A line manager's toolkit to foster neurodiversity inclusion in the workplace

Thu 06 Jan 2022

A line manager's toolkit to foster neurodiversity inclusion in the workplace

Feedback and support mechanisms to help you become a neurodiversity-confident employer

By Murielle Gonzalez

Organisations that embrace neurodiversity inclusion at work understand that neurological differences among people should be recognised and respected. However, becoming a neurodiversity-confident employer is challenging for organisations because neurodivergence is a hidden disability. Research shows that 30% to 40% of the population is neurodiverse, and many people are not aware of their neurodivergent condition – the autism spectrum, ADHD, dyslexia, and Asperger syndrome, among others, remain largely undiagnosed in the adult population.

The moral imperative to embrace neurodiversity in the workplace is supported by the law, recognised in the definition of disability within the Equality Act 2010. Therefore, neurodiverse individuals are protected from discrimination in the workplace and stand for equal job opportunities.

Recruitment is the first step in the journey of becoming a neurodiversity-confident employer, but what can organisations do to support, promote and retain their neurodivergent talent? 

Jane Hatton, founder and CEO of specialist job board platform Evenbreak, has revealed some top tips for attracting and recruiting unique talents ahead of her presentation at the 'Neurodiversity at Work' online event on 22 February

The agenda of this CPD-certified training day also covers promotion and support strategies, with best practice advice from experts in the D&I space on the key mechanisms that organisations can implement to foster neurodiversity inclusion at work. Register to attend.

Neurodiversity inclusion – the line manager’s role

Think about disability, and chances are the picture in your mind is of a physical disability – someone in a wheelchair, or a visually impaired person using a white cane. It's hard for us to notice hidden disabilities or think about how they manifest – and indeed how they might impact individuals on a day-to-day basis. That's why listening to lived experience is a good first step on the journey towards neurodiversity inclusion.

Take the experience of diversity consultant Oliver Fenghour for example. He has lived with Asperger syndrome for most of his life – he was diagnosed with this high functioning form of autism at the age of 10. When he entered the working world, Fenghour developed a professional career and enjoyed a 10-year tenure in an organisation that understood his autism, giving him the competence and knowledge to be the best version of himself in the workplace. 

He then went on to work for other employers, and sadly, the experience was markedly different. "We need to do so much more to support autistic people in the workplace and give them equal opportunities within neurotypical peers," he said at the 2020 edition of 'Neurodiversity at Work'. "I'm hoping that [at the end of the event you'll see many of the positive attributes and values that employing autistic people can bring to your organisation," he noted.

'Neurodiversity at Work',  part of the Diverse Workforce Series by Dods Diversity & Inclusion, gathers every year the most experienced consultants and thought leaders in the field to discuss best practices for creating support structures while prioritising the well-being of the neurodiverse staff. For example, a D&I consultant speaking at a session discussing fair progression for the neurodiverse workforce, put the role of line managers in the spotlight, stressing that consistent feedback is paramount to support neurodiverse colleagues.

"We all love feedback, and we need it to progress in our careers,” he said. “Most neurotypical people will intuitively understand internal checkpoints when they're doing a job to the expectations of a line manager while meeting the expectations of the wider organisation. However, people with autism may want external feedback from their line manager or a workplace buddy to understand how they're getting on with their job."

The speaker noted that neurodiverse people are more likely to experience a lack of confidence at work. The anxiety that builds up around that feeling can be troubling for someone with autism. "The attention to detail and perfectionism that many autistic people have can lead to anxiety simply because they want to be seen as doing a job to the same standard or better than a neurotypical peer."

Moreover, the lack of confidence is particularly frustrating to neurodiverse people when a line manager doesn't deliver consistent feedback or doesn't deliver any feedback at all.

These are some of the challenges facing line managers and autistic people alike, and they can manifest when feedback isn't clear, not structured, and the expectations are not defined. Moreover, line managers play a vital role in making sure that staff members, including autistic talent, can be the best version of themselves in an organisation. 

The advice to overcome these challenges is to have specific instructions and clear guidelines for doing specific tasks, what the expectations look like, and what the performance indicators are. These are some of the mechanisms that organisations can implement to benefit all staff members.

Another common challenge for line managers is when someone keeps asking the same questions about a specific task – and that's frustrating for both the manager and the employee. Experts advise that line managers need to recognise that what might seem obvious to a neurotypical person might not be apparent to someone on the autistic spectrum.

"The last thing we want to do is to make them feel like we don't see the positives they're doing in the job, so delivering constructive criticism is really important," the speaker said, noting the key is to have a balanced approach to the positives and negatives in the feedback.

As in all diversity and inclusion initiatives, the ultimate goal is to get your neurodiverse talent to feel that they're an important part of your organisation and that their anxieties are unfounded and unwarranted. Identify the mistakes they make and make them feel that it's perfectly human – we all make mistakes in the workplace. 

Attending a 'Neurodiversity at Work' event is invigorating and inspiring. The event offers truly useful insight into various mechanisms to support neurodiverse staff and what structures organisations need to design and implement in the future – including how to support the neurodiverse talent in the current climate of remote working.

This CPD-certified training day is an opportunity to learn what organisations are doing in terms of reasonable adjustments and what strategies are implemented to support those of neurodiverse conditions in the workplace. These initiatives vary from assistive technology to neurodiversity network groups and work buddies, for example.

The upcoming 'Neurodiversity at Workevent on 22 February features a panel discussion with disability experts on the best practices for managing a neurodiverse workforce and ensuring fair progression in the office and remotely. Register to attend.

Other sessions you don't want to miss:

  • 'The Neurodiversity Paradigm': neurodiversity as workplace asset rather than obstacle
  • Starting up and setting out: how to include neurodiverse talent when launching a new project
  • Intersectionality at Work: understanding how neurodiversity and other diversity dimensions can intersect



Murielle Gonzalez, content strategy manager at Dods Diversity & Inclusion, is an experienced journalist and editor. She can be reached on murielle.gonzalez@dodsgroup.com.

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