can lead to innovative and faster problem solving. Focus on unique strengths. Our measures of success have traditionally been designed with neurotypical traits in mind, starting from early education. Neurodivergent individuals are often conditioned to believe they will be judged solely on how their brains are wired. It is essential to shift the conversation and attitude from perceived limitations and focus on the unique strengths and contributions everyone, neurotypical or not, brings to the table. To enable this shift, encourage individuals to create two lists: one highlighting their strengths and how these can be utilised at work, and another identifying perceived weaknesses and strategies to mitigate them. For example, someone who struggles with transcribing information can develop standardised questionnaires to gather the necessary data, resulting in more efficient work processes. This approach should be applied throughout the workforce and can benefit everyone. When creating an inclusive culture, it is important that accommodations for neurodivergent individuals benefit the entire workforce, rather than singling them out. Just as creating a ramp for wheelchair accessibility benefits not only wheelchair users but also individuals with prams, embracing neurodiversity can lead to improvements for all employees. It starts with culture. While businesses cannot dictate how individuals with neurodivergent conditions operate, they can foster a culture of acceptance and kindness that allows everyone to feel comfortable and encourages open conversations. Organisations should not assume or approach someone as neurodivergent. It is a personal and sensitive topic that should be left to individuals to disclose if they wish to do so. To create an inclusive culture, companies can organise regular events and training sessions focused on various topics related to neurodiversity. For example, Accenture runs monthly events on different subjects such as self understanding, time management, ADHD awareness and mental wellbeing. These events are open to all employees and aim to educate and raise awareness of neurodiversity. Additionally, tailored training sessions should be provided to recruiters, business leads and line managers to help them better understand neurodiversity and create an inclusive work environment. Furthermore, fostering a sense of community is essential in creating a truly diverse neurodiverse work culture. Accenture has established community groups where individuals can gather regularly to discuss their concerns, share successes, ask questions about recent diagnoses and provide support to one another. These safe and open forums create a supportive network where individuals feel valued and understood. Accenture also offers resources for employees seeking diagnoses and support for neurodivergent conditions, including access to diagnosis and post-diagnosis support services. Other organisations can adopt similar strategies by providing training, organising events, establishing support networks and offering resources for diagnosis and support. By prioritising inclusivity and neurodiversity, business can create a work culture that not only benefits individuals with neurodivergent conditions but also fosters creativity, innovation and overall success for the entire workforce. Ian Pilkington is IT implementation expert at Accenture, and leads the firm's neurodiversity network in the UK. More on this Topic. Bringing immigration down further: the impact on businesses. Navigating the UK apprenticeship levy through alternative workplace learning methods. How to maximise the return of investment in leadership development. Soul searching and household choices are key to pensions engagement. How employers can help propel LGBTQ+ voices at work.