Neurodiversity is and has always been a human fact: no two brains are alike. And yet, societal and employer awareness of this fact – and of the urgency of doing more to include the perhaps 20% of people who may be neurodivergent in some way – is much more recent.

The term ‘neurodiversity’ wasn’t coined until the 1990s, 30 years or so after the beginnings of equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI), and it has taken until the late 2010s and early 2020s for the employment world to catch up.

Neuroinclusion – the inclusion of all types of brains at work – is overdue, as is commitment from organisations to equality of opportunity and outcomes for neurodivergent employees. This should be welcomed with open arms by employers of all kinds as an opportunity to live their values, attract from a broader talent pool, increase retention, and have more effective teams.

As EDI begins to mature, neuroinclusion remains a clear gap for many employers. Even now, only around half (52%) of organisations include neurodiversity in their EDI efforts. This is despite employee surveys, such as ours and a study by Birkbeck Research Centre, showing the urgent enthusiasm for more attention to this topic. However, we have seen a rise in neurodiversity-focused employee resource groups in larger organisations saying loud and clear, “what about us?”

What does neurodiversity mean?

Everyone processes information, learns and communicates differently. While all brains are different, some people with broadly similar ways of thinking, communicating and processing information can have a sense of shared identity and experience. For example, an identity as autistic, dyslexic, dyspraxic or as an ADHDer. People who possess one or more such neuroidentities often identify and are referred to as ‘neurodivergent’. Someone who does not may be referred to as ‘neurotypical’, though in reality neurotypicality is highly contextual, and there is no one ‘normal’ brain.

Why is neuroinclusion important?

To fulfil your people commitments

EDI matters, not just as points of principle but also under the law, and with clear business benefits of taking action. It’s no surprise, then, to see organisations stridently stating their credentials in this area and that they provide open, inclusive and fair workplaces where people are valued and everybody can thrive.

However, the reality for neurodivergent employees and job seekers is often different to these claims. Many describe, for example, uninformed managers and colleagues, and being faced with confusion and sometimes even hostility if they tell their employer about their neurodivergence. Others point out the difference between what an employer claims – for example in their onboarding process – and the reality on the ground: one where psychological safety is low, and neuroinclusion non-existent.

Neuroinclusion should be integrated into your EDI and people management approach. Without consideration of neuroinclusion and a commitment to equality of outcomes for all types of thinkers, it’s not possible to deliver on a truly fair and inclusive workplace. As many as one in five people may be neurodivergent in some way. Without attention to neurodiversity, a significant number of people may quickly become disillusioned by the difference between your employer brand and the reality of their working experience. In our survey almost a fifth of neurodivergent employees (19%) say their experience at work in relation to their neurodivergence has had a negative impact on their intention to stay with their employer.

To boost employee wellbeing

Regardless of where employees are working, ensuring comfort – for example, through an inclusive and welcoming culture, and through providing suitable adjustments where necessary – is vital to maximising productivity, equality of outcomes (such as in career progression) and the chance that an employee will choose to stay with their employer long-term.

Yet, still to this day, neurodivergent professionals often continue to find themselves marginalised, judged and forced to ‘mask’ (or pretend to appear neurotypical). Look at the top reasons employees state for leaving their employers, and you’ll find strong statements around a lack of understanding from managers and colleagues, suggesting at least some correlation with the frustrations often expressed by neurodivergent colleagues at work.

In fact, in our survey, a third of employees said their experience at work in relation to their neurodivergence has had a negative impact on their mental wellbeing.

Workplace neuroinclusion offers a critical path to boosting wellbeing for neurodivergent employees, with many of the strategies behind this likely to be appreciated by all employees.

To attract great talent and unlock innovation through true diversity of thought

The many strengths that can come with different brain wiring are also only recently being given due recognition. Some of the top business people of our time, across industries, are both neurodivergent and credit this with much of their success. Her dyslexia “made me a millionaire,” said real estate mogul Barbara Corcoran, and David Neeleman, founder of several airlines, told ADDitude magazine, “I can distill complicated facts and come up with simple solutions. I can look out on an industry with all kinds of problems and say, ‘How can I do this better?’ My ADHD brain naturally searches for better ways of doing things.”

Innovation, given the plummeting lifespan of companies, is critical for organisations in the 2020s. Despite the rise of AI, the likelihood of innovative outcomes still begins with people, and the concept of ‘diversity of thought’: get people who bring different perspectives working together, and good things will happen.

Neuroinclusion, based on a commitment to equality of opportunity and outcomes, allows for the logic of diversity of thought to be fully realised by ensuring people who think differently are included - and able to contribute fully to shaping creative and innovative outcomes.

Greater neuroinclusion in the recruitment process helps organisations attract diverse talent. Hiring processes that are neuroinclusive are likely to attract talented neurodivergent applicants. This group describe frequent challenges with hard-to-follow job descriptions and those which have a long wish-list of skills and capabilities (which can put off people with valuable deep-level skills in certain areas from applying), confusing processes and tests (some of which don’t measure the skills needed on the job), and uninformed interviewers.

Taking steps to include neurodiversity - and address these friction points – is proven to help organisations hire talent that, in their words, they wouldn’t have successfully hired before.

Neuroinclusion also helps attract talent because of its overall impact on creating a more positive employer brand. Today’s job-seekers are open about the importance of purpose and brand ethics. A recent survey found, “44% of millennials and 49% of Gen Zs said that, over the past two years, they have made choices about the types of work they would do – and the organisations they’d be willing to work for – based on their personal values.” Organisations truly living their own commitments around EDI - and that are able celebrate this - have a clear advantage in presenting themselves and being experienced as genuinely inclusive and socially conscious employers.

Why now is the time to prioritise neurodiversity

The phrase “war for talent” became widely used in the 2010s, as organisations began to feel the changing power dynamics between employers on the one hand, and employees and candidates on the other. And with HR priorities increasingly being C-suite priorities in the 2020s – innovation, retention, diversity and so on – talent itself is and remains a key competitive arena.

The potential of an organisation to reach the full spectrum of talent, provide an environment where every type of thinker can thrive, and ultimately achieve its goals is hugely shaped by its neuroinclusivity – or lack thereof.

Pioneering employers have shown others the way in this field for a decade or more. It’s now time for every organisation to embrace neurodiversity as a core part of its values and priorities, and develop a neuroinclusive organisation with a firm dedication to equality, in order to deliver its future people and EDI goals and thrive.

Find out more about developing a neuroinclusive organisation. Working with Uptimize, the CIPD has produced a practical guide to help employers create neuroinclusive workplaces, where different styles of thinking, learning and communication are valued and utilised, with clear benefits for the organisation as well as the individual. We recommend seven key principles to help you do this.

We have also produced a survey report on neuroinclusion at work, looking at what employers are currently doing in this area and offering insights from employees about their working experiences. We highlight the lack of employer attention given to neurodiversity and the impact of this on employee wellbeing, performance and retention, as well as the benefits for organisations in creating a neuroinclusive workplace.

About the authors

Jill Miller, Senior Policy Adviser, Diversity and Inclusion

Jill is Senior Policy Adviser for Diversity and Inclusion at the CIPD. Her work focuses on the areas of gender, age and neurodiversity and she has recently led work on race inclusion, managing drug and alcohol misuse at work, and supporting employees through fertility treatment, pregnancy loss and still birth. Earlier in her career, Jill specialised in small business growth through good people management and employee wellbeing

Ed Thompson, CEO Uptimize

Ed Thompson is the founder and CEO of Uptimize, the leading neuroinclusion training company, whose mission is to help organizations embrace and leverage every type of thinker. His role has afforded him unique insights and connections with pioneers in the neurodiversity-at-work field across the world, and he is now a frequent speaker on the topic.

More on this topic

Is your organisation neuroinclusive?

It’s estimated that 1 in 5 people are neurodivergent in some way, amounting to a significant proportion of any workforce. While awareness of neurodiversity may have improved in recent years, how neuroinclusive is your organisation?

Neuroinclusion at work

Learn about the benefits of having a neuroinclusive and fair organisation and how to support neurodivergent people to be comfortable and successful at work

Neuroinclusion at work report 2024

Find out about the importance of neuroinclusive workplaces, what employers are doing and the working experiences of neurodivergent and neurotypical employees

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