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What is neurodiversity and why does it matter in the workplace?

24/04 2019Posted by: npower Resourcing Team
 | HR
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The portmanteau “neurodiversity” was coined by Judy Singer in 1998, yet it is widely misunderstood in mainstream media. In basic terms, neurodiversity is an umbrella phrase which covers all the different ways that brains can function and interpret information — outside of societal norms. 

More than 15% of people in the UK are estimated to be neurodivergent (also known as neuroatypical) as opposed to neurotypical — a label given to people whose brains function and process information in accordance with society’s expectations. Some of the most common examples of neurologically divergent conditions include the autism spectrum, ADHD, dyslexia and dyspraxia. 

When considering workplace inclusivity, it’s important to continually educate yourself on neurodiversity in the workplace in order to break down barriers and support individuals with a different development style. 

Redefining neurodiversity 

Clinically, and often in society, neurodiversity is viewed as a form of disability. However, this point of view ignores the benefits that one experiences from being neurodivergent. 

Many of those who identify as neurodivergent wouldn’t wish to change their conditions and disregarding all the benefits of being neurodivergent by classing it as a ‘disorder’ can be detrimental. Some of the most famous, inventive and established people in historical society have been neurodivergent including Einstein, Mozart, Emily Dickinson, Stanley Kubrick and Bill Gates. It’s clear neurodivergent people can and have excelled in all areas of work from creative and analytical to social. Famous entrepreneur and Virgin Group founder, Richard Branson, wrote a letter to a 9-year-old girl with dyslexia explaining how “being dyslexic is actually an advantage and has helped [him] greatly in life.” 

Neurodiversity is not, and should not, be synonymous with ‘lesser, deficient or impaired’ — lexicon that is often assumed about those who are neurodivergent. Rather, the neurodiversity movement aims to rank on par with those campaigning for diversity in gender, sexual orientation and ethnicity by promoting and accepting differences within people rather than pushing everyone to be similar. 

We should work to understand and utilise the benefits of neurodiversity, in life and in the workplace, to allow the unique capabilities of these individuals to shine through. Diversity in the workplace is a great advantage which allows for a worker to excel in areas that others may not. 

Why is it important in the workplace? 

A lack of awareness and understanding around neurodiversity has left those with altered ways of thinking and functioning excluded when setting up management practises, workplace tools and hiring processes. These functions should be altered to cater to the one in seven workers and candidates who may be neurodivergent. By alienating such a significant demographic, hiring managers may miss out on top quality candidates. 

Neurodiversity inclusion in the workplace is easy to implement and inexpensive as 59% of employers found that accommodating to individuals had zero cost and benefited them through increased employee retention, improved productivity and a reduction in training costs. For instance, utilising assistive technology such as speech-to-text software can be beneficial for those with dyslexia and non-verbal autism. 

npower aims to celebrate neurodivergent forms of self-expression and incorporate support structures into the workplace to ensure that people who are neurodivergent feel that they are always receiving enough support and consideration. 

We understand the benefits of diversity within the workplace, one of these being ‘diversity of thought’ which allows those with different backgrounds to provide new perspectives and enhance the team in terms of creativity and innovation. 

Neurodivergent individuals can also bring a range of strengths to the organisation, ranging from problem-solving and attention to detail to creative insights and visual-spatial thinking. The capacity of dyslexic and dyspraxic people to ‘think outside the box’ is a highly valuable quality within an employee. 

Empowering neurodivergent individuals at npower 

Dave Horton, Energy Specialist for npower Business Solutions (nBS) has worked at npower for 23 years. He was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome, a part of the autistic spectrum, in 2012. With the support of senior managers, Dave found roles orientated to his skillset. 

“One of the most positive experiences, for me, has been how fantastic my peers and team have been once they understand the reasons why I am who I am. They appreciate my skill set and what I can bring to the party.” 

In the UK, just 16% of registered autistic adults are in full-time employment, however employers research has shown there are vast benefits to hiring people with different perspectives, backgrounds and experiences. 

“I often have weird and wonderful ideas but can also remember huge amounts of detail in a ten-year-old spreadsheet.” 

Dave has been an integral member of project team at npower Business Solutions — he has been tasked with creating our electric vehicle charging business — achieving a reduction in carbon which has saved npower £6 million pounds in energy costs, and rightfully won the Energy Manager of the Year award at the Energy Manager Association. 

Our community is growing

Promoting diversity and inclusion at npower is in our Community of Practice which exists to help bring together all Diversity & Inclusion activities under one umbrella to ensure consistency and alignment whilst supporting best practice and minimising risk to the business and by doing so ensure all of our groups such as Moxie (women’s network), LGBT & Friends, the Gender Diversity Workstream, and Mental Health Champions are aware of the support and resource available to them. 

Be a part of our community and apply for a job with npower today.
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