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Neurodiversity in the workplace: “If you’re not normal, there is very little hope for the rest of us…”

Neurodiversity in the workplace: “If you’re not normal, there is very little hope for the rest of us…”

These are the closing lines of the poem “For Rita With Love” by Legendary Irish poet, Pat Ingoldsby. The poem is about a girl whom we are led to believe has some form of learning difficulties. From the description in the poem she is likely to fall into the category of the population that we are now labelling “neuro-divergent”. It is estimated that around 1 in 7 people (more than 15% the UK population) are neuro-divergent, meaning that the brain functions, learns and processes information differently. Neuro-divergence encompasses those who have conditions such as dyslexia, autism, ADHD, dyspraxia (which are typically experienced along a spectrum), as well as other neurological conditions.

As a mother of a child with dyspraxia, the poem and the subject of neurodiversity are of particular interest to me. I am heartened that champions like Greta Thunberg, who has been candid about her asperger’s syndrome, considering it a “gift” that allows her to “think outside the box”, are now peaking the interest of big business. But do UK employers understand how to embrace a neuro-divergent workforce?


The impact of the Equality Act 2010 on a neuro-divergent workforce

Neuro-divergence is a rapidly evolving area of discrimination law, and if a condition is classified as a disability, employers have a duty to make adjustments to their practices and processes at all stages of the employment lifecycle.

The recent case of Meier v BT, demonstrates the hidden barriers which exist to the recruitment of neuro-divergent applicants: Mr Meier had asperger’s, dyslexia and dyspraxia. He applied for a job on the BT Graduate Scheme, which guaranteed an interview for disabled applicants, as long as they met the minimum entry requirements. As part of the recruitment process, BT used situational strength testing. Mr Meier did not pass the test and contended that people who shared his conditions were likely to be disadvantaged by this particular practice. BT, however, refused to make adjustments to the recruitment process and ignored the advice of the programme developers who had recommended BT consult with Mr Meier. Supported by the Equality Commission, Mr Meier successfully brought a claim against BT for disability discrimination and failure to make reasonable adjustments and the Court of Appeal in Northern Ireland awarded Mr Meier £18,000. The decision is a timely reminder that we all, not least those of us who are neuro-divergent, work differently and recognition of this, it is hoped, will help us to work smarter.


Disrupting the definition of “normal”

The ability to be a “disruptor” to what has traditionally been construed as “normal” is undoubtedly advantageous in the growth of a business or organisation. It’s that very notion that has prompted forward thinking employers to recognise the benefits of a neuro-diverse workforce and has led organisations to bolster their diversity and inclusion initiatives to include programmes that specifically recognise and promote untapped potential in the neuro-divergent community. In 2016, marketing firm, Garage, founded by former Saatchi & Saatchi creative director, Chris Arnold, caused controversy with an ad featuring an image of Apple founder, Steve Jobs with the strapline “only dyslexics need apply”. Mr Arnold’s explanation: “We require people with a unique mind, so only dyslexics (like Steve) should apply.”


Get on board!

If you are an employer or HR professional looking to gain more insight in to how you can embrace the new “normal”, (or simply want to know whether Chris Arnold’s ad was legally compliant) join us at our annual employment law seminars taking place this October in Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Glasgow. The seminars are a must attend for those looking to understand their legal duties towards neuro-divergent employees and offer practical guidance on how to support and empower a neuro-diverse workforce.

To find out more about these sessions and to RSVP please click here.

Mandy Laurie

Burness admin