In today’s workplace, diversity and inclusion have become central values for businesses to thrive and innovate. In recent years, I’d argue there has been progress in promoting gender, racial, and ethnic diversity; although we still have a way to go. But for me, it’s equally important to recognise another diversity issue. I’ll admit, its something that has only recently come on my radar. But in my insatiable curiosity and appetite for knowledge, when something comes my way and I think – WOW – I dig deeper. Which is why I wanted to write this blog around the growing need to be recognising, embracing and celebrating neurodiversity in the workplace.
SCENT AND SENSES
Last month I interviewed perfumer and entrepreneur Jo Malone on my Events That Made Me podcast and her words regarding dyslexia really struck a chord. It totally opened my mind to a new world; her world. And I wanted to explore.
Encompassing a wide range of neurological differences, such as autism, ADHD, dyslexia, and more, neurodiversity applies to many more people than you might imagine. You don’t always see their neurodiversity, so its often a ‘hidden’ challenge (or as I prefer, skill). There’s an estimated 15% to 20% of the population that are neurodivergent. Interesting, but why is this especially important to the business community I hear you ask?
Celebrating neurodiversity in the workplace, and embracing neurodiversity generally not only promotes social equality, but can unlock untapped potential. Leading to innovation and creativity. Two key words for me.
A report by JPMorgan Chase found that professionals in its Autism at Work initiative made fewer errors and were 90% to 140% more productive than neurotypical employees. Productivity – now I have your attention.
When you examine landscape of incredibly successful people that are neurodivergent, even just a snippet of the very famous faces, you must wonder where the historical prejudice comes from. And re-examine the reason why seemingly, a large proportion of the population still consider being neurodiverse to be a disadvantage.
Alongside the advice for budding entrepreneurs, in her interview Jo Malone outlined how having dyslexia and leaving school with no qualifications, gave her an advantage working in the world of perfumery. In Jo’s words:
“I’m severely dyslexic, and often your senses become slightly muddled. And from a very, very young age, I had this incredible sense of smell and I thought everybody could smell the way I could. I could smell what the doctor said. I could smell when it was going to rain. I could smell when my father’s canvases that I had been whitewashed and were drying ready to paint art on. So that power of smell for me was a really important sense. But when you have it naturally, and you’ve had it all your life, you think everybody else can. And it wasn’t until I got much older that I discovered that I could think about fragrance, and I could smell it in my head and then I was able to translate what was in my head to become a real product.”
For Jo, her dyslexia brought other senses into sharper focus; neurodiversity for her, was a gift that was instrumental in building her perfume empire.
From Tim Burton, to whom many attribute his creative genius to autism, to Greta Thunberg who often credits autism for her direct style of communication; it translates into passionate and compelling speeches ideally suited to activism. Who else but Greta would have the gumption to criticize and question world leaders with such plain-spoken truth? She is often quoted as saying: “I have Aspergers and that means I’m sometimes a bit different from the norm. And – given the right circumstances- being different is a superpower.”
Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, former president Bill Clinton, and entrepreneur Richard Branson, each of whom were severely dyslexic and struggled with mainstream education, all assign at least some of their success to being neurodiverse. In Richard Branson’s words:
“I almost definitely wouldn’t have left school at 15 and I wouldn’t have started a magazine or built Virgin if I had not been dyslexic.
“I think dyslexia helped me on the creative side with simplifying things,” he says. “I think it has influenced the way I talk to people and communicate in articles. I keep things simple. That helped build the Virgin brand and people identified with it much more as a result.”
Everywhere you look it seems, it is the neurodiverse who are changing the world. According to the institute of Government and Public Policy:
Neurodiversity and inclusion are vital in the workplace to promote a culture of diversity, equality, and acceptance. Neurodiverse individuals, such as those with autism, ADHD, and Dyslexia, bring unique strengths and perspectives that can enhance a team’s creativity, problem-solving abilities, and innovation.
I couldn’t agree more.
EMBRACING THE SUPERPOWER
So, as company leaders and entrepreneurs how can we embrace and promote neurodiversity in the workplace? Well, firstly, we have to make the effort to understand it, along with its benefits to working life.
Celebrating neurodiversity in the workplace starts with understanding one key thing. People with neurological differences do not have a disorder. Even though many are labelled as so. Neurodiversity, to me, should be viewed as natural variation of the human brain. It can encompass communication, social interaction, or cognitive functioning.
Probably more of us are neurodiverse than most people imagine. Neurodivergent individuals possess unique strengths and perspectives that be a huge benefit when harnessed effectively.
Here are a just a few of the widely regarded benefits of neurodiversity in the workplace:
- Diverse Perspectives: neurodivergent people may approach problems and tasks from unique angles, offering fresh solutions that might not have been considered.
- Enhanced Creativity: Many neurodivergent individuals have a heightened capacity for creativity. They often excel in fields such as technology, engineering, mathematics, and the arts.
- Attention to Detail: Some neurodivergent individuals have an exceptional attention to detail, which can be invaluable.
- Loyalty and Dedication: Neurodivergent employees often have unwavering dedication to their work and can be highly loyal team members.
When it comes to planning events (my main area of business) I couldn’t ask for more!
PATHWAY TO INNOVATION
In conclusion, celebrating neurodiversity in the workplace is not just a matter of compliance. It’s a pathway to innovation, creativity, and a more inclusive workplace. By fostering an environment where neurodivergent individuals can thrive, we can tap into a wealth of untapped talent and perspectives that drive success and growth. Time to open your own mind to the incredible neurodiverse world.
Take a listen to the full podcast interview with Jo Malone MBE where this globally successful entrepreneur explores her journey with dyslexia, business success, battle with cancer, and a second chance at international brand building.
This book was a practical guide with case studies to bring the science to life. Neurodiversity at Work: Drive Innovation, Performance and Productivity with a Neurodiverse Workforce by Amanda Kirby and Theo Smith. It explains what neurodiversity is, why it’s important and what the benefits are. It covers how to attract, recruit, and engage neurodiverse talent and provides guidance on how to adapt HR policies, processes, and workplaces to ensure that all employees, including those who are neurodiverse, can reach their full potential.