This week I attended the Diversity & Inclusion Leaders Global Forum in London, and was inspired by talks from international FinTech leaders such as HSBC, Linked In, Uber and BAE Systems regarding enthusiasm for increasing access to careers within big businesses. I noted however, that the ‘how’ is still lacking. Much of the work is still around surveys to quantify the problem, rather than clear guidance on how to operationalize. I work with hundreds of businesses each year both small and large, providing adjustments, advice and consultancy on neurodiversity inclusion. I’m going to share some insights specific to my specialism that I hope will save time and money.
Many companies fall into the same mistake, which is to focus spend on disability adjustments for individual employees, without thinking about the wider environment and invisible barriers. In my experience, some businesses are wasting time and money addressing issues of inclusion on a case by case basis when there are so many changes that can be made to the workplace as a whole. Systemic inclusion is when we don’t have to single people out for an accommodation because the work environment is already a friendly one. By using technology as triage to pin point obstacles and locate trends, I’ve found that businesses can save around 30% on adjustments costs by implementing changes in company culture that come for free.
Here’s my list of five easy changes, addressing the most common causes of difficulty for neurodiverse teams.
1. Be sensory friendly! Neurominorities have neurobiological differences in sensory perception which drives heightened awareness. Useful for communication and ideas, not useful when electric lighting is too harsh, or too dim, when noise levels are hard to control and dress codes are uncomfortable. I recommend encouraging natural light, using soft furnishing and desk arrangement to improve acoustics and being flexible on dress codes.
2. Have a balanced approach to conference calls and large meetings. Ensure meeting Chairs can keep control of the conversation, this might require training or explicit instruction. Lots of people speaking over each other or breaking off into smaller discussions is common if no one is managing the flow of conversation and puts pressure on employees who find social rules or attention more difficult. Online / by phone the cognitive load is enormous for all, but a dyslexic employee will miss out altogether due to sound processing deficits. Video can balance this out by tapping into visual processing strengths, but most important is having a clear agenda in advance and controlling the flow of information.
3. Leverage technology. So many new operating systems are coming with speech/text conversions as standard now we’re almost at the point of spelling being an obsolete skill. You can add captions to all video content through free apps and make your elearning and promotional videos accessible. You can enable e-organizers and diary managers for staff who need to reduce demand on executive functions – which is most neurominorities but also people with head injuries, in cancer treatment, menopausal, sleep deprived, managing chronic pain, the list goes on. Tasking someone in the company with staying up to date on the latest apps and tech updates and sharing that information with all is a great tip for disability inclusion generally.
4. Have a hot desk strategy. Hot desking is a tricky one as it is often necessary for growing businesses, or businesses with lots of flexible and part time staff. There are ways to minimize disruption, such as to allocate where the hot desks and permanent desks are situated (and stick to it!). For example using a desk that’s close to a noisy fan one day and then a desk that is by a bright window the next day can be very tough on sensory overwhelm. Knowing in advance which of these problems they will face when popping into the office means an employee can come with a coping strategy already planned (noise cancelling headphones, sunglasses etc). Another good rule of thumb is to insist that shared desks are left clean after each use so an employee never has to work around someone else’s notes and clutter.
5. Avoid corporate commando culture, which I discussed at length in my last blog. Permit flexible hours and remote working. Many neurominorities find that work comes in peaks and troughs, and ADHD or autistic employees may do outstanding working during a ‘hyper-focus’ session, but will need to recover. Flexible hours at my company means that we give each other and ourselves permission to go to the hairdresser, for a walk or to gym during work hours if we’ve pulled a late nighter. Working from home, or even writing in our beds might be required to recover from a series of ‘peopley’ days. This is how you make sure your exceptional people stay at their exceptional best on the days you need them fully present. Flexibility will pay dividends for all, but it will be the difference between making it and not making it for disabled and neurodiverse employees.
And on that last note, the Banking Standards Board have issued caution this week about long hours and late nights, noting that improvements made in 2017 have not continued, and that almost half of finance workers are sleeping less than 6 hours each night. Anecdotally, I’m finding the FinTech and defence sectors most enthusiastic about leveraging neurodiverse talent; HR and D&I leads in these efficiency-driven industries are learning the power of reasonable adjustment and developing programs for opening access. However, as far ahead as FinTech / Defence might be in aspiration, some basic boundaries might wield the most impact in driving talent through inclusion.