In the UK, almost half of disabled people are unemployed, and those with learning difficulties, autism and mental illnesses are the least likely to be in work.
In a working world that’s placing an ever-growing focus on accessibility and inclusion, these statistics are simply not good enough. In a time when attracting and retaining people is so difficult, businesses should be doing their utmost to create more inclusive environments and tap into what is an underserved, underutilised army of talent.
Celebrating points of difference
Championing neurodiversity and inclusion is, of course, significant all year round. But seeing that today is Autistic Pride Day, I want to highlight the importance of supporting neurodiversity in the workplace.
Autistic Pride Day is about providing an opportunity for people with autism to embrace their neurodiversity and encourage businesses to better support them in the workplace. The latter is about focusing on listening to the needs of individuals and ensuring that neurodiverse employees are given equal opportunities to neurotypical people.
Someone’s point of difference should be celebrated as such; it’s their superpower, it’s what makes them stand out. When it comes to neurodiverse colleagues, that point of difference could be tackling a tough problem with a solution no one else has thought of; it could be finding an innovative way to optimise a process that hasn’t been thought about twice for a long time. These qualities are gold dust.
Change is everyone’s responsibility
Finding that gold dust first demands that you help your colleagues reach their full potential. That itself requires a commitment to support them and providing a platform for the opportunity to be taken – both particularly important when we pause to remember that some of our colleagues have different thought-processing and ways of retaining information that challenges the ‘traditional’ way things are done.
Employers must embrace difference, be understanding, and respond to peoples’ needs positively. And it’s not just about directors and founders – every team member has a part to play in making sure that people feel comfortable and visible in the workplace and their wider work community.
An environment everyone can thrive in
Human relationships are key to better neurodiversity in the workplace, and so is the workplace itself. The physical workplace should be a place where everybody feels accommodated, valued and stimulated. At Britvic, we recently became a member of the non-profit organisation Business Disability Forum which focuses on accessibility and inclusivity.
Recently, some of Britvic’s offices have undergone a bit of a redesign. We decided to gain the input of our B-Seen network – a group championing people with disabilities and diverse abilities within the business – so that our new spaces properly consider those who the group represents. As the B-Seen network sponsor, it’s a priority for me to make sure Britvic colleagues feel heard and seen and are treated equally. I am dedicated to establishing an inclusive working environment, where people feel empowered to be different.
When designing these rooms, factors such as the colour palette, lighting and acoustics were all taken into account, resulting in rooms with soundproofing, softer lighting and muted colours to help our neurodiverse colleagues thrive.
Creating a neurodiverse workforce is a good business decision
Neurodiverse people must feel appreciated and employers must take practical steps to ensure that they are supported in their roles.
Making workspaces accessible and supportive of all people isn’t just about following policies, it’s also about having a caring attitude, providing support, and, frankly, making good business decisions. After all, not doing so means you’re not getting some of your people at their best.
Although there is still much more that we can improve on, we will keep striving to create a working culture and environment that empowers every Britvic colleague to reach their potential.
Russell Goldman | Managing Director, London Essence Company and Plenish