· Features

Britain’s got neurodiverse talent – tap into it

Neurodiverse people have a lot to offer, though they often suffer from self-esteem issues

Not all great minds think alike. Diversity in the workplace is important. It can reflect a company’s customers, increase innovation, productivity, staff retention and loyalty. A recent Harvard study concluded neurodiversity can give companies an edge. Increasingly high-profile organisations, such as GCHQ and Microsoft, are embracing neurodiversity as a talent strategy, recognising the strengths neurodiverse people can bring to the workplace.

There are a lot of mixed signals around disability recruitment at the moment. On the one hand we have the government promising to help a million disabled people into the workforce over the next 10 years. On the other we have the chancellor of the exchequer appearing to blame disabled employees for sluggish productivity rates. This is not helpful to a section of society over-represented among the long-term unemployed, and it is not our experience here at Genius Within. We work with many brilliant, hard-working candidates and employees. Our team of occupational and clinical psychologists, coaches and employability professionals have been advising people with neurodiversity and the companies who hire them since 2011. You can see some of what we do and some of these brilliant, hard-working candidates on the BBC TV series Employable Me.

When it comes to designing programmes to help the neurodiverse find work, we’ve found that if we approach each individual's cognitive issue head on, focusing on their strengths and building confidence and self-awareness, our graduates can apply these learnings throughout their lives and careers. Psychometric testing can be a useful tool for recruitment and assessment. However, it’s not always the most appropriate measurement tool when dealing with neurodiversity. Psychometric testing usually sets a standard that people are assessed against, rather than honing in on the individual’s strengths and skills. Often the tests are irrelevant to the job that the person is working on or applying for.

For some neurodiverse people multiple choice questions are difficult and these tests can mean talented people are excluded from a job or promotion. I have personally come across talented people in the police force and medical profession who have failed psychometric tests but were able to prove their specialist skills to rise in their chosen careers. Sadly I have also worked with those who have not been able to progress solely because of a psychometric testing barrier, despite award-winning service.

The follow-up after the testing can also have a very negative impact if not handled properly. Neurodiverse people have a lot to offer, though they often, understandably, suffer from self-esteem issues around employment after years of constant rejection and disappointment.

Once a neurodiverse individual is joining the team, companies can help their newest recruits by making small adjustments to their work environments. Very often this is about providing some staff training and a few additional resources, such as voice recognition/text-to-speech software for dyslexia/vision impairment, dual screens for enhanced memory retention (sometimes useful after head trauma), quiet areas for stretching/decompressing (which can be useful with cerebral palsy, Tourette syndrome and autism), and providing materials ahead of meetings in accessible formats.

Once the practicalities of adapting the workplace for a neurodiverse employee are taken care of, everyone can start focusing on the strengths and talents that so often get overlooked. In Employable Me, by using positive assessment techniques to undo some of the damage caused by repeated messages of deficit or difficulty, we discovered stroke survivor Andy had perfectly competent verbal understanding even though he finds speech difficult, and that Kerie, who is visually impaired, has a memory in the top 1% of the population. These are the skills any employer would value and it’s far more motivating for the employee than being pressured to justify any additional steps or equipment needed to do the job.

We live in a world where work is still regarded as a cornerstone of identity and a crucial route to independence for the majority. We live in a time where technology, government policy and education can make the workplace more accessible to neurodiverse people. The more we see this change in action the more benefits we will see, not just for the individual but for companies and society as a whole.

Nancy Doyle is an occupational psychologist and the CEO of Genius Within