NEWS / ACE News / Building Inclusivity roundup: Neurodivergent roundtable

ACE News

20 SEP 2022


Read our summary of, and replay, our online roundtable, Alternative Thinking.

“One Size Doesn’t Fit All” was the key takeaway from the second Building Inclusivity roundtable hosted by ACE in September (7 September 2022).

The online discussion, which featured industry leaders, emerging professionals, subject matter experts and members of the neurodivergent community, focused on what neurodiversity is, shared some case studies and lived experiences, explored how to adapt the recruitment process and the need to find commonality.

ACE’s director of people, skills and culture, Claire Clifford chaired the discussion which featured Rebecca Bettison (AECOM), Richard Wood (Hoare Lea), Tony McCaffery (Diversity Scotland), Sharon Slinger (Constructing Rainbows), Gillian Burgis Smith (Inclusive Environments), as well as Laurel Herman and Gabriel Herman (Aspierations).

What does neurodiversity mean?

Laurel Herman of Aspierations shared that neurodiversity is the “hot topic for 2022” and outlined that it was an umbrella term which encompasses a range of conditions which is why it fuels misconceptions and misunderstandings.

She outlined the experiences of the autistic community where only 16% are in employment and shared how Aspierations are helping employers become autism and neurodiverse “fit and friendly”, as well as the benefits to employing those who think differently.

Sharing lived experiences

Gillian Burgis Smith of Inclusive Environments shared her lived experiences of her neurodegenerative diagnosis, a condition which was brought about by a stroke she suffered. She shared her symptoms and experiences and how we need to think about the design of the environments around us, sharing how she suffered a panic attack when visiting the toilets in her office building owing to poor signage.

Following her blog published on our website, Rebecca Bettison shared the challenges she had faced working with dyslexia and how her employer AECOM was supporting her with plenty of takeaways to inspire other ACE members, including the creation of a neurodiverse support group in the company.

Helping the recruitment process

Tony Caffrey of Diversity Scotland shared the need for employers to understand “the scale of neurodiversity” in the population. He drew links between neurodiversity and disability community which shows they are both – by and large – hidden conditions.

From a recruitment perspective, Diversity Scotland helps to identify the commonalities that exist underneath the neurodiversity umbrella and the strengths that some conditions have and urged employers to recognise this. He urged the creation of “neurodivergent friendly” recruitment practices and that they should be designed by those with lived experiences.

As an HR professional at an ACE member, Richard Wood explained how Hoare Lea are supporting their people in this space and highlighted the business value in incorporating neurodiverse thinking into our organisations. He shared how our industry has a number of roles where alternative thinking is seen as an advantage.

Laurel Herman of Aspierations shared how the good intentions of businesses can sometimes backfire. Sharing the example of a top legal firm’s attempts to create a neurodiverse friendly recruitment process, she outlined the simple mistakes which had been made and the need for businesses to seek external help from experts with lived experiences to design a truly neurodivergent friendly process.

Finding commonality

Gabriel Herman highlighted how there was a lack of communication between neurodiverse and neurotypicals. He stressed that – for example – the autistic community has difficulties articulating what they want and the social impairment experienced on top means it is difficult for employers to know the best steps to take.

Making the most of our role as designers of the built environment

Sharon Slinger of Constructing Rainbows urged our sector to integrate new thinking around lighting and the office environment into our designs. She also said our industry has a lack of senior role models who are publicly neurodivergent.

Richard Wood agreed but said that the culture inside Hoare Lea was changing, and that people were coming to him explaining that they were neurodivergent and there was a need for businesses to highlight this wherever possible.

Top tips and words of wisdom

The roundtable concluded with panellists sharing one top tip or words of wisdom.

“Knowing your strengths and weaknesses and being aware of them.”
“Listening and involving the users and be aware of unconscious bias.”

“One size doesn’t fit all.”

“Understanding the tools available to you. Use new software to support your people.”

“Empathy and think about the autistic individuals we bring to work.”

“Late changes in the agenda, timetable or plans can make people feel anxious.”

“Consult with everyone. This isn’t just about HR.”

Building Inclusivity is the new ED&I campaign from ACE. Explore our neurodiversity resources here, view our campaign page where you can read up more from the campaign and book a place on our upcoming roundtable on Ethnic Minorities.