Inclusion and Neurodiversity
You may well be aware that this week is National Inclusion Week, an initiative created by Inclusive Employers.
Inclusion is something we often get asked about at Lexxic: “How can I help my neurodiverse employees to feel included?” Let’s see if we can help…
So, what is Inclusion?
“At its most basic level, it is about ensuring that no one feels left out because of their age, disability, gender reassignment, race, religion or belief, sex, sexual orientation, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, or other factors such as social background. Ultimately an inclusive working environment allows people to be themselves at work.” (Inclusive Employers, 2019).
What does that mean?
· is accepted;
· is respected;
· has the uniqueness they bring to the organisation valued; be it a perspective, a skill, an experience;
· is able to participate in activities at work;
· feels included.
So, what about my neurodiverse employees and colleagues? What can I do to make sure they are included?
Here are some ideas…
Does your organisation have a neurodiversity network, or specific networks for individuals with autism spectrum conditions, dyslexia, ADHD etc? If not, why not start one!
Research shows that encouraging and supporting networks for specific demographic groups has a direct link with retention and makes individuals feel better connected to their employer. Having networks such as these embeds inclusivity into the culture, showing your employees from specific demographic groups that they are welcome in the organisation. Not only that, but networks like these give people a way to start a conversation about diversity and can be a great source of support.
Ignorance can be one of the biggest barriers to inclusion. Could your organisation encourage more awareness raising events about neurodiversity in the workplace?
Enable your workforce to increase their awareness of neurodiversity and to learn what terms like autism spectrum conditions, dyslexia and ADHD mean, and how these differences might affect an individual at work. You could encourage your neurodiverse networks or employees to run an event, or Lexxic could come and give a Lunch and Learn awareness session.
Think about whether certain workplace situations are restricting involvement for any or your neurodiverse employees, for example, meetings, training sessions or social events.
I recently completed a workplace needs assessment with an individual with an autism spectrum condition (ASC) who had been working in his team for almost a year; let’s call him Steve. Steve’s line manager thought that Steve did not want to socialise and integrate with the team, as he had not been along to any of the team’s regular socials. I brought this up with Steve, and he explained that the team’s socials usually involved getting together and chatting in a noisy bar, and often then onto a nightclub. Steve had previously explained that some of the key difficulties for him as a result of his autism were: sensory overstimulation, particularly from noise, and a need for structure and predictability. Steve wanted to integrate with the team, but the social format was the worst kind of scenario for him.
If you’re in a situation like this, seek input from your employee or colleague; if they are keen to join in, they may have some ideas that will help them to feel included; in Steve’s case a quieter environment with a focused activity would perhaps have been more appealing, and would have given him more of an opportunity to feel included with his colleagues.
Increase your own awareness about neurodiversity, and also clue yourself up on a more personal level with your own employees’ and colleagues’ individual needs and strengths.
With this knowledge, you’ll feel much more confident that you’re considering these elements when thinking about inclusion; knowledge is power after all. When solutions aren’t apparent to you, work together to find them.
It might be as simple as starting a conversation, or encouraging others to do so; merely being friendly helps individuals feel accepted – don’t be afraid to talk to your neurodiverse colleagues, or any colleagues for that matter, just because you’re not sure you understand them; be curious. Make time for your colleagues. Being approachable helps individuals feel comfortable that they can speak up to ask for support when their needs aren’t being met and also feel able to express their own ideas.
Celebrate Difference and the benefits it brings.
A diverse workforce brings unique experiences, perspectives, skills and knowledge to an organisation; when all these come together, amazing things can happen. Value and recognise your employees’ and colleagues’ achievements and the unique contribution they make to the team and the organisation.
In a nutshell, Inclusion is all about accepting, respecting and valuing our differences. We all deserve to enjoy the work we do. Inclusion is a big part of that.
This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it’s a start.
For more support and advice on ensuring an inclusive workplace for your neurodiverse employees, talk to us.