Is awareness training enough when we need real change, lets explore what's needed.
Awareness training is essential but falls short because awareness of neurodiversity and neurodivergent traits does not lead to inclusion. Awareness training can help individuals and teams to recognise and understand the existence of different traits and conditions. Still, it infrequently leads to actions that support those individuals to thrive in the workplace.
To create an inclusive environment for neurodivergent people, we need to move beyond awareness. Concrete steps that implement policies and practices that support the strengths and challenges associated with neurodivergent conditions are essential. This may include changes to the physical environment, adjustments to communication and work processes, and training and education for managers and colleagues on supporting and accommodating neurodivergent individuals.
We must move beyond simply accommodating neurodivergent individuals and instead welcoming, embracing and celebrating the unique perspectives and contributions they bring to our workplaces. This often means a culture shift that values and prioritises neurodivergent traits as strengths rather than viewing them as weaknesses or problems to be solved.
Therefore, while awareness training is an essential first step in creating an inclusive workplace, it must be followed by concrete actions and changes to support and embrace neurodiversity in the workplace.
Here are nine ways to move beyond awareness training and stop it from falling short:
Develop and improve your inclusion policy:
- Develop an inclusion policy that specifically addresses neurodiversity in the workplace.
- This policy should outline the organisation’s commitment to inclusion, strategies for recruitment, hiring, and retention of neurodivergent employees, and specific accommodations available to support them.
Actively recruit Neurodivergent employees:
- Partner with organisations specialising in neurodiversity recruitment. Ensure your existing recruitment programme embraces neurodivergent traits.
- This means looking at everything from your workforce planning to how you attract neurodivergent traits in terms of promoting disclosure and support, using concise language within your job spec so that essential and desirable attributes are clearly defined and that your screening process doesn’t screen out unconventional backgrounds, for example, that the interview process is transparent.
- It’s clear that adaptions will be made, and the onboarding process provides mentoring. Finally, you have a retention and development plan that allows those individuals to stay and thrive within your organisation.
- These need to support neurodivergent employees.
- This may involve providing assistive technology, creating quiet workspaces, or providing flexible work schedules.
- Ensure that all employees know the available solutions and how to request them.
- Better still, make them available on demand and normalise the process of seeking and facilitating accommodations.
Foster a culture of acceptance:
- Enable respect for neurodiversity in the workplace.
- This can involve creating inclusive policies and procedures and actively promoting diversity and inclusion through communication and activities.
- This can be as simple as engaging in broader neurodiversity celebration activities.
- I encourage you to look deeper and celebrate your excellent employees often.
Provide training and education:
- Managers and employees need to understand how to support and work with neurodivergent individuals and teams effectively.
- This can involve providing specific training on communication, management, and flexible strategies and how to have great conversations that enable everyone to operate at their most effectively.
Create mentorship programs:
- Pair neurodivergent employees with experienced colleagues trained to mentor.
- This will create a supportive environment and provide opportunities for growth and development, especially in the retention and development phase of the career life-cycle.
Encourage employee feedback:
- Ask neurodivergent employees how the organisation can better support them.
- How we ask for feedback is essential; for example, this may need to be asked one-on-one or in a facilitated action learning set.
- This could also be supported with broader employee surveys.
- The key idea is that we take action with the information we gather and that it informs us how we move forwards.
Provide mental health support:
- Access resources and information for employees who need additional help.
- This could be around mental health, first aid, or just facilitating conversations for individuals to work out what they need.
- There may then be a requirement for counselling services or mental health support.
- Again, what’s important is to offer the individual the capability to “not be okay” and options regarding how they move forwards.
- Celebrating neurodiversity is about amplifying strengths and managing difficult things.
- This isn’t just one week a year.
- Neurodiversity must be something we consistently do within our organisations. Noticing where people have gone above and beyond, achieved terrific work, and also how they have overcome problems should be noticed and celebrated often.