Humanity is neurodiverse

A brightly coloured and glowing depiction of the brain in action. Humanity is neurodiverse.Comparing people to potatoes is a good way to explain diversity in the workplace. Although potatoes come in thousands of different varieties, shops give us the same regular sample to choose from. The same applies to our workplaces – we choose the same sample of the population. And if an employee doesn’t think or act like the majority, they are “weeded” out. Weeding out is often unintentional. That’s because employers haven’t yet worked out that humanity is neurodiverse. 

The term neurodiverse is often applied to people who are autistic. This is where stereotypes arise. The extra bright person who thinks differently to those around them is just one. Neurodiversity includes people with ADHD, dyslexia, obsessive compulsive disorder, and other cognitive conditions.

According to Kat Crewes we have seen a good deal of progress in workplaces. She says that research from EY suggest that neurodivergent people make up 20 per cent of the population. Yet many can’t get jobs or jobs they could excel in. 

Larger corporations are realising the benefits of designing workplaces that include people who are neurodiverse. Crewes mentions Hewlett Packard, Microsoft, and Deloitte. 

After hiring 100 neurodiverse people, EY found that their problem solving and creativity helped their business. A similar story for Hewlett Packard’s software development. But it is a big risk for someone to say they are autistic or neurodiverse. 

Designing the workplace

Many workplaces are getting up to speed with physical access. But we have to consider other design aspects such as sound and light sensitivity. Neuro-inclusivity requires a more nuanced approach. That includes giving neurodiverse people the opportunity to share their experiences. 

Crewes says that defining what accessibility means for a neurodivergent person is the first step. That means creating a safe place to speak up. She also explains more about people with ADHD and other cognitive conditions. The spectrum includes all genders, cultural backgrounds, and ages. They are working in every type of profession and organisation. 

Icons representing permanent, temporary, situational and cognitive conditions in the workplace. Humanity is neurodiverse.
Image from Aurecon based on Microsoft Design Toolkit

We are a long way from accepting people who are neurodiverse into the workplace. This exclusion is often the result of failing to adjust. It does take effort to design for inclusion. And it is not all one way. Embedding neurodivergent people within the workplace is a learning experience for everyone.

The Kat Crewes’ Aurecon article is titled, Designing for a neurodiverse workplace. The second half of the article has the information on workplace design. 

 

Telling stories for inclusion

Many coloured heart shapes with black eyes and smiles indicate diversity. Telling stories for inclusion.When it comes to diversity and inclusion, economic arguments tend to fall flat.  For many, economic arguments are academic – just information. Storytelling on the other hand is personal and connects with people. It makes the situation real. Telling stories is also the way to learn from each other. An article in the Harvard Business Review tackles the topic of telling stories for inclusion.

Measuring the number of different categories of person in a company is also an academic pursuit. Scorecards, targets and business cases can measure numbers, but what do those numbers actually mean? Inclusion by mathematics is not likely to create empathy and understanding – the real game changers. But whose stories get told?

Stories from leaders are good, but stories from peers are better. The article gives examples where the workforce might be diverse, but it’s not inclusive. This is where nuanced conversations are needed. Leaders need to hear about the impact bias and exclusion actually has on employees. 

Creating safe spaces for storytelling is one way to find out how inclusive a workplace is. The article, How Sharing Our Stories Builds Inclusion gives more detail on this. 

Summary of article

“It’s time for the conversation around inclusion and diversity to take a human-centric approach. It’s not just about the numbers — it’s about the people. Storytelling, one of the most universal human experiences, gives us a rare chance to look through new lenses. And perspective-taking is a life skill, not just a workplace one.

Companies that prioritize inclusion will emerge from crisis stronger, and stories are one major vehicle to help them get there. Inclusion consultants Selena Rezvani and Stacey A. Gordon offer steps to implement a story-based approach to DEI where employees are encouraged to tell their stories, own them, and consider how they impact their day-to-day experiences at work. 

 

Neurodiversity and the happy workplace ebook

Front cover of happy workplace ebook.
Front cover of ebook

Neurodiversity in the workplace is taking off. But is it all magazine articles and human interest stories? Maybe not. People are watching – staff, shareholders and other stakeholders. COVID is challenging the idea and context of work so a happy workplace e-book is welcome.

The Fifth Estate ran an event and the My (new) Happy Healthy Workplace ebook is a result of the presentations. Diversity was the theme that came through most strongly throughout the event. Speakers an panellists agreed that the future of workplaces must cater to diversity as well as happiness and health. 

The ebook on issuu is 66 pages and covers more than the topic of diversity. Nevertheless, it is refreshing to see the topic of neurodiversity at the beginning of the publication. Usually access and inclusion is a mention at the end. A related topic is making sure staff, at home and in the workplace, are safe physically and psychologically.

The format is presented as a straightforward toolkit for employers, and the editor remarks, 

“As a society we’re starting to grasp that we are strongly social, inter-dependent, woven into nature, complex, diverse and both fragile and resilient.”

The Fifth Estate magazine has a focus on sustainability, not just for buildings but for people. This ebook covers a lot of ground and is well laid out with photos to highlight the topics. 

There is a companion article, also by The Fifth Estate, on neurodiversity in the workplace.  Also see the post on designing for workplace diversity

 

Diversity and Inclusion: Start Here

A hand-drawn graphic with faces of bright colours with big eyes. They are grouped in a bunch.The Commons Social Change Library is about social change and driving social movements in Australia. From time to time they produce easy to follow resources for members and followers. The latest is a guide to diversity and inclusion. While the context is about driving social change, most of the information is applicable in any situation. 

The Diversity & Inclusion: Start Here guide introduces key concepts and a raft of links to other resources. The key point is that inclusion is a social change movement and we can all do our part by including marginalised people in our ranks. That’s whether it’s the workforce, our local sporting team or our social change campaigns.

Carly Findlay is a disability activist who reminds us that disability is part of diversity. Carly’s video explains her experience. Judy Heumann’s TED talk is also worth a look. 

Kimberlé Crenshaw’s TED talk, The urgency of intersectionality is about race and gender bias. 

Kaytee Ray-Riek discusses marginalisation across the spectrum and ways of building trust and encouraging inclusive practice.  

Organisers of social justice events sometimes forget the basics of inclusion. Make your social justice event accessible spells out how to do it. 

Before people can get to an event they usually need information. The Internet is usually the first stop. So it’s important to Improve your website accessibility

There are many more resources on this website – you don’t need to be a campaigner to benefit from them. 

Brightly coloured books on a bookshelf with titles that represent social change.The Commons Social Change Library is a not for profit organisation committed to educating for community action. They collect, curate and distribute the key lessons and resources of progressive movements around Australia and across the globe.

There are more posts on diversity and inclusion on this website. For example, Diversity and Inclusion or Belonging and Dignity? 

Neurodiversity in the workplace

Foosball or Football Table with red and white teams. Games such as these are cater for workplace neurodiversity.Neurodiversity is rarely considered in the workplace. People with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, autism, anxiety or depression can feel stressed, uncomfortable. Consequently they are less productive. Employers could be missing out by not considering neurodiversity in the workplace. 

As many as one in eight people are neurodiverse according to an article in The Fifth Estate. COVID led to sterile environments. Offices removed their fabric coverings and other soft elements to make cleaning easier. But it makes spaces noisy, clinical and uninviting. 

Even working from home isn’t the answer for everyone. Just because you can work from home doesn’t mean you should. Long hours in a hard chair at the kitchen table isn’t optimum.

The article discusses colour, signage, the size and shape of spaces, textiles and plants. Even games such as Foosball tables have a place.

The solutions are in design of the office, the office culture and inclusive policies. When it comes to neurodiversity we have to ask, what is neurotypical anyway? Workplace designs that consider diversity are good for everyone.

There is more in this article titled, Considering neurodiversity to create better, more productive workplaces

Related articles

7 things an autistic person needs in the workplace are:

    • No two people are alike
    • Ditch the stereotypes
    • Ask how we would like to be referred to
    • Be open to having a conversation to discuss what works
    • Be flexible to customise our working environment
    • Help us maximise our strengths
    • Provide us with opportunities to progress

Research on designing technology for neurodiverse users reminds us that this ends up being good design for everyone.

The Autism Research Starter Pack has strategies for including people with autism.

Ageism, Attitudes and Stereotypes

Two men are working on a construction site. One is holding a circular saw which has just cut through a large timber board. Are they a stereotype? Probably not.
Working at any age – no need for stereotypes

Do we deploy so-called positive stereotypes of older people as a means to combat ageism and ageist attitudes? If we say older people make more loyal and reliable employees, what does that say about younger people? But are these stereotypes valid? Philip Taylor discussed these important issues about ageism, attitudes, stereotypes and work.

Professor Taylor’s keynote presentation at UD2021 was thought provoking. It challenged almost everyone in the room to re-think their concepts about ageism and work. It seems there are more complaints related to age by younger people. He asked, is there such a thing as ageism or are there other factors that discriminate?  And how does this work with concepts of equity and diversity?

Then there are the contradictions related to age: The Federal Government wanting everyone to work until age 70, yet National Seniors are proposing older people should make way for younger people and retire early. 

Blue background with white text. Title slide from Taylor's presentation about ageing, attitudes and stereotypes.Here’s a quote from one of the slides, “The very arguments for employing older workers put forward in business cases concerning commitment, loyalty and experience risk confirming broader societal perceptions that they are of the past and thus, less able to meet the demands of modern workplaces (Roberts, 2006).

There is a greater variation in job performance between people of the same age than between people of different ages. 

Professor Taylor’s presentation slides have a good amount of text to get the key points of his presentation. Maybe it is time for a product recall on advocacy for older people. 

Philip Taylor is based at Federation University and is a CUDA board member.

The Age of Workplace Inclusion

A maroon background with the words, Welcome to the age of inclusion in white lettering.What’s inclusion about? It’s about us – all of us. Policy talk about inclusion could lead us to believe we are in the Age of Inclusion. But is it happening or is it just words? Although people agree inclusion is a good thing, making it happen is another story. The public sector has got to grips with the issues and is guiding the way with the Age of Inclusion Champion’s Kit. The emphasis is on “US” in inclUSion. 

The online Kit comes in sections: Learning about disability, Making the workplace accessible, and How to lead change in the workplace. The Hiring Manager’s Toolkit covers the recruitment process and helping new staff get started. There’s also a section on anti-discrimination laws that every manager should know. 

The Age of Inclusion Champion’s Kit has five key elements, one of which is the role of social media:

    1. Sharing The Age of Inclusion Campaign with your networks
    2. Showing your support on your digital and social channels
    3. Promoting Inclusive Recruitment and Career Pathways on social media
    4. Promoting Inclusive Work Cultures on social media
    5. Promote Accessible Workplaces on social media

Kit also has links to videos with and without audio description, and pro forma social media posts. 

Being a disability smart company

The  Australian Network on Disability, specialises in creating “disability confident” workplaces, and has produced the Design for Dignity Guidelines to help business. The video below provides simple advice.

The Office: Inclusion, Empowerment, and Belonging

Looking down into a large open plan office with desks and partitionsMany people spend a great deal of their week in the workplace. It is a micro community where people share experiences and develop connections. The birthday cake is one way to encourage meaningful social connections. But are all workers feeling like they belong in the office? Inclusion, empowerment and belonging are important factors for a productive workforce.

An article in Sourceable asks us to think about the physical design of offices as well as workplace practices. Linh Pham begins the discussion with her own experience of coming to Australia with her family as a refugee. She reminds us that concepts of diversity and inclusion are relatively new. But they are no longer “nice-to-have” – they are “must-have”.

New parents are discussed in terms of childcare facilities. One in five couple families with small children have both parents working full time. Thoughtful office design makes the workplace more welcoming for people with various disabilities.

Pham suggests that programs to reduce inequality are essential. But the commitment to inclusion can go beyond the office to involvement in activities such as International Women’s Day. Nicely put together drawing on all marginalised groups and statistics.

The title of the article is Building empowerment and inclusiveness

 

Mental wellness in the workplace

Aerial view of rows of desks in a public library and people sitting at desks.Sitting down for long periods in the workplace could be bad for your mental health. Perhaps that’s one reason working from home is popular – at least some of the time. Putting on the washing, clearing the dishes, or seeing to the dog in between workplace tasks might be the short breaks we need. We need to take mental wellness in the workplace more seriously.

Sitting for prolonged periods is just one factor discussed in an article on the Wellbeing website. There’s some evidence that breaking up excessive sitting with light activity is good for mental wellness. The average employed adult sits for more than nine hours a day. Solutions include dynamic workstations and encouraging standing during meetings. However, some strategies might be more suited to some than others. While standing can relieve back ache, standing for too long can aggravate it. So all workplace policies need to have worker input and be flexible. 

Job autonomy is another factor and may improve the mental health of younger workers. Evidence from the literature shows that improvements in job autonomy can have a positive impact on anxiety and depression.  They could be given the opportunity to craft how their job is done.

In the second article in the series, flexible working policies can help reduce work-home conflict. This conflict can be a major source of depression and anxiety. Flexible working policies may include working from home, flexible working hours, job sharing or a compressed working week.

Diversity and Inclusion or Belonging and Dignity?

A crowd of lots of different coloured heads.Are Equity, Inclusion and recognition of Diversity the right words to use? Have they just become jargon for human resource policies and not much changes?  An article in the World Economic Forum newsletter says Diversity, Equity and Inclusion have failed. Belonging, Dignity and Justice are proposed instead. The reasons are explained.

      • The existing diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives only expose discriminatory attitudes and do nothing to change things
      • These programs are still based in white dominant culture
      • Belonging, dignity and justice are alternative values that are about the experiences of marginalised people

Belonging is about feeling welcome, dignity is about be a person, and justice is about restoring and repairing individuals.

Although the article is by a practitioner in this space, the information in the article is useful for any organisation wanting to improve diversity and inclusion in the workplace. In essence, it is about embedding the principles in all policies and practices both inside and outside the organisation. 

We are reminded that the work done today on diversity and inclusion creates a legacy for future generations. The title of the article is, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion have failed. How about Belonging, Dignity and Justice instead?