Neurodiversity and work are two words that for decades felt at logger-heads with one another. Indeed, the word "neurodivergent" wasn't coined until the late 1990s. Sociologist Judy Singer states that “Neurodiversity refers to the virtually infinite neuro-cognitive variability within Earth’s human population. It points to the fact that every human has a unique nervous system with a unique combination of abilities and needs.”
Thankfully, greater understanding and awareness for mental health disorders and disabilities has increased, and as a result more inclusive practices have permeated workplace culture- not just within the healthcare communications space. However, discussing neurodiversity at work or with a prospective employer can still feel like disclosing a vulnerability. Does disclosing neurodiversity in the workplace improve your experience as an employee? And when, if ever, is the right time to disclose it during an interview process?
Emma Jacobs, writer for the financial times, recently interviewed individuals across varying levels of experience, and found overwhelmingly that disclosing a diagnosis led to a more positive experience at work.
"A sharp rise in diagnoses of neurodiversity among adults means many more workers, including senior leaders, will need to consider the potential impact on their jobs — and their bosses may have to adapt."
Neurodiversity can be seen as advantageous to teams looking to foster an environment which values different perspectives and new ideas. In an industry such as healthcare communications, in which a delicate balance of high-science and creativity are often intertwined, a different way of thinking can ensure that teams explore new ways of working and innovative ideas. With 15% of the UK identifying as neurodiverse, there is the overwhelming suggestion that companies who do not advocate for and adapt to neurodiverse talent are cutting themselves off to an untapped and underutilised pool of creativity.
Creating a Neurodiversity- Inclusive Workplace
Catering to neuro-diverse employees ensures a happier, healthier working environment for all. By integrating inclusive practices and neuro-diverse awareness into the everyday, employers can cultivate a supportive environment which caters to the needs of their talent, supporting individuals with multiple needs and improving the overall health and wellbeing of their team.
For many neuro-diverse people, creating a culture of inclusivity can have a massive positive impact on their wellbeing, as they no longer feel as though they need to "mask" aspects of themselves at work. "Masking" is described in Jacobs' article as an often "exhausting" practice, as it involves repeatedly concealing support needs and personality traits from your team. By creating an environment that is neurodiversity friendly, employers can ensure open and supportive streams of communication that ensure all employees, whether neuro-diverse or otherwise, feel as though they can express themselves to their fullest.
Initial Steps to Creating an Inclusive Environment for Neurodiverse Staff
- Many neuro-divergent people have sensitivity to sensory input. Most standard offices are not ND-friendly: buzzing lights, kitchen smells, background noise, interruptions, expectations of small talk, uncomfortable clothes. Think about your office environment and your hybrid working arrangements with your neurodivergent colleagues in mind.
- Create spaces for deep work with no interruptions: e.g. a quiet work area in the office, or periods of time with no Teams calls and chats
- Deepen your own knowledge about neurodiversity, and unpick the assumptions and stereotypes you will have absorbed from wider society
Hesitation and Support
If disclosure does in fact lead to a more positive experience at work, then why do so many people choose not to tell their colleagues? According to Jacobs, this could be as a result of the implications on progression opportunities and advancement into senior leadership. One staff member revealed; "You don’t get to senior levels without having ambition...The higher you go, the more political you get. You don’t want to give others ammunition. There are huge numbers of people who don’t want to disclose in order to protect themselves."
This sense of hesitation bleeds into the job hunting process, with many candidates expressing concern about if and when to disclose a diagnosis. Ultimately, there is no "right" time, only what feels right to you. The right working environment for you will not discriminate against you within the process, and if you are really keen on joining a new company then it may feel good to do so knowing that they accept and support every aspect of who you are. If you're feeling anxious about discussing this with prospective employers, speak to your search consultant about your concerns. They will take the time to understand your individual needs and be able to best advise you on how to proceed and when/how to disclose them to a prospective employer. Remember, the job of a search consultant is to make the application process as stress-free and seamless as possible for you, so they will appreciate any information which will help them ensure they can match you with the best work culture possible.
Looking for support and guidance?
Whatever your needs, the team at Carys Mills Consulting are here to help. Our team of dedicated Progression Partners work closely with candidates to understand their needs and ambitions, and work tirelessly to represent them to their best-matched client. Reach out today.