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DIFF: Internal communication on neurodiversity vital for ‘journey of acceptance’

  • 22/06/2022
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DIFF: Internal communication on neurodiversity vital for ‘journey of acceptance’
Reverse mentoring schemes that partner neurodivergent people with other team members, case studies, internal communications and open conversations with managers are all crucial tools to help neurodivergent employees thrive and feel accepted.

Speaking on a panel at the Diversity and Inclusivity Finance Forum (DIFF) executive briefing, Ali Crossley, managing director of distribution for Legal & General Retail, said that as part of its reverse mentoring scheme the executive team had partnered with neurodivergent people and other sub-groups to see things from a different perspective.

She said that during the scheme, the executive team found that the work environment was vital for neurodivergent people to succeed, and they could bring a huge amount to an organisation.

Crossley cited an example of a younger female employee with autism who, through the partnership, told the chief executive that people being able to approach her from behind when she was at her desk and the open plan layout of the office made her anxious and stressed.

This had been “game changing” for the chief executive who said he had not been, and would not have been aware, of these kinds of issues neurodivergent employees faced.

The employee now has a desk that has some screens with her back to the wall, so she feels more comfortable, Crossley added.

Crossley said that L&G was “proactively recruiting” neurodivergent people as they had “fantastic” skills around creativity and data analysis, for example. She added that it was rolling outs its reverse mentoring programme to the whole organisation.


Internal communications and case studies good tools

Crossley said that raising awareness was crucial and having internal communications and talking openly were good steppingstones. She pointed to a neurodiversity panel the firm had last week internally which had 100 people dialling in.

She added that case studies of people were good to celebrate difference, noting that it had done so for a few employees who work in data analysis and are on the spectrum, but the label should be secondary.

“We mentioned it because it’s important to bring people on a journey of acceptance and embracing difference. We’re basically saying how brilliant is this person at this kind of job and we need to recruit more [people like them].”

She concluded: “We need diversity of thinking, we need really healthy challenge and debates. Internally, we need to be able to storm and then form within business environments in order to get better business outcomes.”

Barbara Schonhofer, founder of Group for Autism, Insurance, Investment and Neurodiversity (Gain), added that communicating shared experiences and what people could do to help each other was a great starting point for neurodivergent employees and people who supported them.

She added that Gain offered a “diagnostic tool” to help organisations evaluate how friendly or welcoming their company is to neurodivergent employees.

She said that this would allow companies to track their progress and how effective reasonable adjustments or interventions are.

Schonhofer added that supporting employees whose family or friends were neurodivergent was also important.

She said: “The first thing [is that] this is hard. It is not an easy journey, mainly because people are just discovering that they are neurodivergent.

“The biggest thing that we’re finding is building community. What we are looking to do is to have a membership model where we have corporate members, individual members, partners, and then we have the research piece, but looking at building the community of members [is crucial].”

She said that awareness was rising and that more people were saying that they identified with neurodivergent characteristics, even if they had not been officially diagnosed with them.


‘Open conversations’ with employers crucial

Tracie Burton, senior corporate account manager at HSBC, said that she had only told her employer about her dyslexia in the last two years and said she wished she had done so earlier as it would have “made life a lot easier for myself”.

“I did have to spend a lot of extra time at the weekends and evenings doing work, because I was too ashamed to talk openly and honestly to my employers throughout my earlier career about it.”

She explained that she would have to take longer to reread emails, text messages and that there would sometimes be errors in her messages.

However, Burton said that she had talked with her current manager, and it was a “simple conversation” and that it had vastly improved her work life.

“I think honesty and openness from the employee, as well, as well as the business leader, or the firm or company, is important and don’t be ashamed of it.”


Five key takeways

  • Open and honest conversations between employees and employers about neurodiversity and your experience is very helpful so support can be offered
  • Internal communications and case studies of neurodivergent employees are good to raise awareness
  • Neurodivergent employees may need more support in terms of work environment, have open conversations about reasonable adjustments
  • It’s about ability not labels and what they can bring to organisation
  • Supporting employees whose family members or friends are neurodivergent is also important


Links to key organisations

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