Nationwide taking neurodiversity in the workplace seriously


Just last week, we reported on guidelines released by the CIPD and Uptimize to help businesses to adapt to this untapped workforce. Last week, the Nationwide Building Society hosted an event to discuss the benefits that neurodiverse talent can bring to an organisation.

At the heart of this industry roundtable, was BBC wildlife presenter Chris Packham. Undiagnosed with having Aspergers until his forties, he’s understandably passionate about this cause.

In his talk, he highlighted that only 14% of autistic adults in the UK are in full-time employment (the lowest proportion of any notifiable disability). Chris shared his views with leading business and HR figures to enable discussion as to how organisations can harness the skills of talented professionals with Asperger Syndrome, with a view to tapping into a talented workforce (who don’t identify as neurotypical) and to help them achieve fulfilling work lives.

Talking about common traits and characteristics in the workplace that might benefit an organisation included a task-orientated nature and drive for precision and perfection for those at the higher end of the autistic spectrum. He was also keen that these traits are not seen as inhibitors for organisations, but that they should be celebrated and embraced.

Yet, there is a flip side to the debate. Modifications to the workplace environment are easy enough in the quest for inclusion and diversity. However, integrating an individual who’s neurodivergent into a neurotypical environment may have broader managerial implications. That said, just because something is ‘difficult’ or ‘not the norm’ does not mean that we shouldn’t strive for equal opportunities for all. And, given the stats, it’s clear that there are barriers in achieving equal opportunities for those who are neurodivergent. A pool of people – given the right type of work and the right mindset of their colleagues – who could bring great value.

Katrina Hutchinson-O’Neill, Director of Resourcing at Nationwide Building Society, said: “Nationwide wants to help change the perception of Asperger Syndrome from being considered a disability to a welcomed and valuable difference. This event was about starting the conversation about the recruitment of neurodiverse workforces and the processes involved.”

Participants highlighted the application process for many organisations as still constituting a series of tick boxes and form filling, including asking candidates to declare if they wish to receive special considerations. However, as Hutchinson O-Neill adds: “This is at odds with many neurodiverse candidates, who do not consider their autism as a disability but rather a condition.”

ASPIeRATIONS, a community interest company, was also present as an expert voice on how organisations can attract, recruit and retain those with Asperger Syndrome. Laurel Herman, CEO at ASPIeRATIONS, said, "This discussion shows that businesses in the UK are starting to take steps to support people with Asperger Syndrome, but there is much more that needs to be done. Even some of the most talented and highly qualified people with Asperger Syndrome can struggle to find employment and when people with the condition do find a job, appropriate support is rarely available and awareness of the condition is often very low.

“The result is that businesses are missing out on talented people in an employment market suited to analytical thinkers and problem-solvers – skills where people with Asperger Syndrome demonstrate above average ability.

“If we are to see a real change it must come from the top. We need business leaders to follow Nationwide’s lead in recognising their responsibility to make their organisations and hiring practices more inclusive."

Tuesday, 27 February 2018

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Nationwide taking neurodiversity in the workplace seriously