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What Is Neurodiversity and Why Is It Important at Work?

9 November 2022

Throughout 2022, the terms neurodiversity and neurodivergent have made headlines. Neurodiversity is becoming an increasingly important component of diversity training and in organisations around the world, including the United Kingdom.

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Neurodiverse people have brain variations in terms of mental functions that control interaction and other academic abilities. Social interaction, learning abilities, attention and focus are some examples. Neurodiversity is a term that can be used to measure and describe differences in mental abilities in the workplace, including but not limited to:

  • ADHD
  • Autism
  • Dyspraxia
  • Dyslexia
  • Dyscalculia
  • Dysgraphia
  • Tourette’s syndrome

Neurodiversity in the workplace

According to recent studies, up to one-fifth of the world's population may be classified as neurodiverse - a term used to describe people who have attention, communication, visual, or physical disorders that fall outside the parameters of what is considered neurotypical or 'normal' cognition. 

Unsurprisingly, neurodivergent people's abilities can vary greatly, and even those with exceptional talents may struggle to fit the recruitment profile of prospective employers. The ONS published statistics last year revealing that only 22% of autistic adults are employed.

Creating a neurodiverse workforce is advantageous because neurodiverse people have skills that are especially needed now as businesses adopt more advanced technology. Artificial intelligence and robotics, for example, are on the rise, as is the demand for STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) talent.

Neurodiversity and employment law

A neurodivergent person may be considered disabled under the Equality Act 2010 if they have "a physical or mental impairment" that has "a substantial and long-term adverse effect" on their "ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities." Employers are required by law to "ensure that workers with disabilities or physical or mental health conditions are not significantly disadvantaged when performing their jobs." This entails making reasonable accommodations when you know, or could reasonably be expected to know, that an employee or job applicant has a disability, or when the employee asks for an adjustment.

Failure to make these considerations and adjustments may result in accusations of disability discrimination and, eventually, an Employment Tribunal claim. There is no cap on the amount of compensation awarded in disability discrimination cases. While the median disability discrimination payout is around £13,000, which is difficult for many businesses to find, a claimant was awarded just over £265,000 in compensation in a standout case of disability discrimination in 2019.

The Bottom Line

Creating an inclusive working environment where employees feel open and comfortable is critical to retaining a happy and successful workforce and keeping positive company culture alive in the long run. There will never be a one-size-fits-all solution to neurodiversity. Everyone has unique requirements that should be met.

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