Neurodiversity is a fast-growing category of organizational diversity and inclusion that employers and managers need to be aware of in order to embrace and maximize the talents of people who think differently. Sam Bevan, director of emerging at Snapchat, joins Stephen Frost, CEO of Included to discuss inclusion of neurodiverse employees at work.
Sam, who is dyslexic himself, is keen to offer his insight into the challenges of living and working with a learning disability, and the steps that companies can take to increase representation and inclusivity of neurodivergent employees.
As a former employee of Google, he provides insight into the steps the tech industry is taking to facilitate lateral thinking and alternative methods of working in order to gain a competitive edge.
What does neurodiversity mean to you?
Sam Bevan: To describe it simply, neurodiversity means people who think differently from the way the majority do. Often dyslexia is thought of as a disability, but I really think this is an injustice. The fact of the matter is it’s simply a way of thinking, and one which when harnessed correctly can be someone’s biggest strength.
Stephen Frost: The term neurodiversity is often used in the context of people who are dyslexic, ADHD, autistic, and dyspraxic. It is a term that describes the fact that all our brains are different and highlights that our current workplaces and society are set up in such a way that some experience unfair barriers that impact their access and experience of work and education.
What does the workplace currently look like for neurodiverse and dyslexic individuals?
Bevan: This is such a big question. The good news is that the conversation is starting to be had. Through amazing organisations like the BDA and Made by Dyslexia, increasing numbers of high-profile individuals have spoken out about their journeys with Dyslexia. The bad news is that despite it being estimated that around 15 to 20% of people have Dyslexia, less than 10% are diagnosed. As a result, students with dyslexia are two-to-three times more likely to drop out of school with no formal qualifications. As well as being a social injustice, this has a business impact as well; representation across the workforce is low in multiple skilled professions.
The fact of the matter, though, is that most people who are diagnosed are taught how to deal with their dyslexia rather than play to its strengths. The problem here is twofold – it’s still focusing on dyslexia as a disability and not potentially a strength, which in turn leads to the more significant issue that people are taught to hide and disguise their dyslexia.
From a personal perspective, I never spoke openly about my Dyslexia until about two years ago. This was mainly down to the fact I was worried of it being used against me to hold me back. This fear was down to most people’s awareness of dyslexia, thinking it directly correlates to intelligence or an individual’s ability. In reality, it’s the opposite – people with dyslexia are often more creative and have high levels of intelligence.
This shows the two extremes of dyslexia, for example 40% of self-made billionaires are dyslexic, whilst 45% of people with dyslexia are unemployed. Noting this difference is driven by the one factor of being diagnosed, as well as being taught how to shift it from being a disability into a superpower.
Frost: Each person’s experience will be unique. Commonly, workplaces and processes such as recruitment are not designed in a way that best allows dyslexic candidates to thrive. In many organisations today, we see the consequences of largely homogenous teams that implement strategy, processes and management largely unchecked by those with different thinking styles, insights and thinking styles. With an estimated 15% of the population having dyslexia or other specific learning differences (SpLD), it is very likely that your workplace contains neurodiversity, but many will find this reality isn’t reflected in their experience looking for work or at work.
When looking for work, a bad experience from education can leave individuals lacking self-confidence which can impact application and interview processes. Moreover, challenges around reading and writing can mean jobs that are otherwise a good fit can be difficult to apply for using the existing process.
At work, some may not feel psychologically safe in their workplace to disclose that they are dyslexic similar to the experience Sam has shared here. Legally, UK employers have a duty to make Reasonable Adjustments such as the use of assistive technology.
Common Challenges for people with Dyslexia
Reading speed – being given a document live in a room can instantly put you behind
Long emails – both in terms of reading/digesting the email, but more importantly for me, the time it takes to write them/ fear of being judged of mistakes
Proofreading/ spelling mistakes with our work
Timed tests for interviews – which instantly means we’re being measured on skills which we aren’t necessarily strong in, even if it’s not related to the job
Working in open planned offices and limiting rooms to remove distractions
However, biggest strengths:
Big picture thinking – we often see ideas before our peers
Problem-solving skills – we fundamentally think in a different way to the other 80% of the world, which has many benefit in terms of solving previously entrenched problems
Creative visual thinking – we’re great at telling stories and taking people on a journey
Teamwork/ Empath – we’re great at building relationships and usually very comfortable with talking to people….due to the fact we struggle with written communications
On all of the challenges referenced above, people with diagnosed dyslexia often spend more time checking their work and applying more focus
photo of Mail icon on smart phone
Email culture can be one of the challenges for neurodiverse talent PHOTO BY BRETT JORDAN ON UNSPLASH
What do workplaces commonly get wrong?
Interview processes including any form of written or time assessment
Not providing the fantastic technology out there today – from spellcheck to dictation software
Not providing focused areas in the office
Limiting the use of visual prompt or colour coding in documentation
Limited whiteboarding/ideation sessions
Restricted font templates
How can organisations take steps to be more neuro-inclusive?
Change interview processes to be less test-driven and more real-life tasks
Ensure you are making use of software available – Grammarly, spellcheck, dragon speech
Encourage people to be open, and share their individual needs and accommodations
Create a culture of more meetings and fewer emails
Organisations need to be more open about how they are neuro inclusive and what support they offer from the interview process, through to onboarding and beyond
Encourage ideation session – enable people with dyslexia to focus on solving problems and big picture thinking
Embed the basics into your processes, such as extra time and application processes that avoid the written elements. Move away from traditional tests into skills-based
Create a psychologically safe environment where colleagues feel comfortable to disclose their needs. This can be supported by clearly showing that you value neurodiversity in your organisation, right from the very first interaction a potential
Practice empathy and challenge your biases. For example, overlook spelling and typos as they are not reflective of ability.
What should the future look like for workplaces to be more inclusive?
Actively promote DEI and authenticity; it should be a given that the necessary resources and support are available for everyone. I opened up about my dyslexia during dyslexia awareness week, because Snap were actively championing neurodiverse causes
Try to build companies that represent the community you serve; 20% of the world’s population is dyslexic, and this should be reflected in the workforce
Enable people to focus on their strengths and provide accommodations for their areas of development
We should learn from where workplaces have failed before. Take on board feedback from job applicants and your colleagues to continuously improve your processes and culture.
DEI efforts should be central to the business and embedded into the overall strategy, rather than treated as an add-on project or handed off to an overstretched junior member of staff.
by Stephen Frost
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These three questions can not only play a pivotal role in strengthening an organization’s DEI culture; they can also serve as team-building exercise. The process of evaluating one’s understanding of DEI principles promotes open discussions, knowledge sharing, and alignment within the team.