Awareness of neurodiversity has certainly increased over the past few years and workplaces are gradually becoming more accommodating and accepting of neurodiverse employees. But after years of neglect and of neurodiverse candidates being overlooked for roles for which they are inherently suited, there is still a lot of progress that needs to be made.

Part of that progress lies in making the workplace more comfortable and accommodating for the neurodiverse, but it also means putting in place processes and systems that can really get the most from everyone across the business. Neurodiverse employees think in a different way, have a lot to offer in terms of innovation and problem-solving, and can have ideas that neurotypical people just wouldn’t think of.

Finding the best way to encourage, capture and develop those ideas is vital for any organisation that is serious about developing its neurodiverse employees and really benefitting from the way they think. The right idea management platform could be the perfect way of achieving this.

What does neurodiversity really mean?

Neurodiversity refers to people who have a range of ‘invisible’ neurological disabilities including autism, asperger syndrome, dyspraxia and dyslexia. It has been estimated that only 59% of people are ‘neurotypical’ meaning there are billions of neurodiverse people in the world – yet it’s a group that is very underrepresented in the workplace.

Just 16% of autistic adults in the UK are in full-time paid employment, while only 32% are in some kind of paid work, according to the National Autistic Society. It’s a similar picture with other types of neurodiversity and it’s true that in the past, employers have discriminated against neurodiverse people because of a perceived stigma and because of the additional requirements that some neurodiverse people may need.

There isn’t a standard list of what might be required – neurodiversity comes in many forms – but typically neurodiverse employees might struggle with elements of work such as: face-to-face communication; too much stimulus in the office; being overwhelmed by too many people, both on the commute and in the office; and requiring more specific and detailed instruction for tasks and expected outcomes.

A different way of thinking

There are many ways that an employer can address some of the above elements, from providing flexible working to help avoid rush hour to ensuring there is a safe place in which to work, with less distractions and that is more conducive to concentration. But what can be done to really capture the thought processes and ideas that neurodiverse people can contribute?

Research has shown that within the different types of neurodiversity, many individuals have special skills in pattern recognition, memory, or mathematics, to name just a few examples. While it’s not a term that’s universally liked within the community, many neurodiverse people refer to their neurodiversity as their ‘superpower’. It means they approach things in a different way to neurotypical people, giving different results and answers to questions.

Software firm, SAP, has made great advances in employing neurodiverse people and is reaping the benefits, in terms of productivity gains and boosts in innovative capabilities. It’s an organisation that has recognised the value and contribution offered by neurodiverse employees and has been willing to put in place the right measures to ensure it continues.

Idea management and the neurodiverse

An idea management platform is an important tool for capturing innovation in any organisation and from any employee or stakeholder, but it could also be highly effective for neurodiverse people. A safe place in which they can submit ideas on their own terms and in their own time, without the pressure of a meeting or direct contact with someone they are not comfortable with, would be appealing to many neurodiverse people.

It would also mean that ideas have the room to be discussed and developed without anyone feeling self-conscious. Collaboration is an essential ingredient for successful idea management, but some neurodiverse people might find the face-to-face element of collaboration more difficult. If they were to use an idea management platform, people could collaborate on an idea in a way that suits them and ensures that the idea can be nurtured as required.

Reward and recognition are integral to any idea management programme, but are especially relevant when encouraging people with neurodiversity. Not only does such recognition help engage with that individual and make them feel part of the bigger organisation (a common issue for many neurodiverse employees), but it also means that their unique way of thinking and approaching ideas can get the recognition it deserves.

A better future in neurodiversity

Neurodiversity is a natural variation within humans, that for too long has been seen as something to be cured or managed, instead of nurtured, encouraged and developed. But as awareness of neurodiversity increases, and organisations become more accommodating of neurodiverse candidates and employees, so the benefits of neurodiversity will become clearer.

Diversity and innovation really do go hand-in-hand – the former drives the latter and the latter thrives because of the former. People of different backgrounds have different experiences, think differently and have different mindsets and such variety is incredibly important in generating new ideas and innovation.

Neurodiversity is as much a part of the overall diversity and inclusion agenda as gender or race. As neurodiverse people begin to comprise a more proportionate part of the workforce, so organisations will want to reap the full benefits that comes with neurodiversity. An idea management platform could be a powerful way for capturing the creative thinking and problem-solving skills that neurodiverse employees have to offer.

About the author

Simon Hill is the CEO and founder of idea management firm, Wazoku, working with organisations including HSBC, UK Central Government, Waitrose and more on award-winning innovation programmes.