4 ways employers can combat stigmas surrounding neurodiversity

An interview with Martin McKay, CEO, Texthelp

1. What kind of stigma do neurodivergent individuals face in the workplace? Can you give examples of ways managers and/or co-workers subconsciously alienate neurodivergent talent?

There is a long history of negative stigma around neurodiversity. Years ago many employers mistook neurological differences, such as Autism and Dyslexia, as a sign of low intelligence, carelessness, or lack of ability. Today, many organisations now understand that this isn't the case. However, we've still got a long way to go to reduce the impact of these negative misconceptions.

Often, we subconsciously make judgments about others because of existing stigma. It's part of being human. In the workplace, this can leave our neurodivergent colleagues feeling misjudged. In fact, according to recent research, 6 out of 10 neurodivergent individuals have experienced stigma or felt misunderstood at some point during their careers. This could be due to feeling unsupported at work. Or, feeling judged by their diagnosis and any accommodations they have in the workplace.

Alongside negative stigma around neurodiversity, neurodiverse conditions are often misunderstood. For example, a common misunderstanding of people with dyslexia is that they don’t enjoy writing. This is because some people with dyslexia have difficulty with spelling. But it’s simply untrue - many dyslexic people love to write! 

By providing neurodiversity training we can highlight the strengths that come from different thinking, and reduce the impact of stigma in the workplace. Neurodiversity awareness training also helps management to understand how to better support neurodivergent staff, and what support they can offer to make the workplace more inclusive for all.

Get immediate access to insights from experts and neurodivergent talent to learn more.

2. Why are most neurodivergent individuals unaware that neurodiversity is common? How could this awareness help neurodivergent people in the workplace?

1 in 5 people are neurodivergent. Yet, in recent research, we discovered that only 12% of neurodivergent individuals and 5% of neurotypical individuals are aware of this. This could be because neurodiversity isn’t always openly talked about. 

According to research from Accenture, 76% of employees with a disability or neurodiverse condition do not fully disclose this at work. Being made to feel different can be a worry, especially when there's a negative stigma around neurodiverse conditions. With many people feeling uncomfortable talking about their neurodiversity at work, it's natural for a lack of awareness to continue. Especially since neurodiversity is a hidden form of diversity. That's why, as organisations, we must do our part to raise awareness in a way that celebrates neurodiversity.  

Most people work amongst neurodivergent people every day without realising it. When we're aware that everyone has different ways of thinking, working, and learning, we're more likely to be understanding and inclusive in our own actions and interactions. By openly talking about neurodiversity, neurodivergent individuals are more likely to feel welcomed and comfortable being themselves. 

3. Workplace support for neurodiversity is favoured by everyone – what are your top suggestions for neurodivergent support (whether it be the inclusion of certain benefits, policies and work culture changes)?

Every employee should feel supported and valued in the workplace. Often, the accommodations and tools brought in to support neurodivergent employees benefit everyone. One example is inclusive technology that helps employees to work and communicate in their own way. By providing such tools to all employees, everyone can benefit. Not only that, but neurodivergent employees will also be able to receive this support without the pressure of disclosing their diagnosis. 

Going beyond personal accommodations, there are many ways organisations can improve their company culture. By doing so, we can create environments that are more welcoming to all people. Some examples include:

  • Develop support networks for neurodivergent employees: Create an employee support group for neurodivergent employees to join and create a community within the company
  • Be proactive and have empathy: Develop programs that support neurodivergent employees and understand that their processes in the workplace may be different than others
  • Get to know your employees and truly listen: Ask what you can do to make the workplace better for your people, and take action to make positive change. When we understand our people, we can better support them and meet their needs
  • Improve your recruitment processes too: Provide training to HR professionals on best practices in creating an inclusive hiring process. This will go a long way in hiring neurodivergent people and supporting them right from the start

Get immediate access to insights from experts and neurodivergent talent to learn more.

4. Why would employers be hesitant to offer neurodivergent support in the workplace? What's holding them back? 

There are common myths that disability and neurodiversity inclusion is complicated or expensive. 66% of employers say the costs of workplace adjustments are a barrier to employing a disabled person. But this simply isn’t true. Small changes can lead to a big impact on neurodiversity inclusion. 

In our recent research, neurodivergent workers said they would find the following support beneficial;

  • Specialist software with tools to support reading, writing and research
  • Accessible communication. For example, being able to choose what format to send and receive information
  • A dedicated support network
  • Dedicated quiet spaces
  • Neurodiversity awareness training

Such accommodations are simple changes that can actually benefit an entire workforce. 

In addition, negative attitudes and stigma also remain a barrier. 24% of employers say they would be less likely to employ someone with a disability. Of these people, 60% say they would be concerned a disabled employee would struggle to do the job. People with disabilities, and neurodivergent individuals, bring diversity of thought and lived experience. This can benefit a company in many ways. In fact, companies that champion disability inclusion report 30% higher profit margins compared to their peers.

When we value diversity and empower neurodivergent people, we gain a workforce with skills and talents that drive innovation and growth.

5. Why is neurodiversity essential to a successful business? 

There are many benefits of creating environments that are inclusive of neurodiversity. 

  1. A wider talent pool
    To begin with, we are more likely to attract neurodivergent talent. Research found that the majority of neurodivergent workers (93%) would be more likely to apply for a job at, or continue to work for, a company which they knew was supporting neurodivergent employees well. When employers need to fill skills gaps, many still screen out neurodivergent individuals and their unique talents.
  2. Extraordinary skills
    Organisations that welcome neurodiverse individuals benefit from a workforce of different thinkers. That brings benefits including creativity, innovation, productivity, and more. Different minds can approach a company's products, services, and business challenges with different solutions.

    In some cases, neurodivergent people are sought after for specific strengths and abilities. A report from Made By Dyslexia found that Dyslexic Thinking skills match with the skills of the future (as identified by the World Economic Forum). These include visualisation, creativity, cognitive flexibility, logical reasoning, complex problem-solving, and more. Emphasising how these extraordinary skills are sought-after by employers is the Dyslexic Thinking movement. A movement that encourages dyslexic individuals to showcase their valuable skill set by adding Dyslexic Thinking as a skill on LinkedIn.
  3. Positive impact on business objectives
    Research shows that companies with more diverse workplaces are also more profitable. Leading disability-inclusive companies stand to gain as much as 28% higher revenue. In addition, people with disabilities also represent a significant portion of the consumer market. Many consumers will prioritise goods and services that are inclusive of people with disabilities. 
  4. A loyal workforce
    We thrive best in a place where we feel supported, valued and celebrated. We’re more likely to remain in a workplace where we can bring our full selves to work, and feel that we belong. Organisations that nurture neurodivergent talent are more likely to create an environment where employees feel included and want to stay. Like neurodivergent workers, our recent research found that the majority of neurotypical workers (63%) are also more likely to be attracted to and loyal to companies that support neurodivergent employees well.

Learn more

To learn more, sign up to our free DE&I webinar series with Texthelp, EY, Barclays, GSK, and Neurodiversity in Business, to bring you insights from experts and neurodivergent talent on how to create an inclusive culture at work.

In three sessions, you’ll discover the success measures for an inclusive culture. Get transferable strategies from Employee Network Groups. And, explore how technology can empower the unique voices of your employees. In a bonus session, you’ll learn how to build your business case for inclusion.

Sign up now for instant access.