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How to create an inclusive workplace and embrace neurodiversity

DXC’s Dandelion Programme is breaking down barriers for the neurodivergent.

In the last few years the world of work has drastically changed, and so has the way it accommodates workers’ needs. There is one group, however, that risks being left behind in the transition to the “new normal”.

People with neurodiversity – including ADHD, ADD, OCD, autism and dyslexia, among others – are often made to feel excluded in today’s work environments, due to their needs not being fully understood or accommodated by many of today’s organisations.

Neurodiverse people are extremely capable of excelling in working environments that meet their needs. And there are benefits for employers too. According to DXC Technology research, having neurodivergent individuals can increase the overall productivity of teams by 30-40 per cent. But a failure of inclusion has led to low levels of full-time employment among the neurodivergent. Despite between 15-20 per cent of the UK’s population being neurodiverse, not enough of them are represented in the world of work. A mere 21.7 per cent of people with autism are in employment in the UK, for instance, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

Creating inclusive workspaces that enable neurodivergent people to thrive is the primary goal of the DXC Dandelion Programme, which is a global DXC initiative focused on creating employment pathways and careers for neurodivergent individuals within the IT industry.

“People with neurodiversity can bring a lot of value to the workplace, having strengths such as great attention to detail, focused concentration, pattern recognition, spotting anomalies in data, out-of-the box thinking and loyalty to the company,” said David Gibson, early careers people manager and DXC Dandelion Programme UK lead at DXC Technology. “It is important, however, that the organisation has a structured framework that provides the relevant level of support throughout every milestone of their career roadmap, starting from having a suitable recruitment process for neurodiverse individuals, supporting them with their transition into the workplace and educating the managers and co-workers on how to support these employees.”

[See also: What’s fuelling the rise in adult ADHD?]

Participants of the DXC Dandelion Programme have the chance to work alongside some of DXC’s top UK customers – such as the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC). Four individuals from DXC Dandelion are currently working on software testing and user experience for the DHSC’s information management systems.

The DXC Dandelion Programme offers benefits for all parties involved. The DHSC, which is keen to work with the best talent available, is also fulfilling one of its key aims by participating in the programme. “The civil service is very focused on diversity and inclusion as an organisation, and we’ve got social responsibility obligations,” said Robert Armstrong, head of technology services at DHSC.

“Looking at what DXC has done with this programme, it’s massively energising that we can help people who haven’t had the same chances as others and create opportunities for the neurodivergent community that they would have struggled to put themselves forward for if the organisation followed traditional ways of working. Being more inclusive to neurodivergent individuals and giving them not only technical, but also life skills, opens up a whole pool of untapped talent which, in turn, drives productivity at the workplace.”

Gordon Young, a DXC Dandelion Programme participant, outlines why typical workplaces can be difficult for people like him. “Sometimes the environment itself can be difficult for neurodivergent people as we can have sensory overload, dealing with loud noises, bright lights,” he explains. “Our challenges can seem simple to non-autistic people and may initially cause frustration for them having to allocate more time or resources.”

“The DXC Dandelion Programme has allowed me to learn at my pace,” Young continued, noting how the autism spectrum consultant who was assigned to him also gave him “the confidence to do more. It also allowed me to talk to managers and clients which normally would be very hard for me.”

For too long, companies have relied on interviewing and hiring the same type of people through the same “traditional” ways – to the detriment of diversity. “We now know that, actually, that limits us; we get people who all think the same,” said Lance Illsley, DXC account executive for the public sector, who is responsible for the DHSC account. He believes the format of the programme, and its push for inclusivity, is a good template for all employers to follow. “There’s nothing that we’re doing that no one else can do. It’s just having that appetite to drive it through.”

Gibson added: “With the DXC Dandelion Programme, we have created a framework that really supports neurodiverse adults from recruitment right up to them feeling embedded in the teams that they’re working on. We’ve been working with universities, autism [advocacy] organisations, and neurodiverse individuals themselves, to create a framework that provides the support mechanisms required for adults with autism and other neurodivergent people to successfully apply to opportunities within the IT sector.”

It’s a sentiment shared by Young. DXC Dandelion is “about the long-term success of neurodiverse people”, he said, adding that the reason he believes so few neurodivergent people are in full-time work is “because most people struggle with the beginning” of new jobs. “I believe the initial change to life and the unknown part of a new job cause some people so much anxiety that they feel they need to leave the job and go back to something that is familiar. The only way for them to feel good in a job is to go at their own pace.”

“Once your job becomes a part of your routine,” Young continued, “your skills and knowledge flourish and you can show creativity, progress quickly and build upon the foundation that [we’ve] spent so much time mastering.”

Read more about supporting neurodiversity in the workforce.

[See also: Beautiful minds: the sometimes brutal history of treating autism]

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