Diverse By Design: key takeaways from a celebration of technological neurodiversity

  • Author Jacob Goodwin, Glean

  • 30.10.2023

During this year’s Leeds Digital Festival, Glean hosted a panel discussion exploring neurodiversity and the positive impact a wide variety of thought can bring to both teams and technology. Jacob Goodwin unpacks how you can acknowledge, celebrate and embrace neurodivergence within your organisation.

During this year’s Leeds Digital Festival, Glean hosted a panel discussion exploring neurodiversity and the positive impact a wide variety of thought can bring to both teams and technology.

Rooted in the research of the 2023 EqualTech report, which uncovered that neuro-inclusive teams produce the most competitive tech, the panel explored fostering an environment of inclusion, common obstacles and misconceptions of neurodiversity and what precisely it is that a neurodivergent perspective can bring to the table.

Led by Glean’s Head of Engineering, Gwen Diagram, the panel contained Alex Craven of The Data City, Glean’s Head of IT and InfoSec, Will Fieldsend, Brand Manager, Sarah Hardy, and Learning Evangelist, Sammy Lambert, all of whom have first hand experience of the impact of neurodiversity.

Here are three of their key takeaways…

Inclusion starts with acknowledgement

Creating a positive environment for a neurodivergent workforce requires a foundational acknowledgement of the neurodiverse lived experience. This starts right from step one of the recruitment process where an open forum is essential for neurodivergent individuals to be open and honest with the hiring organisation.

Attendees heard anecdotal evidence from the panellists as to how they’d previously had to mask their neurodiversity during the interview process rather than opening up to the company in question about accommodating for their specific needs.

Likewise, existing employees can provide a fascinating insight by taking a fine toothed comb to the day to day. By exploring how regular activities are affected by neurodivergence, employees can pinpoint areas of improvement that would allow both neurotypical and neurodivergent individuals to operate most effectively.

Obstacles are inevitable

But it’s not all plain sailing. The natural counterpoint to acknowledgement was also explored as the conversation shifted toward the obstacles neurodivergence presents. Namely, how a lack of knowledge among the neurotypical can create a self perpetuating cycle of friction; specifically when a lack of flexibility only further fuels the stigma and compounds any pre-existing problems.

Even basic things such as how language is used, or a lack of adherence to process, can cause considerable discomfort and confusion for some neurodivergent individuals.

Similarly, away from the organisational entity, individual obstacles often occur such as a struggle to complete tasks end to end, an absence of follow through and a peaks and troughs experience of energy or motivation.

Most pertinently, the panel raised how a failure to include neurodiverse perspectives means these very real obstacles are never highlighted, primarily because the rest of the people in the room couldn’t begin to conceive of their existence or impact.

The value of neurodiversity for teams and technology

Despite the pros and cons, there was a clear consensus that neurodiversity is undoubtedly beneficial for both teams and technology.

By approaching a situation with a fresh, often unconventional, perspective, problem solving, and product evolution, can take on a whole new lease of life; with speed of action and perception exposing future issues and opportunities at a much faster rate.

However, there was debate over whether the language of neurodiversity can sometimes go to for, exemplified through an evaluation of whether or not the “superpower” monika was helpful.

There was no doubt that neurodivergence constitutes a different wiring of the brain, with all the benefits that brings, yet there was also consensus that it is a disability. And with a higher propensity for burnout, consideration and management of workload is essential for neurodivergent employees.

Once again, we’d like to extend our thanks to everyone who participated in the session and made it so engaging. If you’ve been inspired to consider the neurodiversity within your own team, or are simply intrigued to dive into the detail, you can watch the full session back via the link below.

*Disclaimer – the session contains discussions of mental health challenges and addiction.

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