Most companies have a neurodiverse workforce without even trying. It is thought that up to 15% of the population are neurodiverse, and that's the ones who have been diagnosed and are happy to share this with others. We know we must do more to create a space where all can shine. We know a diverse workforce increases the profitability of a business and isn't just a gimmick or a flag we should be waving. Compared to other types of diversity, employers need a clear guide about what they should be doing to support neurodiverse staff. With very little neuro-inclusivity training offered to senior decision-makers in an organisation, informed decisions can not be made.
We've all seen and complained about job adverts, where the requirements or salary are unreasonable, and now consider you are a neurodivergent and cannot translate these job descriptions into something that resonates with you. You're already facing unreasonable barriers to entry. If you do make it through the process to employment, you aren't facing much better in the way of inclusion.
Intranet and eLearning have an accessibility standard. Well, anything online in the UK has the same standard. Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, or WCAG2.1, is the standard we should all be meeting. This will be the box to tick to fulfil your obligations. If you've ever taken the time to review these guidelines, I'm sure you'll have heard yourself saying, "Is that it?" These standards, or the bare minimum, set the bar far too low.
I'm no mathematician, but let me do some quick maths:
Findings by the ONS show that 22.6% of 16-19-year-olds, 59.49% of 20-39-year-olds, and 15.40% of 40-59-year-olds report having a learning difficulty (ONS 11478, 2019). 17.6% of the workforce self-reported as disabled in 2019. An estimated 15-20% of the world's population exhibits some form of neurodivergence (US National Cancer Institute, 2022). With 32.8 million people in employment in the UK, in the three months to December 2022 (Statista, 2023), 5.7 million people could exhibit some form of neurodivergence. They may require additional workplace support or adaptations to support their working conditions and provide an optimum learning environment.
According to the City & Guilds Neurodiversity Index Report 2023, 32% of neurodivergent respondents haven't disclosed their condition in the workplace. That's, potentially, 1.8 million neurodivergent people getting no additional workplace support or adaptations to support their working conditions and provide an optimum learning environment. Why? 10% of neurodivergent respondents were met with a poor response when they disclosed their condition! Other reasons found are:
Fear of discrimination or negative impact on career prospects
Lack of accommodations or adjustments in past or current settings
Stigma or misunderstanding by others relating to neurodiversity
Personal preference for privacy - this is important as not everyone should have to reveal parts of themselves if they prefer not to do so
Unawareness of their neurodivergent status. There is evidence that some people from some socioeconomic backgrounds may have had less opportunity to navigate systems and so have not had neurodivergent traits considered.
The belief that disclosure is not necessary or relevant to job performance.
The report goes on to say that only 58% of neurodiverse individuals who have disclosed their condition in the workplace with an OK or good response.
So, let me walk you through what day one looks like for your new neurodivergent starter; I've made it through the hoops of the inaccessible job description, I've made it through the trauma of the interview process, and I'm here virtually or in person. Some welcome has been laid out for me, and I may or may not have told you about any required adaptations. I'm bombarded with new faces, a quick rundown of where things are, and the schedule for the new joiner programme (if there is one at all). I'm faced with many new and overwhelming pieces of information and stimuli your company has put together to onboard at pace - a repeatable and defined process designed for the masses. Part of this exercise will be the knowledge that I have to take some sort of mandatory training as a requirement for passing my probation. The mandatory training meets WCAG2.1, the bare minimum. If I haven't already told you, is now the point that I'm forced to disclose, or do I keep quiet through the overwhelming experience?
Now, none of this should be shocking to us. We have all experienced a first day at a new job. Due to the nature of my work, I make it my business to attend inductions, so I'll list out a few of my experiences - let's see how many you recognise of your own company's practice:
A courier delivers a laptop to my home, with a note inside, giving me a username and password. My responsibility is to access the device and email someone to say I'm on the laptop and self-register for the induction programme. Once I'm on the laptop, I email my line manager, who will come back to me at some stage and book a virtual meeting, where they download their brain and name-drop a bunch of people I need to reach out to for more information.
A swathe of pre-joiner emails telling me what to expect during my first day. The first day arrives, I join a virtual induction, which tells me about fire exits, kitchen etiquette, and other relevant things held by multiple and unknown faces, all of which I should remember. I am required to read policies and take my online induction training, on multiple platforms, in things like Health and Safety, Information Security etc., and score at least 80%
I arrive in a room with 5-6 other new joiners, where I'm presented company values for 3+ hours. After this, I'm collected by my line manager and taken to a loud canteen to get to know them. They chest beat about how great everything is. The line manager takes me through the crystal maze to my desk and leaves me with a laptop. I must read the intranet and policies and take mandatory online training on various compliance topics. My first week consists of intranet reading, policies, and the occasional pre-scheduled meetings with people who tell me about their job without any context of how and when I may need to recall this information.
I arrive and am met by the head of the department, who does all the big talking about their job. They deliver me to my desk. Someone in the team takes me under their wing, and for a cuppa, where they do some more big talking. I'm handed a printout of my induction tasks, and I get access to my device. My induction tasks are to meet with various people without any brief of what I should discuss with them. The next meeting with my line manager is in one week, so I have to find things to read, busy myself with, and take some mandatory training.
No induction or new joiner process.
Can you imagine going through any of these experiences as a neurodivergent? These experiences are poor enough for neurotypicals. They are overwhelming and have been developed to save the company time and effort without considering how they will be received. There may be an occasional satisfaction survey, but these won't be honestly answered for fear you may lose your job.
Part of the reason I make it my business to attend inductions is to see what they're really like. You will all tell me how much time, effort, and money you've put into the programme, which you are proud of, and yes, you made something efficient. If you don't stop for a second to consider the demographics of your workers, you did something that worked for the budget you had.
As we've discovered, you will have hidden or undiagnosed neurodivergents to support, and here's an example I give all the time:
When someone wanders in on their first day, they will be overwhelmed, regardless of their brain function. Now imagine your company issues secure devices, where admin passwords must be used to make any changes or to enable browser extensions, such as screen readers, where you don't provide a headset as standard. You are forcing someone to put their hand up and say I need support. You are not being inclusive. Now imagine the selection panel for intranet systems or eLearning tools containing only neurotypicals, those without visual impairments, or visual stress disorders. The selection was made purely based on budget, look and feel, WCAG2.1 compliance, and the words of a vendor that told you it was an accessible tool. You store your policies either on the intranet or within the eLearning tool, and these meet the bare minimum requirements, for a company's demographic that you don't understand, you are forcing someone to put their hand up and say I need support. You are not being inclusive. You are not being compliant, and you are not being secure. I'd argue you aren't even meeting your regulatory compliance requirements.
We hear all the time that humans are either the weakest link or the first line of defence for your company, but that's a debate for another day. Let me tell you what humans are. Humans are your greatest asset. Humans are the reason you have a business and can achieve anything. Every single one of them is in a mutually beneficial relationship with your company. They provide you with a service in return for financial compensation for the service provided. If any one of those humans doesn't give you what you need to succeed, you'd performance manage or discipline them. You, as their employer, are failing them. You are not giving them the same. You don't give them what they need to succeed. They can't performance manage or discipline you. You give them WCAG2.1, the bare minimum, so are you really in a mutually beneficial relationship?
Genuine inclusivity creates an environment where everyone has the tools they need to succeed, without fear of discrimination or negative impact on career prospects, stigma or misunderstanding by others relating to neurodiversity. It's accommodations or adjustments, privacy, and the ability not to disclose and have a level playing field, regardless of their neurodivergent or neurotypical status. Isn't that the bare minimum you should be trying to achieve?