UNBOXED – Neurodiversity and employer branding [video]

Watch our UNBOXED event on understanding neurodiversity and how to create inclusive comms that speak to everyone.


As part of UNBOXED – ThirtyThree’s inclusive employer branding series, we explored why neurodiversity matters for business and how to create inclusive communications. We were joined by our guest speaker Theo Smith, LinkedIn Top Voices and founder of Neurodiversity at Work for a discussion about practical ways to attract neurodiverse talent and ensure they receive the support to succeed. 


Amanda Faull  01:08 

Hello, and welcome to Unboxed ThirtyThree’s inclusive employer branding series. My name is Amanda Faull. I'm the D and I communication specialist and your host for today. If you're new to Unboxed this is where we bring together forward thinking companies to explore how D and I is essential to creating an authentic and powerful employer brand. We've covered topics such as ethical storytelling, International Women's Day communications, and how to create ethical and inclusive personas.  

But today we're discussing neurodiversity, which is not the new corporate buzzword, but an important movement to recognise and value differences in neurological thinking. You may see that neuro diversity is attracting a lot of attention, because as you'll hear, some employers are starting to recognise the huge benefits of this diversity of thought. However, the workplace is not set up for new neuro diversity in mind. And we're a long way off from wider societal understanding.  

So I know some of you are still joining. But you'll see our agenda today, we've got a presentation from ThirtyThree’s, analysts, Agnes meadows, and Savannah Fox, and they will be talking through what we mean by neurodiversity. Some of the challenges this community faces and why neuro diversity matters so much to business. Then I'll be joined, I'll come back and I'll join be joined by Theo Smith for a q&a. Theo is a LinkedIn top voice on neuro diversity. He's founder of neurodiversity at work. And he's also author of the award winning book, neuro diversity at work. I have some apologies from other speaker Nicola lace from Western College in Bristol, she sends her apologies, there's been an incident at her school. And unfortunately, she can't be here. But if there was anything you were hoping to hear from Nicola, you can feel free to send us questions after. And I've just noticed, there's some questions in the chat. So I'll keep keep an eye on what you're saying. Okay, there's a few people just chatting. And I was just going to mention to help with your experience here, we do have a chat function. So feel free to comment. You know, if there's anything that you find interesting, we also have a q&a open, where you can ask questions of our speakers, and I'll be moderating that. And if you would like to, if there's a question in particular that you find interesting, other audience members can upvote it, and I can keep track of which ones are most popular. And last piece of housekeeping This is being recorded, and will share a video will share a link to the video sometime in the next day or so. So, without further ado, I'd like to welcome my colleagues Savannah and Agnes to join me. Both have been with 33 for about a year, but have shown a real passion for D&I and neuro diversity in particular. But rather than me explain their interest in the subject, I will bring them on to briefly introduce themselves. And then, as I said, they've got a great presentation for you today. So I'll see you here shortly. 

Agnes Meadows  04:31 

Thanks, Amanda. So I became interested in this subject when I was working in a learning disability charity, and I ended up writing my ma dissertation on the incredible and really determined activism of parents who had children with learning disabilities in the 1970s. And all the ways they campaigned to get access to support and education for their kids, but especially to challenge the very, very negative stories that were being told about neurodiversity at that time. So I'm really interested in the way we talk about this As the changes we've seen over the last few decades. 

Savannah Fox  05:04 

Yeah, thank you. So I'm Savannah. And I guess the reason why I'm interested in this topic is a pretty personal one. I, myself am dyslexic. And I remember being at uni and being told to never tell my employer about this as it was, either stop me getting the job or makes me seem less attractive in the job market. And this is something I strongly disagree with, as I think it creates a nervousness that's just unnecessary, that people try and get into work and with a neuro diversity.  

So I'd like to start today off by asking you a question. Are you comfortable with difference? Over the next 10 minutes or so we're going to think about the defences that we put up against differences and changes in the workplace, even those differences and changes that would improve life, increased diversity of thought, and address and injustice that keeps a large portion of us out of the work. That really is what is at the heart of the conversation around neurodiversity. We'll start off by understanding why there is a current lack of neuro diversity within workforces, then we'll ask why you should be investing in support for Neuro diverse candidates and employees. And finally, how you can do this by communicating in an accessible way.  

But before we do that, let's define our terms. neurodiversity is an umbrella term used to describe the differences in human cognition. It typically is used when referencing diagnosis is such as ADHD, autism, dyslexia, dyscalculia, or dyspraxia. And, as lexicon a psychology consultancy puts it, it's the different ways our brains are wired and process information. Or in other words, it's the idea that everyone's thinks and experiences differently. So in this sense, every community is neuro diverse. And as research estimates, there are considerable one in five of us in neuro diverse, that's nearly 20% of the global population.  

So given that, it's surprising that a large percentage of us are significantly underrepresented in the workforce. According to the Office for National Statistics, the unemployment rate within the UK is about 24%. However, for neurodivergent people, that's significantly higher phase than 30% of people with ADHD, fall 40% of people with dyslexia, and a huge 78% of people with autism are out of work.  

So if 20% of us are neurodivergent, why are we not seeing more neurodiversity in the workforce? Well, the answer to this question is complicated. But there are certainly three elements that contribute. One workplaces simply aren't set up with neurodiverse people in mind. We all think and work in different ways. However, your workplace will tend to adopt a one size fits all approach, which means that neurodiverse people might need more support or accommodations in order to succeed, such as offering work from home or noise cancelling headphones, or a distraction free workplace. But these supports aren't always available and poorly communicated, or even based on a misconception around neurodiversity itself. This crucially means that as people management magazine puts it, this unemployment rate is not due to a lack of capability. It's due to an institutional lack of awareness, training and support around neurodiversity. That leaves many of them ostracised from the workforce. There is also significant anxieties around hiring neuro diverse candidates. When you have polled 601 senior decision makers it found that 68% of them were worried about getting it wrong when it came to supporting autistic employees. And this is not one sided in a study by made by dyslexia, it found that 73% hid it from their employers, showcasing a lack of psychological safety needed in order to disclose this and ask for help.  

So it's really important that it comes from the top. It comes from employers, from managers from organisations in the form of effective and active communication about neurodiversity. Rather than waiting for non diverse people to ask for support, whether that be during the application process or as an employee adopting this mindset is a step towards operating within a social model of disability rather than a medical model. And a medical model of disability would state that it's the person's condition holding them back rather than as a social model would have it at the societal and more specifically workplace that's failing to accommodate the differences that holds an employee back. After all, it's not difference itself. But our attitude to difference and our unwillingness to get space for it that has a disabling and ostracising effect are no diverse people. And this matters because everyone has a right to a meaningful experience at work. So why should we do this? 

Agnes Meadows  10:49 

Well, that's easy. As more organisations do invest time and money and supporting their employees, it becomes really clear that neurodiversity improves work for everyone. In 2021, ey launched its neuro diverse Centre for Excellence, which hires autistic people with the explicit aim of boosting innovation and creativity. And they said that the diversity of thoughts and creativity that these employees bought really set them apart. JP Morgan found that neurodiverse professionals made fewer errors in their work, and were anywhere from 90 to 140% more productive. So overall, in 2022 study, UCL found that when companies invest in accessible hiring programmes and provide accessible onboarding and support, they're rewarded with increases in innovation, quality and productivity. And that matters, because those qualities are only going to become more essential as we look to the future. As AI takes over more of our manual processes at work, our most valuable skills will be the very human ability to think differently to be creative.  

So these factors are coming together to make the next few years as Adecco put, set, the years of fruition for Neuro diverse talent. So clearly, there are some big benefits to a neuro diverse workforce. But when we're thinking about those benefits, we shouldn't forget that neurodiverse people are human, not superhuman. It could sound really flattering to talk about superpowers and focus on strengths. But shrinking away from acknowledging difficulties actually just prevents neurodiverse people from getting the support they need to succeed at work. And it also prevents them from being seen as complex and whole human beings. So those schemes at EY, JP, Morgan and Microsoft are great examples precisely because they backed up their intentions, with thoughts through and funded support schemes. But at the base of all of those initiatives is successful communication.  

So let's talk about some big and small forms of communication that will make your organisation more accessible to neurodiverse people throughout the hiring process, and a more inclusive place to work. Let's start with your job descriptions, because that's where your candidates will also begin. So it's worth considering the language use quite carefully and avoiding long blocks of text. And it might sound simple, but only lists the skills that you're actually looking for. People skills are a classic example of this. So someone might struggle with social skills, and so assume they're not qualified for this role. But that means you'll miss out on the other skills they would have brought with them. That also applies to the types of roles you're advertising neurodiverse people can excel in any kind of role, not just technical or analytical jobs as some stereotypes might lead us to believe. And then when it comes to advertising your roles using Pascal casing hashtags is a really simple way to make your posts more accessible, especially to dyslexic people. And this just means capitalising the first letter of every word. And then the Tripoli design standard is something we can all aspire to. In our websites, the double a standard is a legal requirement, that's there to make sure that the internet is accessible to everyone and that all disabled people can use the web. But the AAA is kind of the the gold standard. So this could be as simple as making your headings 20% larger than your body copy, avoiding autoplay films or choosing single hue colour scales.  

And interestingly, neurodiverse people often perform less well in job interviews, even if they're really qualified for the role. So to tackle this, we could think really big like Microsoft did and scrapped formal interviews replace them with informal problem solving activities spread over days to build those relationships. Or we could adjust the traditional interview. That might mean keeping things informal. and avoiding hypothetical questions and focusing on concrete examples instead. But what's most important here is, especially if you don't think you've spoken to a diverse person before, is keeping an open mind, it's fine to be unsure of how to proceed if someone seems different. But the aim is to listen to what they have to say, and to take someone on their own terms. After all, being different, one familiar isn't the same thing as being incompatible with your working culture.  

Now, another way, and perhaps the biggest way that you talk to candidates are your employer branding campaigns. So this is your chance to think really big, increase visibility around your diversity and make a big statement about your values. So we're going to have a look now at the employee at the longing campaign that we did for Accenture, which is a great example of really nuanced and intersectional representation. 

[Video plays]  


This next trick is always oldest and famous tricks, the whole of magic, the world famous cups and bowls. 


I never realised that I've got a lot of a lot of like hobbies. And hobbies have always been one of the quite unique things to me, I guess. What I'm gonna do is pick one, number one and place it under cup number one, or number two, undercut number two, or number three, undercut number three. I mean, definitely things like the amount of hobbies I have, like that is definitely kind of almost an autism trait. At the same time, I try not to let it define me too much. Also. cup of one is now empty. Cup number three is empty. Cup number two, now has three. Well, where did that come from. 

Agnes Meadows  17:12 

So this is a powerful example of telling a neurodiverse employees story without reducing their identity down to neurodiversity, we try to maintain that sense of a whole unique individual. So as you saw, Jonathan is autistic. And that's only one part of his identity. The sense of the whole complex individual can also inform your method when you're making your employer branding campaigns. So one great way to do this is to practice ethical storytelling, which we discussed in our first unbox event. And you can read our white paper on the subject. But it comes down to allowing your interviewee to guide their own story without the trappings of assumptions and stereotypes.  

So I've given you some examples here of how to kind of bring this into your own workplace. But these tips are just the first steps to be effective. The columns in your hiring process need to be aligned with the overall direction strategy of your organisation. So as an experiment, have a think about the values and behaviours of your organisation? Do you think they're based on any assumptions about professionalism or modes of communication that might make a neurodiverse person feel like they just can't succeed there? Do your organization's behaviours rely on any unspoken set of social skills? If we can join up your values, behaviours and strategy with the experiences of neurodiverse people in your organisation, we can create a more integrated workplace integrated because your corporate messaging is reflected in the daily reality of your employees. And that's always the aim, but also integrated because everyone has the same access to support. Everyone, in other words is part of the same conversation and appreciation that each of us thinks works and communicates differently. And we'd all benefit from the chance to understand that better. So that means that a neuro diverse workplace, one that's invested in and open to the differences among its employees needs, top level buy in and commitment across the band and organisation. If you would like to work with us to make some accessible columns, you can get in touch. But for now, thank you so much for listening, and I'll hand back to Amanda for the panel discussion. 

Amanda Faull  19:29 

Okay, thank you, Savannah and Agnes, that certainly give given us a lot of food for thought for our discussion, and hopefully some practical ideas and tips for everyone who's listening today. So I've already given him an introduction at the start. Theo Smith, who I mentioned is a top voice on LinkedIn for this subject. So if you start following him, you'll get a lot more information on a daily basis and he's around the world talking about this. So we're obviously delighted Good to have him here today. So let me bring him on. Hello, Theo. Hello. Good to be here. Yeah, as I said, it's good to have you. I know you've got a very busy schedule, I often see you're in Europe or different parts of the UK. So yeah. Are you in the UK?  

Theo Smith  20:21 

You've got a very rare today. Yeah, I'm in our office in Wilmslow north of England, which is not far from where I live. So yeah, this is a nice place to be this is where I can make my environment my own right, I can make the adjustments I need to perform at my best, which is the best place to be 

Amanda Faull  20:38 

exactly what my colleagues mentioned. So I will get on to that, I think. And I just want to remind the audience, there is the q&a. So feel free to start dropping any questions in in there, and I'll keep an eye on what's on your minds today. So Theo, one of the things I mentioned at the start that this is a topic that seems to be gaining a lot of momentum, we're hearing a lot more about it and have to admit near diversity, something I first came across about five years ago, but it seems to kind of be exploding across media and social media, and a lot more people are talking about it. And I just wondered from and we're seeing employers, of course now starting to take this seriously. So I wonder what your views are on what's driving this? 

Theo Smith  21:24 

Yeah, I think there's a number of factors that have come into play. It's the environmental factors, you know, the changes in the way that we work, some of those are positive, but some of those have had a detrimental negative impact on our ability to form on our best. So just consider, for example, COVID. And working from home for some that has been transformative for some young people, not going into the school system that was quite toxic for them has been transformative, and they'd be much happier at home. But that's not always possible because their parents may not be able to teach them from home. And for individuals not having to travel into a workplace, that significant travel distress had been in a busy environment, possibly a city, not having control of the office environment, the lighting, the heating, the smells of what people are eating, who you interact, when you interact with them. Like that can be a huge amount of overstimulation over whelmed for a lot of people, like so it was a wow, we can we can work from home, that's great. However, there's a lot of people who really, they get their energy from social interaction, not all the time, but they do need some and they can become very distant, disconnected, you know, depressed and down, because they're not having no direct human interactions across the day. And they may be sat at home alone in a very small isolated space that they don't feel is very comfortable for them.  

So when we think about these, these competing forces, and we can start to understand the impact on the human brain. And when we think about it in class sizes, getting bigger teachers under more pressure, less funding, and this is happening globally. It's not just like it's happening in one area of the world, there are different impacting factors that mean that being educated being an education is becoming more difficult. The transition into further education is becoming more difficult. How you then move from education into the workplace is becoming a challenge. And we may as young people, we, the royal we young people over there, not me. Young people may be feeling that they get support in the education setting. But support in the workplace looks very different to how it looks in the education centre. So then there's almost this meeting this barrier between expectations from young people, they're now seeing this topic talked about more. There's, you know, billions and billions of views of hashtags like ADHD on tick tock, the new generation are actually starting to see that there's been barriers and they want to move them. The problem is they don't want to move them.  

And this is where we have the issue needed as the organisation. So this is where we then have this big chasm, a big gap in terms of expectation, versus what organisations have the ability to deliver. So we kind of find ourselves in this in this moment of where neurodiversity is a topic is exploded, and the associated traits ADHD, dyslexia, dyscalculia, dyspraxia, I could go on, I won't, but but so all of that is gone, boom, people will know more people are searching more people are hearing from their children. They're going into the workplace and saying, What are you doing about this? workplaces are panicking, because they don't actually know what to do. And to I think that is the gap we've got at the moment that we need to fill and we are all responsible and accountable for that right. So every single person on this call, everybody involved in this call me included, we can all make a significant difference in the way we We transition from that moment of huge, like interest to action to actually making a difference to people's lives. 

Amanda Faull  25:09 

Yeah, that's such a good point. I mean, I wasn't the one I was expecting. But the kind of force of, obviously, we've all experienced being locked down, a lot of people realise the benefits. And there were a lot of winners and losers from that. And, you know, and you just mentioned that, obviously, the impact that's had on people who are already working and have different neurological differences. And now, obviously, employers are grappling with, you know, that hybrid model, but then that pressure, as you said, of future talent, and as my colleague said, it's a huge population. And it's growing in the sense that there's a lot more awareness, a lot more diagnosis. And now, as you said, it's this catching up of a topic that's been relatively, possibly ignored, or put at the bottom of the list. And now, as you said, it's something that you can't ignore. So before I jump into the next question, because I do want to know what you think about what why, you know, employers have been maybe lacks on this or not focusing on this, but just how did you get into this? Because I know you've got a personal story. And you know, your background is very relevant as well, for our audience who are largely Employer Branding, communications, recruitment. 

Theo Smith  26:25 

Absolutely. And those are the areas that I've spent over 15 years working within. But it didn't all start there. You know, in school, I got into quite a lot of trouble. On the one hand, I did not fit the educational model, right, I struggled, I couldn't write, I still can't honestly, I still can't write, I can't hold the pen properly. I get cramps if I write too long, so I'd never learned to hold it properly. 

Amanda Faull  26:46 

Like that now. 

Theo Smith  26:49 

It's like, yeah, yeah. Cuz people are lying to us to type in what a pen. What is this? You know, that's progress, right? It's like, the variety of other things that we wonder whether the young people if they even know what they are, you know, VHS or video when it you know, these things have gone, and maybe you know, a pen in hand will eventually just disappear. But for me, it was really difficult to write to spell. But also, I struggled with pronunciation of words. One example is I struggled to name Theo. I couldn't say, sir. So it's the same feel. Now, when you go back to those very early days of growing up in education, and you can't say your own name, right, people are going to call that out. And kids don't understand what they're doing. But ultimately, when that is just one of 1000, things you're called out on, that becomes a problem. It becomes stigma, it becomes trauma, and it affects you, it affects your development, your neurological development, how you see yourself the value that you have within a given context. And there's a number of things that may happen because of that. It's kind of fight or flight, you may go very quiet and sit at the back of the classroom, like one of my children does. Or you may start to kick things over and cause havoc, right? Because you can't see that there's a space for you, and you just get into trouble. Or you're constantly told off. Why can you say your name properly? Why can't you write properly? Why can't you spell properly? Why can't you do your maths properly? Why can you do timesaver? Why, why, why why. And that's that was my experience in education. However, because I was getting, it's quite a bit of trouble. My mum got me involved in community theatre. And in community theatre, it did really well, I was revered, I started to get roles of responsibility, not just in terms of performance, but actually in being seen as as a leader within that kind of performance space.  

And as I grew over the years, I stayed with it. And it was like my therapy, the theatre was like my therapy, because I could not only could I take the mask off, I could put any mask I wanted on I could be anybody I wanted to be, I could try anything out. And that was okay, that being different was not a problem. And therefore not being able to spell or write or do the things that were expected in school. None of that mattered, none of it. And so from very early on, I recognised that you could be seen as broken, not going to succeed, no value over here. And over here, revered and a lot of value. And let's be honest, we probably see this in sports, you know, where people may be exceptionally good a football, rugby, tennis, whatever. And almost the school forgive the fact because they may be a rugby or football school. And therefore the it kind of gets passed by or they can't do any of the academic stuff. But they're great for our football team.  

So you know, we'll just kind of mask over that fact. For a lot of people they may not find that thing, and what we heard about earlier but on the social and medical model, that's where it becomes a problem then, because you find yourself in the wrong end of that kind of a And I don't know what you'd call it, like the makeup, the your human makeup, right, you find yourself in the pain point, rather than in the areas of strengths and ability. And I think that's one of the big problems that we have when we talk about strengths and challenges is for a lot of people, they may never have had that thing that they were able to hope focus on, that they were able to do really well in, whatever that may be. Therefore, they sat in their challenges for far too long. And ultimately, that affects the way that you feel about yourself, the way that you talk about yourself, and the way that you communicate yourself to others. So that then becomes self fulfilling, right?  

So part of that I was I was self fulfilling this idea and concept that all I was going to be was trouble. And all I was going to do was fail. And but I always knew my parents went to university is mature students when I was younger, and they came from low socio economic backgrounds, from tough backgrounds, yet they went to university without any qualifications. But that always taught me with the drama, and that as soon as I got to 21, nobody can stop me going to university, because theoretically, I can go with a different message idea. And that's what I did. And I went into theatre, I did art, drama. And that was transformative for the way that I saw myself. And that was the beginning then of thinking, well, whatever I do, I'm going to use the skills that I've got, which is creativity, communication, influencing those very early skills that actually have come to play out really well, since I doubled down on neurodiversity as a concept and idea. And it was about five years ago, I identified there was too much negativity around the topic, I started to understand what that topic was the fact that I could identify as being ADHD, autistic and dyslexic. And that was a thing. And at the same time of seeing my daughter struggle, and then go on the journey with her, it just completely transformed my thinking in my mind. And I had to use the influence that I had to let other people within the recruitment community at that point in HR community, to know that there was a different way, there was a different way to see people, there was a different way to present, there's a different way to assess.  

And then actually, we built a lot of this on all models, and we needed to change them. So I wrote the book, we win the award for last year, Business Book of the Year, I created a podcast, and I just started to influence in any space or place that I could. Because I want a different world for my daughter. First and foremost, that was my primary objective. And because that's been my whole focus, it's meant that I've not distracted by what other people are saying or doing or what organisations are struggling with. I've just doubled down on what will do I want for my child in 10 years time when they hit the workforce. It's as simple as that. And that's what's been the driving factor between, you know, behind everything I've done. 

Amanda Faull  33:01 

Absolutely incredible story. I know, You've told me some of it. But you know, hearing and again, it's you know, when you come out and you're able to challenge what what could have held you back, but you obviously succeeded. But as you said, the world is still not where it should be. And, again, we've got a lot of employers in this room. And now that you obviously are working with a lot of companies. And you're probably hearing some of the you know, we've talked to my colleagues shared some stats about, you know, misconceptions. A lot of this is about misunderstanding. So what do you think, is holding employers back from supporting neurodiversity? 

Theo Smith  33:42 

They still don't fundamentally understand what it is. So let me just put it in a different lens for people to try and see it. When they were talking about the social and medical model area. Let me just say this, the Mexican Tatra, blind K fish, right, evolved to be blind in the dark in case of Mexico, because millions of years ago, it got pushed in there. And it evolved to be blind to survive, right survival, or it adapted. However, whatever your preference adapted, evolved to be blind. So we can look at that and think, Oh, the fish is blind, there must be a problem for it. How does it survive? No, it evolved to be blind to save energy, it first lost its eyes then its eyesight to preserve energy, so that it could sustain itself for longer without food in darkened case, because it didn't require a tight. Now, when we think about that, it also got translucent skin as well. It lost the pigmentation in its skin so that in the grace period, it had a lot more energy, and therefore it could survive longer in its infancy, right through into adulthood and beyond.  

The human brain is not so different. We've evolved over a long period of time from the modern brain that you have up in your head. Right, he's evolved over a long, long period of time. Now, in 200 years, probably less, think about what we've created. Right? Think about the world, think about what organisations have created industrialization, globalisation, the Internet of Things, vehicles, motor vehicles, vehicles that are powered by batteries, vehicles go in space, rockets, rockets of destruction. Think about the environment, bright lights, noisy environments, too many people in a single room that we thought was great open plan, isn't this wonderful? No, the reality is, is the human brain has not had enough time to adapt to what we have created. So what we have created damages hurts create significant pain and barriers to certain brains. Because the extended period of time that they've evolved, we've now squeezed them in something that really hurts them, it's like throwing the Mexican Tetra blankie fish back into the open waters, where they're just going to struggle to compete in that environment. But that is what we've done.  

And I think when organisations can fundamentally understand that, that the human brain is incredible, brilliant, beautiful. And every human brain is adapted to this incredible planet that we live on five, plus billion years of evolutionary development on this planet. And yet, in 200 years, we've ruined it, in less organisations have decimated it. And just because six in 10 people or seven in 10 people survive in it, some of these things that we've done, we go, it's okay, it's not okay. So you really need to think about those environments. And we've seen in COVID, the impact that it can have. But the reality is that we have a disproportionate amount of people now off work due to mental health and well being, right those the crisis of mental health and well being comes on the impact of the brain, what's happening in the brain, what we're doing to the brain, nutritionally, we're not getting value into our body, we're not able to get the space, the time the energy that we need to deliver what's being asked of us.  

So organisations need to understand that they then need to pick apart their systems and processes and look at them, and look them in detail to understand where they may be hurting and harming people write from the copy you use, right? The adverts, the communications, the top line of your email, whether your email that you send to your fellow colleague, or to a partner, or to anybody to, you know, a loved one, right, whether you're clear and concise and to the point, so that that person knows what's required of them. Because there's too much information, too much content, we need to get right to the heart of what we want to say, communicate that clearly. And then we can start to overlay that with extra information, insights, details in a wide variety of ways. And it's so important. And when organisations get to understand that it could be transformative for them, but they need to open their eyes. 

Amanda Faull  38:06 

Thank you, you made you made so many good points. I don't even know where to begin, but but I think you made some important points about the fact that, you know, especially the mental health comparison, and I think that will resonate, that, you know, because I think a lot of this is seen as like us in them. And, you know, in my colleagues mentioned, how workplaces, if we're just talking about the physical environments are, tend to be just this one size fits all. And, you know, I've never worked well in in, in an office, I've always had to have headphones in or go somewhere else, and I find it really distracting. But I get that social, you know, every once in a while you need the top up of like being around people. And so, you know, arguably, if you probably did really take a hard look and ask your people, there's going to be a lot of people who just feel exactly the same. So, you know, not going us in them, I think is is really powerful message if there are employers who are resisting certain things, you know, you're not doing these. I mean, there are as they as we've been discussing, you know, unique challenges for certain people, and you can't ignore those. But, you know, if you start addressing those, you'll find that probably a lot of people will appreciate those exact same changes. And I think again, you made that point, it's not just, you know, the physical work environment, it's your communications, it's probably how we treat each other. It's how we, you know, our culture. There's a lot of bullying, you know, there's a lot of that kind of behaviour, which again, we're talking about it as if neurodiversity of people with different neurological thinking are the only ones who are impacted by that. But again, I'm sure if you take a hard look, most people feel exactly the same. So again, thinking of who's here today, and we've talked about, you know, some of this is about a big part of this is about how How you communicate, and how you raise more awareness about neurodiversity. And these individuals. You know, this is a near neurodiversity is invisible. We've talked about this before, you know, it's, you can't see it. And we have huge unemployment rates, and people hiding their differences, if you did want to start communicating, and, you know, bringing forward these stories, how do you go about making this invisible, visible? 

Theo Smith  40:33 

I think it's like anything that is invisible, whether it's the loss of a child, which is far more common than people would dare to think or consider, or it's any other, any other factor that comes into the whole piece of our human existence, right. And these things happen at all different points of our lives. So the most challenging things in our lives may be ahead of us, right. That's the reality, some of those challenging things may be ahead of us. And, but we don't talk about it. And we haven't talked about it, and things are starting to change now. But when you do start to talk about it, and to show it. And sometimes this can happen through employee resource groups, for example, in organisations, where they can get together and start to talk about things they didn't feel comfortable talking about before, because how people would perceive it, or whether it's you lift in some of the stories and narratives, and sharing it openly, but connecting it, as you showed earlier, to just typical normal parts of human life and existence.  

Too often we see in the media, you know, someone who's autistic in a care setting where they need 24/7 care. Now, that is a true example. There are people who needs 24/7 care, but the complexity of their human life and human existence, where they came from the whether or not they had family support, where they grew up in the care system, what are all these different factors, whether they had the right education setting for them, but we don't know anything about that all we see is autistic person with 24/7 care in this environment, and that they're poorly treated. And therefore the perception of people is quite linear, right, and the more that we can do to open up, the reality for a lot of people is not that the reality for a lot of parents is that every day you go home, and you may have 50 more things to do. Don't another parent who is not dealing with supporting an autistic and ADHD and dyslexic child, the fact right there now their child may have additional needs for different reasons, right? Or they may not actually their child may be cognitively brilliant in school, they may be able to do everything that's required of them. But they really struggle with the social admin, right? So they struggle to build friendships, and therefore they may suffer from bullying within that environment. So there's a whole other set of challenges that depends having to deal with.  

So because we're not talking about that in the workplace, because we fear mentioning it, because then it'd be used against us, or people would be quite dismissive, which is third arms when people say, oh, you know, all children are bit like that. So basically, what you're saying is, I can't cope. Because everybody's dealing with this. And therefore I'm the problem as a parent, and if I'm a bad parent, so I need to get a grip. And that's how it feels, when you get somebody else to validate what you feel. It just, it's transformative. And I know, this question may come, but I'll jump in for it as I saw a video that was made like a hero film, and it was vanish. And it was done in partnership with ambitious about autism, to do some great work in the communities. And what happened when I saw that is, I saw a family going through what we go through that you forget about all those bits in a way because they become your normal, they become your typical, and when I watched it, like a fly on the wall of someone else, I'm not somebody who's emotionally connected. I don't cry much, right? I don't it i It brought me to tears. Because it was just it was like, seeing a fly on the wall of our own family.  

And it reminded you of some of those barriers and challenges and things that were difficult would just show them to me and in a way that I just thought whoa, and in a way I'd love to hear from other people who maybe don't face those challenges what what their perception of view is they might still feel like Ah, it's you know, it's nothing wrong with a little tag in the back of a jumper Why is that such a big issue? You know what, why is it big issue that certain clothing feels the way or certain food groups can cause real problems? And it means your child refuses to leave the house two minutes before you need to be at school, and therefore they're going to get a late Mark sheets all of this stuff is it's it's pressure right? On employees that already probably have a lot to deal with.  

So the parental bit for me, it's huge, because we, you know, we didn't talk about it. And I think, from a from a information perspective, from a lifting the lid of Pandora's box, the more we can do that without putting our colleagues at risk, without putting them on a platform that may ultimately cause them stress and anxiety themselves, because that may become very difficult for them. But by doing it in a way, that it validates that this is a thing, because the media, sometimes we'd say that it's not as the media do. So I would say the, the real essence of just human life and existence put out there, in a simple and beautiful way is what we can all focus on a bit more, I think, 

Amanda Faull  45:51 

yeah, and I think you made a good point that it's, as you said, as parents, you know, there's there's that side of the story as well. And they'll probably be a lot more in a work, you know, in in a workplace. And so it's that balance of not, as you said, putting pressure necessarily on an employee who has, you know, might find it challenging to open up, or put expose themselves, but then a parent might be bit more willing to talk about a child and that experience as well. Got a lot of questions coming in. So I'll stop asking mine. I better go to the first one. We've had, we've had someone like it as well. So how would you suggest we help colleagues who work in environments where it is difficult to customise the working environment? For example, frontline retail? 

Theo Smith  46:45 

Wow. So what we need to understand so this is where and there's another question in there. So I'll kind of lift that out, just for a moment, because it helps in this context, is, when we consider individual traits, it can sometimes be difficult, right? Because identifies more than one. So where does one start on one stop, right? Dyslexic autistic, probably have dyscalculia as well. And ADHD, it becomes a complex as my child does. And so when we think about that, if we don't understand how those different things impact us, then it's really hard for us to unpack how the environment may be difficult for us.  

So adapting a space for somebody who works frontline. First of all, you may have to understand, is this the right job? For me right long, long term, it may not be the actual role of being in front of people all the time, may mean that you keep having burnout. And you may have to think, Okay, well, where's the, where can I go that has a little bit of that, because I enjoy it. But ultimately, I also need the rest to be able to recover, or I need balance. And I think, you know, sometimes we don't put enough understanding our emphasis on simple things like lighting. So a lot of people suffer from migraines, from different types of lights. So if you don't have an understanding that the lights are potentially triggering migraines, and a visual or a potential could be more difficult, then you've never really you don't know how to resolve that issue.  

So I think breaking it down basically into strengths and challenges. And you need to think about what are your strengths? What do you enjoy? What are those things that you struggle with? And you find difficult and look for the points that overlap? Because when you start to understand the strengths and the challenges in the points that overlap, you can start to think, Okay, this challenge is potentially linked to this strength, how can I lift up the strength, do more of it and mitigate some of the challenge? So if I'm, if I really enjoy being in front of people, because it gives me energy, but there's a point of burnout? How can I how can I request more breaks in my day, opportunities for me to go and sit and do something else focus my attention in a different way, so that I can come back and knock it out of the park again. So they it's working in in sprints, rather than in kind of 10 hours straight of be in front of house? And if the organisation is not willing to do that, you really have to think, am I going to consistently burn out time and time again? And where is the organisation that can support me to be able to achieve that? And is it a slightly adapted role? Or is there a different working pattern whereby I can do a bit of that front of house and then I can do a bit of the work in the background.  

So cognitive strengths and challenges is really important if you can get an understanding of what those are. A very quick example is my I have I have high ability of creativity, I think really fast. I come up with loads of ideas. I'm seeing almost everything that's going on in the room, I see patterns, I can see where the people what's often what's going on behind people's faces. And but I really struggle with working memory. So if you constantly try and focus on theory, you need to remember this theory, you need to be here at this time theory, you need to take the notes in the meeting theory, need shared notes in the meeting, I'm failing, I'm done, it's not going to work. If you want me to come in and energise, be creative, understand the other stuff that's going on that people might not see, and continue to bring that into the environment, then you're going to win. So organisations need to see the value in those individuals, but we need to be able to communicate how we can deliver on that value as well. So it's not just a one way system and process. 

Amanda Faull  50:40 

I think, just to add to that, they need to feel safe enough to be able to, you know, communicate that point, you know, that these are actually my strengths. And these aren't, and this is what I need. Hopefully, that's answered the question. We might not get all get to all these so we can come back, we can try and reply to people. I'm going to try and combine these two, because I think there's similar. There's a question about from the presentation, my colleagues talked about, you know, things that you can take out of job descriptions that remove bias towards people with neurodiversity, like people skills. So their question is, how can employers remove bias in which skills they require for different roles? And then there's also a question about how can we communicate as employers? How can we as employers communicate to neurodiverse talent pool that we are genuinely interested in the skills they can bring to the workplace? There's probably two things there. It's like, how do we take out the things that discriminate or bias? And how do we over communicate that we want these skills in our workplace? 

Theo Smith  51:46 

Yeah, so thinking about all of the copy that you use, often when we ask for too many skills, we already eliminate, from an ND perspective from a neurodiverse perspective, because we may have high cognitive skills, high cognitive spikes in narrow areas, back to the creativity, or incredible mathematician or so there may be too high spikes. But the challenge is, often what we asked for is maybe six cognitive skills. And what we end up with is the best average across those six cognitive skills, right, in terms of our assessment, and in terms of what we're asking for within the job description and person specification if we have one. And so we need to think about that.  

Think about, well, if we did have somebody within the team that just had two really sharp cognitive spikes, what could we do to support that individual to benefit from this significant level of creativity, or the ability for that person to manage through change quicker than anybody? Right? Because that's the useful skills to having a team to put out there in the front will put you at the front, well let you go through the change for as quickly. And then you can come back and tell us, you know, what were the pain points, what should we consider. And I think that's really important if we can get that balance within teams. And we don't do it enough, because a lot of our models for into an assessment are built on these archaic models of, you know, perfectly assessing across several different areas. And then we get the average score across them all. And if we can challenge ourselves in our era, it's gonna really help but also ask the question.  

So I think nonprofit organisations across all of those different data points, if you're getting a consumer coming across your consumer process, right to buy something, right, at any point, if they drop out, you wonder why if they get right to near the end, and they drop out, you're like, like that person was about to buy, what a dropout? Like, think about your hiring process, your attraction process, your comps process, where people dropping out why are they dropping out? Are we asking them and you don't ask them once you ask them all the key different points and if you can ask them are all key points at a monster enough the ability to what ones can you ask at this point? And and just you know, where are we here in you? Why you dropping out? What could we done better? Is this something around the process that ultimately is not nice that you didn't like it sounds a bit funny. And once you get that feedback, you can make the changes and honestly not enough organisations do that and consider it that almost like that consumer journey, customer first and they are customers, right? If you really want to track the best. 

Amanda Faull  54:25 

Yeah. Okay. Hopefully that's also answered that question. See if I can get to another there's also some interesting chat going on. It was a woman who said loving the session. Can I ask that DLD is added when talking about neurodiversity as a parent of two children with DLD trying to make more people aware what's DLD 

Theo Smith  54:48 

developmental learning disorder. I think the problem is these come to medical terms and I understand why they use because as parents that's what we get given and then that's what you have to use to get support for our children and Also, we then have to use the difference, like, you don't go in and go, I want to be assessed and diagnosed as neurodivergent, or whatever your preference would return, you go in and you have to have an ADHD assessment, you have to have an autistic assessment, you have to go and have a dyslexia assessment. And by the way, that if you're willing to wait four or five, six years, so in reality, that's a problem. If you want to be diagnosed across multiple areas, multiple different trades, there's a cost is an impact of cost. Because if you want to wait to five years, you're gonna have to come pay for it significantly.  

So my challenge here around individual traits is that there is so many because we're talking about the impact on the human brain, and the barrier to the human brain. Because in the idea of the Mexican Tatra, blind cavefish, it's society that we put up these barriers that create the problem. And society then and the medical model is created the labels to be able to help from a medical perspective of here's the pill you take, or you want to take a pill can't do anything for you, I'm afraid. The reality is that in a lot of these instances, my perception of view is that an if an athlete needs to improve their performance, they look at a number of different areas, physical performance, right? They look at their nutrition, they look at their physical activity, what their training what they do into their body, if their body breaks, like they're thinking about water, all the things that I did, that came to the point that we need to think of the human brain in same way.  

So I'm I understand the need to focus on the different traits from a child perspective, because that's the only way that we can advocate and get support in the education setting. But I think from a workplace perspective, we can start to move away from it. And think about it more of the context of the unique and incredible developmental language disorder, thank you. Rename from specific language disorder. So yes, but again, this is where the complexity comes from. When you add that to other associated disorders, not much name anyway, it becomes more complex. And that's why so many girls don't get diagnosis, because they sat quietly in the back of the classroom, and that they don't show up in the same way as other children's specifically boys in that context. And it's the complexity around different diagnosis and traits are really misunderstood.  

The reality is that if you have one, you are far more likely to have more than one. That is the reality. And that is little, that's not understood well enough. And therefore, it can become very confusing for an individual if they only identify with one, but they missed some of the others, because of the way that the model works. And then the support that's offered is based on support has been designed for white men. And again, that support doesn't really fit the needs of other genders, cultures, and environment. So we have a whole problem with that. And but that's why I'm so passionate about neurodiversity is a topic. And it's a concept, because it started strip away that idea of label of boxes, because my brain doesn't fit in any of the single boxes, it sits across the boxes. And for me, the way it impacts me, because of my background where I grew up what my life was like, is very different to so many other people. And we need solutions that are on the ground community based in education, in the workplace transitionary, from education into the workplace, and beyond within the prison systems, like it is a whole complete solution we need to transform in this world.  

But I truly believe that we can all make that happen through organisations through its people because they live in communities, and ultimately, they appearance and they can influence in all facets and aspects of life. So hopefully that helps. 

Amanda Faull  58:58 

Yeah, and we're coming to the end. But that's an excellent summary. And I think, you know, that point you were making about, you can do it differently in organisations. I mean, they're your workplaces, aren't they? And so requiring people to give every one of their medical slips is not going to get anyone anywhere, it's going back to the strengths and weaknesses and talking about you know, what you're bringing to the organisation, which I think is, is much more powerful. So gosh, we could have kept going there's a few more questions, but I think you know, we've covered a lot in a short amount of time. So Theo again, I want to thank you so much for your sharing your story, sharing your experience. Everyone just remind you, he has a book, and we'll share a link to the book with the recording as well. And it's all about neurodiversity and making it work at work. So I hope you enjoyed today and keep the questions coming if there's anything else, and I'm sure Theo will happily maybe address them on his LinkedIn So do follow him. But have a great afternoon everyone. Thank you very much. Bye 


With big names like Microsoft, JP Morgan and EY already investing in neurodiversity hiring schemes, neurodiversity is firmly on the agenda for DE&I. But how can you start attracting neurodiverse talent for your business? 

ThirtyThree’s analysts Agnes Meadows and Savannah Fox talk through why neurodiversity matters to all of us, and practical changes you can make in your communications to create a more accessible workplace for every employee.   

Rewatch the session to learn about: 

  • What neurodiversity is and why it matters 
  • Why we lose diversity of thought when neurodiverse people are underemployed  
  • Why accessibility has to come from the top of an organisation   
  • How you can make a big difference with small changes to your comms   

We discuss the practice of creating inclusive job descriptions, onboarding and employer branding campaigns. 

Whether you’re uncertain about how to support neurodiverse employees, neurodiversity is already central to your D&I strategy, or you’ve never heard of it, you’ll leave this session with a much stronger understanding. 

Want to discuss more about neurodiversity for your next employer branding campaign? Get in touch with us

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