Blog post
April 9, 2024
Megan Jaram

Supporting Neurodiversity in The Workplace - Tech Talent Engine

Organisation growth

Neurodiversity is the natural variation in the human brain that results in differences in how we behave and think.

It covers ADD, ADHD, autism, dyscalculia, and many others. Every individual will experience a different set of strengths and challenges in their neurology.

For example, whilst one individual may enjoy face-to-face interaction in an office-style setting, others may prefer isolated work in the comfort of their home. This is one reason employers play a crucial role in supporting neurodiversity across the organisation.

By recognising and accommodating the diverse cognitive styles and perspectives of neurodiverse individuals, employers can unlock untapped talent pools and drive creativity within their teams.

Sunderland Software City collaborated with Tech Talent Engine, an online jobs platform for people in the North East, to discuss how employers can support neurodiversity in the workplace.

What can employers do to support neurodiverse colleagues?

Neurodiversity is a great attribute of any workplace, offering a diverse range of perspectives and experiences.

It’s an employer's responsibility to provide an inclusive environment where everyone, regardless of their background, can feel safe.

Supporting inclusivity and diversity should be an all-round approach, rather than one-size-fits-all. Here are a few steps to consider:

·       Staff training – neurodiversity awareness training.

·       Inclusive recruitment strategies – challenging outdated recruitment.

·       Flexible work arrangements – understanding that the 9-5 doesn’t work for everyone.

·       Work environment and equipment – supplying noise-cancelling headphones and considering seating arrangements.

·       Supporting staff – a commitment to supporting staff.

Let’s go into these in more detail.

#1 – Neurodiversity Training

One of the first steps to creating a neurodiverse-friendly workplace is to begin with workplace training.

Training providers such as 50:50 Future, run by Lyndsey Britton-Lee and Lynsey Harbottle, focus on company-wide diversity and inclusion training.

During sessions, this allows employees to ask questions and spot any potential existing barriers to the workplace.

This is particularly important for workplace wellbeing, allowing individuals to understand their colleagues better and ultimately communicate with different people.

It could be that one individual may have been previously perceived as rude, however, they tend to communicate very bluntly. Being transparent about these differences can help us to understand each other, causing less friction.

Caroline Williams, Skills Manager at Sunderland Software City, said:

“Small changes can make a huge difference. For example, consider seating plan arrangements. Do individuals prefer sitting next to a window, in a group or isolated?”

The goal of neurodiversity training is to increase awareness, reduce stigma and promote acceptance of neurodiversity in various settings.

#2 – Inclusive Recruitment Strategies

Standard recruitment practices can be a barrier to neurodivergent applicants. It’s a good idea to consider the language, text formatting and the platform you are advertising the vacancy on.

If you haven’t updated your recruitment strategy in the last five years and you’re struggling to fill vacancies, it’s a good idea to conduct an audit of the recruitment processes from start to finish.

To prevent barriers to recruitment, consider the following:

·       Adopt gender-neutral language

·       Avoid jargon/ corporate language that is hard to understand

·       Consider blind recruitment

·       Include the commitment to diversity and inclusion

If you can, consider removing an in-person interview and conducting a call over Zoom. For neurodiverse candidates, this allows applicants to interview in their own space.

In the recruitment form, consider asking applicants about their preferences or if they require any extra support. This shows a proactive approach to supporting candidates from all backgrounds.

#3 –Flexible Work Arrangements

At Sunderland Software City, we understand that traditional working patterns may not work for everyone. This is why we adopt a flexible approach to work, and tailor schedules, accommodating to individual needs.

By doing so, it has fostered an inclusive environment where every member of our team can thrive and contribute their unique talents and perspectives to our collective success.

But don’t take our word for it, according to the Digital Skills Audit, 63% of young professionals report that remote working is a key benefit of working for a company.

This proves how employers who prioritise flexibility and accommodation in their work arrangements can attract and retain top talent, as well as boost overall employee satisfaction and productivity.

The Digital Skills Audit 2022

#4 – Invest in the work environment and equipment

For neurodiverse colleagues, physical barriers can be a hindrance to the work environment too. Strong smells, cluttered work spaces and bright fluorescent lighting can be overwhelming for individuals with sensory sensitivities.

To promote a comfortable working environment for everyone, take the time to assess and modify the physical environment to make it more inclusive and comfortable for all team members.

This may involve implementing softer lighting, providing noise-cancelling headphones, organising workplaces to minimise clutter, and creating designated quiet areas for individuals who need a break from sensory stimuli.

More than 46% of employees describe their workplace as distracting and noisy, with 15% stating they are less productive when they can overhear others' conversations.

#5 – Clear guidelines and instructions

There’s nothing more frustrating than unclear guidance and instructions, especially if you are neurodivergent. This is important for several reasons:

·       Understanding learning styles vary among individuals – clear guidance helps to accommodate these differences.

·      Reducing the anxiety and stress surrounding ambiguous instructions – alleviates any concerns on how to approach specific tasks.

·      Enhancing communication among peers and managers – when clear expectations are outlined, it becomes easier for everyone to understand each other's needs.

·      Supports independence and autonomy over work – this promotes self-confidence and self-reliance.

Setting clear guidance and instructions can include something as simple as a deadline, a step-by-step breakdown of tasks, visual aids or providing multiple modes of communication.

What not to say to a neurodivergent person

Being mindful of language is especially important when promoting a neurodiverse-friendly workplace.  

Here are a few things you should avoid saying to a neurodivergent person.

We’re all on the spectrum

Comments as such can be incredibly patronising and belittling. This can be dismissive of the unique experiences and challenges faced by neurodivergent individuals.

Instead, try replacing it with “We all have our strengths and challenges.”

It’s just a bad label

This diminishes the significance of neurodivergent identities, and the impact labels can have on their understanding of themselves and their access to support.

Instead, try replacing it with “Labels can carry a stigma, but they also help people understand themselves and access support.”

You don't look/act autistic

This perpetuates stereotypes about how autistic individuals should look or behave.

Consider replacing it with “Autism presents differently in each person and every experience is valid.”

You're overreacting

This invalidates the emotions and experiences of the individual, implying that their reaction is disproportionate or unwarranted.

Instead, consider this replacement “I can see that this situation is affecting you. How can I support you right now.”

Creating a neurodiverse-friendly workplace

Fostering neurodiverse-friendly workplace is not only beneficial for neurodivergent individuals but also for the organisation.

From providing clear instructions to offering accommodations and support, every step towards creating an environment where all employees feel valued and respected contributes to a culture of inclusivity.

Let’s be clear - it’s not just about meeting legal requirements; it's about creating a space where everyone has the same opportunities to contribute.

At Sunderland Software City, we are passionate about promoting diversity and inclusion in the tech industry.

We endeavour to provide a space where anyone, regardless of their background, can contribute to the space. If you’d like to find out more about ways you can work with us, check out our services here.