Neurodiversity in DEI: Insights from Dublin’s HR Leaders

Integrating neurodiversity as a core element of your Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI) strategy is not just a forward-thinking move; it's essential for future-proofing your business, driving innovation, and achieving sustained success. Recently, Texthelp brought together thought leaders at their Neurodiversity Workplace Inclusion Forum in Dublin. This event gathered senior executives, DEI specialists, and HR professionals to discuss inclusive workplace strategies for advancing neuroinclusion.

At the heart of the forum were insightful discussions led by leading voices such as Sean Hanna from NOW Group, who highlighted their commitment to neurodiversity and disability inclusion. The panel discussion, featuring leaders from Bank of Ireland, Ireland's Foreign Direct Investment Agency (IDA), ISS, and Texthelp, delved into practical approaches and strategies aimed at creating environments where neurodiverse individuals can thrive.

Join us as we explore key insights and uncover ideas to advance neuroinclusion in your organisation.

Shaping Neuroinclusive Workplaces

Sean Hanna, Director of Services at NOW Group, highlighted NOW Group's work surrounding neuroinclusion. As the largest service provider for people with disabilities in Northern Ireland, NOW Group's initiatives like the JAM Card and SkillSET program have made significant impacts. The JAM Card allows users to discreetly request "Just A Minute" when they need extra time, fostering understanding and support in customer-facing environments. Their SkillSET program, which supports thousands in securing and sustaining employment, showcases the effectiveness of comprehensive in-work support and training.

Niah McGill, Equity, Diversity & Inclusion (EDI) Lead at IDA, emphasised that jobs should not only provide employment but also foster long-term careers that harness employees' creativity and diverse perspectives. This holistic approach ensures that employees are not just hired but are developed and retained, contributing to a more inclusive and innovative workplace.

Margot Slattery, Global Head of Diversity, Inclusion & Social Sustainability at ISS, discussed ISS’s ambition to become a global company of belonging. With around 1.3 billion people identifying as having a disability, Margot highlighted the necessity of integrating diverse abilities into the workplace. ISS's focus on building an inclusive environment where every employee feels they belong is central to their global strategy, ensuring that diversity is a fundamental part of their organisational culture.

Martin McKay, CEO & Founder of Texthelp, shared Texthelp's mission to support neurodiverse individuals through innovative software solutions. Originally focused on education, Texthelp's tools are now widely used in workplaces to enhance accessibility - with over 50 million users benefitting from their Read&Write software - including employees at IDA. By helping employees with dyslexia, ADHD, and other neurodiverse conditions, Texthelp ensures that businesses can leverage the unique strengths of neurodiverse employees, driving both inclusion and innovation.

Integrating Neurodiversity into Your DEI Strategy

  • Expectations and Evolution: Margot Slattery, Global Head of Diversity, Inclusion & Social Sustainability at ISS shed light on how younger generations expect inclusive environments that reflect their educational experiences - emphasising the need for workplaces to evolve to attract and retain talent.
  • Productivity and Engagement: Margot also shared how maximising productivity and ensuring employees can be their authentic selves are crucial for organisational success. For example, Companies that prioritise disability inclusion often outperform their peers, reporting 30% higher profit margins, 28% higher revenue, and double their net income.
  • The Business Case for Inclusion: Eimear Harty, HR Director at Bank of Ireland highlighted the low employment rate for neurodivergent individuals. For instance, 80% of autistic people are unemployed or are in low-skill level roles that don't fully leverage their talent. The unemployment rate for dyslexic individuals is also around 45%.
  • Education First: Niah McGill, EDI Lead at IDA described the journey towards neurodiversity inclusion should be focused on education first, followed by practical steps to foster understanding and support across all levels of the organisation.
  • Supporting Existing and New Talent: Niah also acknowledged gaps in understanding among existing colleagues and emphasised how efforts should be aimed at creating an inclusive environment that supports both current and future neurodiverse talent.

The Benefits of Neuroinclusion in the workplace

Martin McKay, CEO & Founder of Texthelp, shared personal insights into the strengths and challenges associated with dyslexia, reflecting on his personal journey. He acknowledged struggles with spelling and reading comprehension without auditory support. Despite these challenges, Martin highlighted that in other cognitive areas, such as verbal and nonverbal reasoning, he excels, ranking in the 99th percentile. 

This contrast underscores the diverse cognitive strengths that individuals with dyslexia or other neurological differences often possess, including innovative thinking and problem-solving abilities. This raised the importance of leveraging these strengths in the workplace. By embracing neurodiversity and accommodating diverse learning styles, organisations can unlock potential and foster environments where all employees can thrive and contribute effectively.

Neurodiversity & Intersectionality in the Workplace

Margot Slattery, Global Head of Diversity and Inclusion at ISS, also shared her personal journey with dyslexia, noting the challenges of disclosing in the workplace compared to her LGBTQI+ identity. As a former CEO and now a diversity leader, she addressed the intersectional challenges faced by neurodivergent individuals, including healthcare accessibility and diverse cultural backgrounds. She advocates for inclusive practices that accommodate varied needs, fostering environments where all employees can thrive.

Her insights highlight the importance for HR and DEI professionals to integrate neurodiversity into their strategies, ensuring inclusion across all dimensions of diversity. By embracing diverse neurological profiles, organisations not only enhance workplace culture but also drive innovation and societal impact - boosting Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR).

Proactive Inclusion Strategies

Eimear Harty, HR Director at Bank of Ireland, shared their three-step pillar approach to creating inclusive workplaces that embrace neurodiversity. This cultural shift was supported by senior leadership, recognising the need for inclusive practices from recruitment through to daily operations.

  1. Understanding and Training: Bank of Ireland prioritises equipping employees and managers with the necessary skills and knowledge. They rolled out extensive training programs, which saw 4,000 employees voluntarily participating within eight weeks, the highest uptake of any non-mandatory training in the bank's history. Additionally, they introduced neuroinclusion ambassador roles to advocate and support colleagues.
  2. Infrastructure: Bank of Ireland conducts a neuroinclusive analysis of policies, particularly focusing on recruitment and access to accommodations. They have implemented neuroinclusive communication guidelines and launched an inclusion passport. This allows all employees to discuss and document their needs with their line managers, ensuring everyone can thrive in the workplace.
  3. Culture: The cultural pillar focuses on creating an inclusive environment where everyone feels comfortable disclosing their needs. Bank of Ireland is making changes, such as improving meeting practices to benefit all employees and destigmatising neurodivergence.

Bank of Ireland also established a third-party system for employees to disclose their needs anonymously, ensuring privacy while allowing the organisation to receive valuable feedback. This approach has helped them refine their policies and create a more supportive environment for all employees.

The Role of Inclusive Technology 

The group discussed the need to move beyond disclosure when implementing neurodiversity support, considering that 76% of individuals with a disability do not disclose this at work. Niah McGill, EDI Lead at IDA spoke on their partnership with Texthelp and implementation of inclusive technology, Read&Write, as a proactive measure to ensure employees have access to tools that support diverse needs. This initiative aims to reduce barriers to productivity and enhance inclusion across teams. By normalising accessibility tools, IDA fosters an environment where individuals feel empowered to perform their best without the need for disclosure.

Statistics shared at the event: 

  • 1.3 billion people in the world identify as having a disability
  • Today 15-20% of people are neurodivergent.
  • By 2050, 50% of people are predicted to show enough signs to be neurodivergent.
  • 76% of neurodivergent workers do not disclose a condition at work.
  • 80% of autistic people are unemployed or are in low-skill level roles that don't fully leverage their talent.
  • The unemployment rate for dyslexic individuals is around 45%.
  • 44% of individuals with autism have intellectual abilities that are average or above average. 
  • 61% of neurodivergent employees experience stigma in the workplace.
  • 93% of business leaders believe that using technology to improve work outcomes and team performance is very important for organisational success.

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With 27+ years of DE&I experience, we offer proven strategies and tools driving change at Coca-Cola Europacific Partners, EY, Lumen, KPMG, and more. Innovation starts with a conversation. Ready to create positive change?