By Lee Daniels, JLL’s Head of Workforce, EMEA
Last September, financial service specialists joined forces in the creation of the Group for Autism, Insurance & Neurodiversity (GAIN) to champion the world of neurodiversity and create accessibly in the work environment. The initiative launched to develop an understanding of neurodiversity, prove the positive impact of a neurodiverse workforce, and bridge the gap between neurodiverse talent and the Insurance, Investment, and Finance Services world. Alongside, the National Disability Strategy published by the government in July 2021, these both offer promising starts to creating a truly inclusive workplace. However, there is a lot more that can be done and we all have the responsibility to change the narrative around neurodiversity and strive for truly inclusive workplaces.
Despite companies making significant strides in championing diversity, equity and inclusion in the workplace, many organisations lack a specific inclusion strategy for neurodiversity in the workplace.
Stigmas and misconceptions surrounding neurodiversity are prevalent. An Institute of Leadership and Management report in 2020 cited half of managers were uncomfortable with employing neurodiverse people. There is an evident need for company leaders to challenge stereotypes and strive for a deeper understanding of the needs and conditions of those with neurodiversities.
As a starting point, it is crucial to adopt more inclusive language and positive terminology when referring to individuals with neurodivergent conditions. Moving away from ‘dys…’ to emphasizing ‘ability’, ‘para-ability’, ‘people of determination’ are some examples of positive language to use.
One in seven of us identify as neurodivergent in the UK, an umbrella term for a range of differences in individual brain function, that diverges from the typical. These people think about things differently and they think outside of the box. Therefore, it is crucial that companies celebrate this diversity in thinking and recognise it is as a competitive advantage. While the financial sector has made great progress in the promotion and recruitment of a diverse workforce, in terms of equality, gender, and disability, neurodiversity is often forgotten.
In the fallout out of the pandemic, and the transition back to normality, we need to challenge and address the failings of the current work environment in catering and advocating for neurodiversity. Mindful and smart employers will recognise the uniqueness of neurodiverse people and banish the ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach through the promotion of an equal space for all.
But how can we as employers create an inclusive and neurodiverse-friendly environment to entice people back into the office?
The Overwhelming Office
The workplace is a challenging environment for many, especially as we are returning to the office. The fast-paced work environment can be a source of acute stress for those with neurodivergent conditions like ADHA, autism, and dyslexia. 90% of disabilities aren’t visible and its vital we consider the barriers neurodiverse people face in the workplace.
While for some neurodivergent people, working from home has been a welcome change, given the ability to manage their own working environment, companies need to incorporate these aspects into the office space and allow people to do what they need to do in order to be productive. Inclusive design will encourage people back into the office after working from home and stimulate a conducive working environment.
Neurodiversity is essential to every insurance and investment team. The diversity in brain function only serves as a competitive advantage for any company, and we need to recognise this strength. Among many skills, neurodivergent people are creative thinkers, strong problem solvers, multitaskers, and have high levels of energy and enthusiasm. These skills are vital across a range of financial sector jobs. Whether that be an insurance broker, financial adviser, actuary, or risk and compliance officer. The sector needs to build from the GAIN initiative and develop this into designing an inclusive workplace.
Designing an Inclusive Workplace
We need to consider individual differences as an imperative from a design perspective. The fundamentals of design including light, form, line, colour, texture, space, and technology all play into the varying productivity levels of someone who is neurodivergent.
When designing for neurodiversity it is important to consider the five senses in these design fundamentals. In all design decisions, aspects to consider must include light, acoustics, colour sequencing, compartmentalisation, transition, sensory, escape, and restoration. Light and noise levels can be disorientating and distracting for some people. For example, those with autism are known to have extreme sensitivity to fluorescent lighting, which can often be overwhelming.
Likewise, scale, symmetry, and size can all impact the productivity levels of neurodivergent people. Paying attention to the acoustics of a space can enhance the workplace and make it more comfortable for those sensitive to noise. For example, designers are increasingly using materials to control sound through absorption techniques or partitions to dampen noise.
Designers should consider incorporating quiet spaces where employees can disconnect from the bustle of the office and for those neurodiverse staff, they can take a break if experiencing a sensory overload. We should consider utilising warm and neutral colours to stimulate a calm environment, so employees can recharge.
The incorporation of green spaces and connection to the natural environment has a grounding effect on neurodiverse workers and can help improve mood and performance. A Human Spaces study found that these natural elements can improve employee wellbeing by up to 15%, whilst also reducing stress and boredom. Therefore, when designing an inclusive space, the use of indoor plants and greenery should be a must.
With this in mind, companies will be able to create a space that works not only for those with neurodiversities, but for everyone. Taking care of people as individuals as well as employees and reimagining the office for neurodivergent people will benefit everyone who visits your workspace.