Neurodiversity in the workplace

Find out how organisations can support neurodivergent colleagues to build a thriving career.

Neurodiversity is today’s buzzword but when you look at statistics behind it, many neurodivergent people still face challenges to find and stay in employment. There are plenty of ways that large organisations can, and should, use their resources to tap into this pool of talent and unique skills.

According to Isabelle, a colleague with Asperger’s, there is a lot that organisations can do to understand and embrace neurodiversity, which refers to how people experience, and interact with the world in different ways, resulting in differences in learning, thinking and behaving. The term has come to encompass a range of mental and learning conditions, often with a wide spectrum of characteristics, such as autism, dyslexia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and Down’s syndrome. 

According to research from Deloitte, roughly 10-20% of the global population is considered neurodivergent, yet it is widely acknowledged that neurodiverse individuals are underrepresented in the workplace. For example, in the US, it is estimated that 85% of people on the autism spectrum are unemployed, compared to only 4.2% of the overall population.  

There is also growing recognition of the untapped potential of neurodiversity to employers; according to research from the UK’s Birkbeck university, 80% of employers noted hyperfocus in neurodivergent employees, with 75% reporting innovative thinking and 71% detailed processing.   

Ama Ocansey, responsible for BNP Paribas’ UK Diversity and Inclusion Strategy, concurs: “As a financial services organisation, we look for a broad range of skills, from quants, mathematics and data to roles focused on creativity and innovation. We often find that neurodiverse candidates can excel in these fields, and bring us new, interesting perspectives. We are working on changing the narrative around neurodiversity and creating an environment where diverse abilities are seen as career-enhancing and enabling.” 

Ama Ocansey

We are working on changing the narrative around neurodiversity and creating an environment where diverse abilities are seen as career-enhancing and enabling.

Ama Ocansey
Responsible for BNP Paribas’ UK Diversity and Inclusion Strategy

Making recruitment accessible  

Employers like BNP Paribas CIB are increasingly looking at the role of the recruitment process in ensuring equitable hiring practices. In the case of neurodivergent candidates, this could mean using clear and concise language in job adverts, providing an accessible careers website and ensuring a range of activities that demonstrate all candidates’ unique skills.    

“When I graduated from university, I found it challenging applying for jobs and navigating the usual standardised tests,” explains Isabelle. “I saw a supported internship offered by BNP Paribas, in partnership with UK organisation Ambitious About Autism, and decided to apply in June 2021. From the start, there was an adapted application process, involving support from a career advisor, and interview questions provided in advance, as well as the opportunity to give a presentation on a topic of my choice – all of which helped me prepare and showcase my skills and competencies in the best light.” 

The Bank is also focused on designing careers fairs aimed at attracting candidates with diverse abilities. 

A key role for managers 

While broad policies are important, experts agree that it is managers, who help shape and support an employee’s day to day experience and play a key role in building an inclusive environment.  

Flavie Motte

Simply hiring neurodiverse employees isn’t the only solution to building an inclusive workplace.

Flavie Motte
BNP Paribas Canada’s Head of HR

At BNP Paribas in Canada, manager awareness and training are front and centre of the Bank’s efforts to develop neurodiverse talent. Flavie Motte, BNP Paribas Canada’s Head of HR, explains. 

“Simply hiring neurodiverse employees isn’t the only solution to building an inclusive workplace. We have been incredibly proud of our partnership with EY Canada’s Neurodiversity Centres of Excellence, with whom we worked to launch our workplace inclusion programme. Learning from EY experts on how to strategise and create systems that build trust has been incredibly valuable, as well as providing employees, and managers, with the tools to help their co-workers feel supported”, she explains.  

“We’ve recently had the pleasure of welcoming a neurodiverse young professional to our own team”, continues Motte. “This has significantly enriched our insights and empowered us to provide informed guidance to our managers on reasonable adjustments to the working environment.” 

These adjustments could range from adapted IT tools, to tweaks in communication style, or enabling employees to commute at a time that avoids rush hour; a focus echoed across BNP Paribas CIB’s global regions.  

Beyond the day-to-day 

The Bank’s efforts to drive an inclusive culture extend beyond the immediate day-to-day.   

In the UK, BNP Paribas, in partnership with AXA, has launched a new wellbeing benefit for employees and families, offering a service to diagnose neurodiverse orientations, as well as post-assessment support, for example group sessions and medication service for ADHD.  

Ama Ocansey also explains that: “We often hear from colleagues who are experiencing challenges at home, with children or teenagers who may be in need of a professional assessment or have been diagnosed, and in need of support. The kind of benefit we offer as an employer can be life-changing and help support parents to thrive at home and at work. It’s a work in progress, I am also grateful to our Parents and Carers, and Ability employee networks, who play an instrumental role in promoting and providing additional support for these kinds of initiatives.” 

The UK Ability Network fosters support to colleagues affected by disabilities by organising events and provide information about resources available to them to ensure they feel they are in a safe and supported environment. Isabelle works closely with the Chair of the Network, Temi Awofala to achieve its mission and objectives for employees regardless of their disabilities to thrive.

“Driving progress on neurodiversity in the workplace approach needs to be top down and bottom up”, she concludes. “A lot of people dealing with their own circumstances, or children who are neurodivergent can feel very alone, and just need someone to empathise and to listen. In the Ability network we are focused on fostering this culture.”