It’s estimated that at least 1 in 5 of us are neurodivergent. In this blog post, we’re diving into what neurodiversity is and how businesses can support neurodiversity in the workplace. Dominant culture is full of harmful ableist narratives. Running an ethical business that challenges capitalism means speaking up against ableism, and embedding accessibility and inclusivity within our workplaces. Read on to learn more about how!
‘Neurodiversity’ refers to the idea that human brains come in a wide range of natural variations, and that these differences are normal and valuable. It recognizes that there is no “normal” or “typical” brain, and that differences in brain functioning should be celebrated and supported, rather than stigmatised or pathologized.
This concept includes people who have been diagnosed with conditions such as autism, and acknowledges their unique strengths and perspectives. It promotes the idea that everyone should have equal opportunities and access to support, regardless of their neurocognitive differences.
‘Neurodivergence’ is an umbrella term that includes autism, ADHD, dyslexia, and others. PTSD and C-PTSD fall under the umbrella of neurodivergence, but many see them as acquired neurodivergence resulting from the trauma of an event or series of events, so caused by experience. Whereas ADHD, autism, dyspraxia & other forms of neurodivergence are believed to be caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors.
Everyone’s experience of neurodivergence is different. For example some autistic people might have high support needs and be non-verbal, and others might have lower support needs and be public speakers. It’s a spectrum with a huge range of experiences.
In a lot of workplaces, setting up a supportive environment for neurodiversity is only ever thought of when the ‘need’ arises e.g. when accommodations are requested from a neurodivergent team member.
At Ardea, we believe that support for neurodiversity in the workplace should be embedded into the foundations of a workplace culture. Every workplace should already be set up to accommodate different needs.
““Everyone is welcome” is drastically different from “we built this with you in mind.” People don’t want to go where they are merely tolerated, they want to go where they are included.“ @voicesof_theoppressed
This shift in cultural narrative can have a huge impact – it has the potential to improve the lives of many people who might currently mask, struggle or be burnt-out from self-advocacy due to ableism.
There’s a great factsheet from Neurodiversity Media (published in 2020) which lists 22 statistics about neurodiversity and employment with handy links to research studies; For example, A 2006 study by the World Health Organization (WHO) determined that in the US, adults with ADHD are eighteen times more likely to be disciplined at work for perceived “behaviour problems” and are 60% more likely to lose their jobs.
Unfortunately most workplaces aren’t set up to be supportive of neurodiversity. So neurodivergent folks can end up being left out and having their skills/ communication styles/ strengths totally ignored because the workplace isn’t inclusive of different ways of working.
“I am often invited to give talks at corporations and government agencies, and the first thing I tell managers is that they need a neurodiverse work force. Complementary skills are the key to successful teams. Studies have shown that diverse teams will outperform homogeneous teams.” Temple Grandin for New York Times
We want to raise awareness of how all employers can help make all bodies and brains feel more welcome in their workplace. Let’s create an inclusive & safer environment for all. This kind of accessibility and inclusivity benefits the whole team. A question we often have in our minds is; What business does someone have leading a team/ creating a workplace if they’re not going to do it in an inclusive way?
Everyone needs to think about this from service providers to solopreneurs to coaches to big companies and more. No matter the workplace, everyone will be interacting with a wide variety of people who have different needs and who may be neurodivergent.
At ARDEA CREATIVE, when it comes to neurodiversity in the workplace, we believe that:
〰️ All humans are equal & all have a right to feel safe at work.
〰️ Any changes required to enable a feeling of safety at work should be considered as a normal part of building a supportive workplace. Remember all employers have a duty of care for their employees. A workplace adjustment could be providing someone with noise cancelling headphones to help them feel more at ease and maintain focus by blocking distracting sounds around them.
〰️ Senior leaders should empower their employees to bring their whole selves to work and to feel good about their differences by setting the tone of the workplace environment.
〰 Preferred methods of communication should be considered for all (voice notes rather than written emails, for example). This is worth thinking about for relationships between clients and service providers too.
〰 The length & location of meetings should cater for different attention spans and to allow for working from home.
〰 Employees should work with the skills of the people in their workforce and where possible, adjust the job description around those skills.
〰️ Everyone should acknowledge the importance of human & emotional skills as well as ‘hard’ skills. Whilst ‘hard’ skills might be more quantifiable and clear, that doesn’t make them better.
〰️ Language, both verbal and non-verbal should be considered carefully. For example, for some neurodivergent people, words are taken really literally so it can be helpful to communicate explicitly and give clear instructions rather than using idioms.
〰️ Everyone has the right to use and request resources that improve their working environment to help with their focus and efficiency, ultimately benefiting both employee and employer. An example of this would be normalising stimming so people feel empowered to stop masking which can cause distress & deny them their right for self-expression.
Centring choice in business systems and client relations as a service provider
At ARDEA, we have clear processes and systems for our services. And we adapt them to suit the unique needs of each project, client and business that we’re working with.
We deliberately centre choice in our work systems. One example is that as part of our onboarding process whenever a new client joins us for a project like web design + copywriting, we have a form for clients to fill in. This form allows us to always check in with their preferred means of communication e.g. morning or afternoon calls, loom instructional videos or bullet point lists etc.
In our onboarding form we also discuss any access needs or further ways we can support them during our time together. For example, an autistic person might like written follow-up notes after the call. Someone with chronic fatigue might need the timeline to go at a slower pace. Someone with ADHD might appreciate reminder emails before calls.
There are all kinds of different ways people work, and providing a service shouldn’t be a one-size-fits all.
With our services being design, copywriting, mentorship and consulting, our work is very collaborative.
We need the client’s involvement and feedback in order to do our job, so it’s important that we have a clear process to guide us through, as well as ways to adapt that fit the client’s needs. Clear communication is important to us to manage expectations on both sides in any collaboration.
As a people-centred business, we include our own needs too when designing proposed timelines, behind the scenes processes etc so that we can ensure to give our best to each client project whilst honouring our own capacity. As a service provider, being overwhelmed and overworked isn’t helpful for anyone! ARDEA’s director is neurodivergent and we’re learning all the time about running a business that supports neurodiversity in the workplace.
We don’t have a big company with a huge team – in fact it’s often just one or two of us working on a project at a time! But we still see ourselves as shaping a workplace culture and we want all the clients, partners and collaborators we work with – including ourselves – to feel supported in the working relationship.
Dominant culture is full of harmful ableist narratives, so this is a call to action to play your part in changing the narrative and advocating for neurodivergent folks!
Whether a solopreneur, freelancer, employer, business owner or coach, we all have a responsibility to make sure our spaces are aiming to be supportive of neurodiversity in the workplace. We can all work to be more inclusive, and to meet access needs in our workplaces, services and social events.
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