Diverse minds at work

Around one in seven people are neurodivergent, but many employers admit they have little to no understanding of neurodiverse conditions. We speak to two entrepreneurs about their experiences

A background full of multicoloured heads overlapping one another. We can only see the side profile of the heads from the shoulders up and there is no facial features or hair visible, just a shadow.

Neurodivergent people often wonder why employers are reluctant to offer them a job; it doesn’t make sense to them. After all, neurodiverse people are wired to succeed in areas where others will fail. So why wouldn’t a company hire an employee who can think so exceptionally? 

Businesses often fail to see how much of an asset a neurodivergent employee can be. Instead, they focus on satisfying the legal diversity requirements and remain ignorant of the benefits of employing someone neuroatypical. 

NEURODIVERGENT FINGERPRINT

Ben Branson owns the non-alcoholic spirit brand, Seedlip. He believes society needs to learn how to better support the neurodivergent conditions that have contributed so significantly to the modern world. 

Unsurprisingly, most members of his team are neurodivergent or connected to someone who is. Although Ben never planned his business this way, he did seek out creative and inspiring individuals for Seedlip. Hiring the best candidates possible is a no-brainer for any good employer. For Ben, that meant employing people with autism, ADHD, dyslexia and other learning differences. 

By discriminating against such a gifted group, companies are dramatically shrinking their available talent pools. “It’s business suicide,” explains Ben. “Some of the most incredible people throughout history are neurodivergent.

“Everything – from new technology to new inventions – has neurodivergent fingerprints all over it.” 

Ben Branson

VISIONARIES 

Part of the reason Ben feels so strongly about creating inclusive workspaces is because he was diagnosed with autism in 2022 and ADHD in 2023. Finally getting his autism diagnosis after waiting so long was a huge relief. “My psychologist said ‘Congratulations, you’re autistic!’” remembers Ben. “And I really felt like she meant it.” 

Ben was able to use the information he’d learnt about himself to create positive changes in his business. He adopted a new attitude towards working and flexibility – as long as the work got done, it didn’t matter how, when, or where somebody did it. 

“People shouldn’t be scared to disclose they’re neurodivergent,” asserts Ben. “If you’ve employed someone you’re unable to support and nurture properly, then you’re failing your business.” 

Being an inclusive employer wasn’t enough for Ben. He also wanted to teach others about neurodivergence and how to appreciate it. He’s achieving that through his podcast, The Hidden 20%

“The podcast is actually for the 80% – it’s for the neurotypicals,” explains Ben. “The truth is there are challenges, but there are more positives, and we want to remind people of the talent out there.” 

“Neurodivergent people are some of the most creative and out-of-the-box thinkers. Muhammad Ali was dyslexic, but also incredible with words and at boxing.”

THINKING DIFFERENTLY 

Employing someone with a disability isn’t a charitable act – in fact, businesses are doing themselves a favour by hiring someone disabled. 

Ash Jones is the founder of the forward-thinking marketing agency, Great Influence. Like Ben, he received his autism diagnosis later in life. He’s an advocate for recruiting people who are neurodivergent, and says: “It’s an opportunity to turn the light onto something great that you hadn’t thought about before,” reveals Ash. “It seems so obvious, but employers don’t realise the diverse thinking they’re missing out on.” 

Ash Jones

MAKING ADJUSTMENTS 

People with neurodivergence don’t want employers to overlook their conditions. Instead, they’d rather see their bosses and HR departments provide the right support, and embrace the benefits that having neurodivergent staff can bring. In turn, companies who accommodate their employees will be rewarded with an adept workforce. 

But no business can decide if you need an adjustment; they need you to speak up for yourself. By making a request, you’ll be helping your employer because you’ll perform better in the long run. 

“It can be difficult to ask for something you need,” remarks Ash. “But you need to get over the guilt of working differently, because the business will benefit too.”

 LEARNING CURVE

For employers, whether you’re an ace at accessibility or new to inclusivity, you’re bound to make mistakes along the way. What matters is how you listen to your employees and provide solutions that address their needs. As long as you have an open mind and willingness to learn, you’ll be afforded the best from your employees. 

“All bosses will make mistakes – I’ll probably make a million of them,” admits Ash. “You won’t get it right every step of the way, but the key is to keep trying step of the way, but the key is to keep trying.” 

FOR MORE INFORMATION 

Under the Equality Act 2010, your employer must provide reasonable adjustments if you ask for them. To find out more about what you can request, visit Disability Rights UK.

To listen to Ben’s podcast, search for The Hidden 20% wherever you get your podcasts.

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