Neurodiversity | Open up your mind

By Gary Cookson, (Director at EPIC)

The CIPD published its guide on Neurodiversity at Work in 2018, and I fully admit I didn’t even know it had. Perhaps this is one of the reasons the CIPD Manchester Branch are running an awareness campaign on the subject. I’ve been asked to write a blog about it all, and in this blog, I’ll give my thoughts on the guide and its implications.

Neurodiversity At Work campaign aims

The CIPD Manchester campaign #NeurodiversityAtWork has the following aims:

  • To raise awareness within HR and L&D of what the term neurodiversity means;
  • To get HR and L&D professionals to read the guide and consider what it means for their organisation and practices;
  • To identify practical considerations to become neurodiverse inclusive organisations;
  • To enable HR professionals to advocate the business benefits for organisation; and
  • To help HR consider the broader responsibilities of organisations for opening out employment opportunities for neurodivergent people.

I wonder though how much of an uphill battle they’ll face, although certainly a battle worth having and one I’ll help with.

The term ‘Neurodiversity’

As an example, until I read the guide I was blissfully unaware of the term neurodiversity, and even the device I’m typing this blog on has not heard of it and is trying to autocorrect it, but can find no suitable replacements.

When I was asked to write the blog I looked the term up, as I genuinely didn’t know what it was although it IS possible to deduce it from the word. But in my head, it was mixed up with other terms such as neuroscience which have been floating around the HR and L&D world for a while now. How wrong and blinkered I was. It’s not for me to explain here what neurodiversity is. But the guide opened my eyes and mind to what it isn’t.

Closed minds and attitudes

If you’d told me what areas neurodiversity includes, I’d have automatically placed these in the disability category without thinking. And this, I guess, is the kind of attitude and closed mind the guide and campaign are designed to combat.

I’d been viewing the areas it covers from a deficit standpoint and that’s clearly an approach I need to revise and to look at this more from a strengths-based perspective, which I already do with other areas of diversity.

I question why I didn’t think this area of diversity existed as something distinct and why, uniquely amongst areas of diversity, I viewed this from a deficit perspective? Perhaps I’ll never know. What I do know is that my mind is no longer closed.


Like many people, I know someone, many people in fact, who could now be classed as ‘neurodivergent’, and I recognise that they all have what the guide calls “flip side” strengths that I’ve unconsciously been aware of. The report also coins a label of ‘neurotypical’ to describe the majority of people whose way of thinking has long dominated both society and the workplace, though I wonder how happy I am to receive such a label.

What is clear though is that employers do unintentionally exclude or discard great talent if they ignore neurodiversity, and the report cites sports teams as examples of organisations who build around difference and unique talent rather than generalisms and conformity.

Neurodivergent specialisms

I found the sections in the guide that stated they were generalising about those with particular neurodivergent specialisms very interesting and illuminating, and the guide taught me a great deal. For example, I was one of those who would have mixed up mental health and neurodiversity and misunderstood the two terms. I would also have been one of those who didn’t realise how limiting the traditional interview, or training course would be for those who are neurodivergent.

I wonder how many people I have overlooked in my 20 year HR career because they thought in a different way to me? How many people with closed minds like mine has been are there?

The guide contains many case studies and good practice advice that I enjoyed reading – based around focusing on what people CAN do rather than what they CANNOT do. I’d recommend reading it and following the campaign.

Open your mind!

About Gary

Human Resources, Organisational Development and Learning & Development consultant with over 20 years experience in senior leadership roles across a variety of sectors, Gary is an Ambassador for the CIPD Manchester Branch.

Follow him on Twitter @Gary_Cookson

Support our campaign

The CIPD Manchester Branch campaign will include Twitter chats, some podcasts, and an Ignite presentation from DisruptHR York, as well as this blog series. The blogs have been written by a range of people, from within the HR and L&D world as well as outside. Some are from a personal perspective of being neurodivergent and others from neurotypical people. We are very grateful for people’s contributions in helping us explore how we can support neurodivergence in our organisations, and help us to step-up the pace of change and inclusion.

Read the other articles in our #NeurodiversityAtWork series

Neurodiversity At Work

  1. The case for neurodiversity at work
  2. Open up your mind
  3. How to create a neurodiversity-friendly workplace
  4. Understanding the benefits of neurodiversity
  5. How can we support neurodiversity in the workplace?
  6. Strengths not disorders 
  7. How inclusive is your organisation? | Ignite Talk
  8. Neurodiversity and Performance Management

If you would like to contribute a blog and share your personal experience or that of your organisation, please get in touch. 

If you’d like to enhance your understanding of the issues, follow the hashtag #NeurodiversityAtWork and I would also thoroughly recommend CIPD’s Neurodiversity at Work report. 

We look forward to your reading, listening and contributing to this campaign. Leave us your comments below and don’t hesitate to share this article with your networks. Together we can make a difference by raising awareness.

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