20 February 2018

‘We need cognitive diversity to bring in new perspectives and ideas’


Cathryn Newbery

Cathryn Newbery

Cathryn Newbery is head of content and community at Ciphr. She was previously deputy editor at People Management magazine. You can find her on Twitter @c_newbery.


Diversity and inclusion Talent management


As a third of organisations admit to being poor at recruiting neurodiverse employees, panellists at Roffey Park event discuss how to make non-neuro-typical workers feel more at home

Just 14% of organisations deliberately seek to hire people who do not ‘fit’ with the organisation’s existing culture, according to Roffey Park’s Management Agenda 2018. More than a third (37%) of organisations surveyed for the report said they were not effective at recruiting for cognitive diversity (also referred to as ‘neurodiversity’), which is a key predictor of positive team performance.

Organisations were also found to be poor at leveraging the benefits of cognitive diversity; just a quarter (25%) of respondents said their organisation was effective in this area. The most common ways of encouraging difference cited by respondents included creating opportunities for people to get to know one another (70%); encouraging improvisation (37%); rewarding or recognising dissent or challenge (30%); and encouraging or supporting people who play devil’s advocate (30%).

Speaking at a panel debate to launch the report, Gill Morris, global head of talent management at Jaguar Land Rover, said her organisation was actively investigating cognitive gaps in its working population, and “recruiting for those gaps.”  But, she said, “we have to make sure that those people who are really different aren’t rejected by the system. You have to recognise where the gaps are, change your talent processes to bring those people inm and make sure you have that scaffolding in place . We really need that cognitive diversity to challenge the status quo and bring in those new perspectives and ideas.”

Paul Breckell, CEO at charity Action on Hearing Loss, said that flexible and remote working presented a challenge to encouraging cognitive diversity at work. “Workspaces don’t exist quite in the same way , so where is our tribe? Online, probably – and you end up in a place where there isn’t a lot of cognitive diversity. We need to take a view about whether that is our responsibility or not.”

Echoing concerns about digital collaboration raised at the SD Worx conference earlier that week, Morris added: “With virtual teams, you often hear comments that you don’t get the same ‘watercooler chat’, that informal social interaction.”

However, members of cognitively diverse teams may not interact with colleagues in the same way – and employers have to be respectful and supportive of those preferences, she said. “There are a lot of people in data analytics and software, for example, who fall on the autistic spectrum. We’re doing some work around how we might target and attract these people. They might want to wear headphones all day because they can’t deal with the noise, for example.

“We need to think very differently about these sorts of things because, although we might think people want social interaction and collaboration, there might be people we want to bring into the business who don’t feel the same. Collaboration is a core competency in our business, but – because of our culture – we may not be attracting the type of people we need to hire.”

Just one in 10 employers say neurodiversity is considered in their people management practices, according to a new report by the CIPD – despite around 10% of the UK population being neurodivergent in some way. Neurodiversity is described by the CIPD as encompassing “alternative thinking styles including dyslexia, autism, ADHD and dyspraxia”.

Commenting on a new guide for employers about neurodiversity co-created by the CIPD and Uptimize, a provider of neurodiversity inclusion training, Dr Jill Miller, diversity and inclusion adviser at the CIPD, said: “Even at a time when employers are under pressure to identify new talent pools to fill skills gaps, recruitment and development practices are screening out such individuals and the unique skills they possess.

“Ultimately, everyone has the right to feel accepted and included at work, and organisations have a responsibility to be a place where everyone can reach their potential. While workplace adjustments will be dependent on individual need, they are often small and inexpensive, and many actually benefit everyone. Why wouldn’t you want a more navigable intranet or clearer communications with your manager?”