Understanding the benefits of neurodiversity

Understanding the benefits of neurodiversity

By Melissa Venner (Head of Organisational Development at Core Talent Recruitment, Manchester)

Since the day I first held a human brain in my hands as a student, I’ve been on a quest to understand the structures and mechanisms of the brain. This quest has had a massive impact on my L&D practice, allowing me to not just deliver engaging sessions in a classroom, but also to make lasting changes to people’s behaviour (which for me is what L&D is all about) across an industry built on the power of people and what they can do with their brains. The key to unlocking the full potential of this power lies in understanding the benefits of neurodiversity.

One way of looking at it is that neurodiversity is just a sexy way to talk about different ways of thinking. Neurodivergent thinking styles such as dyslexia, dyspraxia, ADHD and autism are now being discussed in the context of the workplace, and in particular, we’re now considering what different styles of thinking actually means for employers.

When businesses hire neurodivergent people, it is common for them to try to minimise the impact of the divergent thinking style; to try to “neutralise” any noticeable differences. While this often stems from the best of intentions, it neglects to see that these divergent thinking styles are a strength, not a symptom to be cured or problem to be solved.

Why would anybody ever want to neutralise something that allows challenges to be seen from a different perspective? Or try to minimise something that provides unique solutions other brains can’t come up with? Why would anybody willingly counteract a way of being more efficient at identifying trends and patterns in large amounts of data to fit in with “standard practice”? Or disregard an increased capacity for knowledge retention and faster time to competency because of existing processes?

These thinking styles aren’t just neurological differences; they’re neurodivergent superpowers!

And if this competitive advantage isn’t compelling enough, just think of the cost of not building a neurodiverse workforce.

It’s widely accepted that genetic diversity in a population helps to protect plants and animals alike from sudden changes to their environment, such as disease or drought. But what about the world of work? A combination of technology, artificial intelligence, remote working, globalisation and the gig economy is creating an increasingly complex and multifaceted working environment. Add into the mix that more generations are sharing the workplace than ever before, and it means that the landscape of work is changing at an unprecedented rate in an unprecedented number of directions.

If businesses don’t want to be vulnerable to these changes, neurodiversity needs a place on the agenda. Failure to do so means running the risk of being rendered obsolete due to having a homogenous “echo chamber” of clones that all failed to see how to keep up with the changing world around them. However, for an agile and adaptable workplace that is as insightful as it is innovative, then having a crack-team of superheroes (all with different and uniquely specialist superpowers) fully integrated within a neurotypical workforce seems like a no-brainer.

Leon C Megginson once said,

‘It is not the most intellectual of the species that survives; it is not the strongest that survives, but the species that survives is the one that is able best to adapt and adjust to the changing environment in which it finds itself’

Certainly some brain food for thought…

About Melissa

Melissa has an academic background in the neuroscientific principles of learning and engagement as well as an international recruitment background spanning several markets, sectors and locations. Follow Melissa on Twitter @FutureOfMeLandD

Read the first blog post in the series The case for Neurodiversity at Work by Mike Shaw.

Support our campaign

The CIPD Manchester Branch campaign will include Twitter chats, some podcasts, and an Ignite presentation from DisruptHR York, as well as a 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.

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

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.