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A tech founder’s guide to effectively practising neuro-inclusivity in a workplace

neils-thone-neurodiversity

In the last few years, diversity and inclusion (D&I) has risen to the top of the agenda for business leaders, and for good reason. The world is diverse, and this should be reflected in business. For the tech companies, it’s vital that your product development and engineering team is as diverse as the customers you’re selling to.

Latest figures suggest that 30-40% of the global population is neurodiverse – that is your market – and if you are creating a product or service without representatives in your workforce, you are missing a trick. These figures are even more skewed in the world of high growth technology, where neurodiverse brains are leading on world-changing innovations. The question is less ‘what is the business benefit of enabling greater neurodiversity’ and more – ‘what is the risk if you don’t?’  

The impact on business practices

A good D&I strategy should touch almost every single business practice, from team socials, to  defining roles and responsibilities. The key is understanding the individual. Neurodiversity can’t be defined by a single set of characteristics. You need to have a culture that enables employees to talk freely about how they work best. Here are some questions you might want to think about:

  • What is comfortable in terms of noise level?
  • Is eye contact comfortable? 
  • Are socials energising or draining? 
  • How does this person like to receive feedback? Where do they have challenges and what are their coping strategies? 
  • What kind of meeting structure or team structure is optimum?

When your employees feel comfortable, they can focus on the job in hand – surely that is the ultimate business goal? These are questions that should be asked at every stage of business development and interview stages, so that a clear understanding of every individual’s needs is achieved from day one.

Practical strategies for creating a neuroinclusive workplace

A business’ ability to proactively invest in inclusion will always correlate with size and resources dedicated to these strategies, but a simple step one will be understanding. If you are a business leader and have no personal experience of neurodiversity,get some training and input from experts. 

Whatever approach you take, the most important step is to create a policy and communicate it. You must ensure your culture is inclusive from the very first touch points during the recruitment process. That might involve things such as, dropping in a few scenarios in an interview, ensuring people are properly briefed in advance, can wear earphones in the office or easily swerve the Christmas party. 

Simple practices like these make a world of difference, and can be the difference between retaining a talented individual or losing them. Playing to the strengths of the neurodiverse brain is equally important. Make sure you have representatives from across the neurodiversity spectrum in all working groups – our ability to think differently is a super strength! To see this through, invite feedback regularly – be open to being flexible and recognising that one size absolutely doesn’t fit all. I myself have ADHD, as does my co-founder. Remember, we all have lots in common, and our differences need tobe honoured. 

Optimising L&D for neuroinclusion

Learning and development (L&D) is a vital step to getting this right.Get the training done, bring in the experts, or read books by experts, and drive understanding across the business.  A low-cost solution is to do your own research and reading books on the topic. Alternatively,hire a third party to run a few bespoke workshops. However, it comes down to creating and sustaining the culture to support inclusion in the long term. This is fundamentally about enabling human beings and getting the best from them – why would you not? The smartest business leaders will recognise that enabling brilliant brains from every slither of society is the best way to create market leading products and services.

Book recommendations

The Neurodiverse Workplace by Victoria Honeybourne

The Power of Neurodiversity by Dr Thomas Armstrong

Nancy Doyle’s review of Neurodiversity At Work by Prof. Amanda Kirby and Theo Smith

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About Niels Thone

Niels co-founded Sprout.ai in 2018 and is Chief Growth Officer. Sprout.ai is a fast-growth technology company, already reimagining the claims process for the customers of major insurance companies across the world, including Zurich. Sprout has developed proprietary computer vision and natural language processing (NLP) technology built specifically for the insurance industry. This has enabled them to be the first to deliver a frictionless, end-to-end automated solution, from the moment a claim is received to the final settlement.

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