In the hot seat – insights on managing a neurodiverse workforce
Pic: Cliff Booth, Pexels
Please start by giving us a short summary of your career to date and what role you are currently working in.
I am a Director and part-owner of Amberside Advisors, a project finance advisory practice with a specialism in renewables and infrastructure projects, such as offshore wind manufacture, green gas and EV projects. Amberside Advisors trains its own analysts and modellers and supports its junior intake to achieve chartered accountancy qualification. I was previously a partner at Grant Thornton, and prior to that worked in a number of finance manager roles with public sector agencies, having initially trained with KPMG in Manchester. I am also deputy chair of the Herts Local Enterprise Partnership which co-ordinates economic, innovation and skills spending for the County of Hertfordshire, where our business was founded.
What is Neurodiversity in the workplace?
Neurodiversity refers to the different ways the brain interprets, and processes information and all workplaces are neurodiverse whether they have realised it or not. Most people are Neurotypical, meaning they interpret and process information in a fairly standard way as expected in society. However, approximately 1 in 7 people are Neurodiverse or Neurodivergent meaning they interpret the world differently. Neurodivergent people are sometimes characterised as being Autistic, ADHD, Dyslexic, Dyspraxic or have other sensory processing conditions. Employers are beginning to realise that given the right environment neurodiverse people bring a number of strengths to the workforce and any adjustments made often benefit all employees and ensure companies are fully inclusive.
What are the advantages working with a neurodiverse workforce?
There are many advantages of having a neurodiverse inclusive workforce and employers are beginning to realise what an asset neurodiverse employees are, something we have recognised at Amberside for some time. Neurodivergent employees often demonstrate a different way of looking at things and this level of creativity and out of the box thinking can be a real competitive advantage. Some neurodivergent people are able to hyper focus on their work tasks and others have strong analysis skills due to their ability to process large amounts of information. It is these attributes that we look for in employees we recruit at Amberside as we know neurodivergent employees often excel in specific areas which highlight their strengths, meaning in the right role they are an extremely powerful asset.
In accommodating neurodiverse employees I know there are a number of ‘spill over’ benefits for the entire workforce including:
improved recruitment and retention from a wider pool of talent.
a psychologically safe environment for all employees to feel they can be themselves
much better-quality management and supervision practices
allowing employees to feel empowered to disclose their neurodivergence
improving understanding and communication between employees
positive company image demonstrating a real commitment to diversity and inclusion
What challenges have you come across?
The main challenges we have had to overcome have been around communication between employees as well as management of neurodiverse employees, particularly when Amberside was a much smaller company. Our initial approach was to employ someone with the ability to help us to improve in these areas. Improvements included better supervision for employees, particularly those who needed a bit more support, changes to processes and a guide on ways of working written in conjunction with neurodiverse employees, flexible working practices for better work-life balance, a relaxed dress code, a mentoring system and more.
With your workforce being more neurodiverse than most, do you have any advice to fellow ICAEW members for recruiting a more diverse staff?
As a specialist boutique practice working on infrastructure projects at the cutting edge of what is investable, we have long known that we require a neurodiverse workforce to help us deliver the high quality specialist work Amberside is known for and keep us at the forefront of innovative thinking and continuous improvement to meet our clients’ needs.
I would advise employers to improve their understanding of neurodiversity and review their environment and working practices. A specialist company who understands business and finance can help do this, we use a HR & Neurodiversity specialist Neuropool to continually support our practices and help us improve our working environment and support our workforce to ensure we do gain the benefits of a neurodiverse organisation.
We have also engaged a specialist recruitment agency to help Amberside specifically recruit neurodiverse individuals. The package we offer recruits is strong both in terms of career development and working environment. Amberside has come a long way in becoming a neurodiverse inclusive workplace and we continue to review and reflect on our practices.
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