Neurodiversity Celebration Week takes place from 13 - 19 March 2023 - a global initiative that fosters understanding and celebration of the talents of neurodivergent individuals.
It was founded in 2018 by Siena Castellon "to change the narrative and create a balanced view which focuses equally on our talents and strengths".
Acas, the workplace public body, estimates that around 1 in 7 people (more than 15% of people in the UK) are neurodivergent and describes neurodiversity as “the different ways the brain can work and interpret information”.
Neurodivergence includes Attention Deficit Disorders, Autism, Dyslexia, Dyspraxia, Dyscalculia and a range of other divergent experiences. The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) notes that “bipolar disorder, depression, schizophrenia and anxiety are sometimes included under the umbrella of neurodivergence.”
Neurodiversity Celebration Week encourages us to help build “inclusive and equitable cultures that celebrate differences and empower every individual” by challenging stereotypes and misconceptions about neurological differences at home, school and in the workplace.
On Guild we witness daily how diversity, combined with honesty and respect, makes for strong communities. Many Guild members say that they value the professional atmosphere and “safe space” to ask and answer questions in the way that works best for each individual.
Being open to each other’s differences, strengths and talents and communicating in effective and supportive ways, helps us work together more effectively.
To mark Neurodiversity Celebration Week we approached Guild members to ask for their experiences, perspectives and tips for understanding neurodiverse talent.
They also gave advice for fellow neurodivergent professionals.
"It's important to remember that neurodiversity is exactly that - a different way of thinking. It brings challenges that are important to understand and be aware of, but it's also important to note the strength that can be found in having a brain that works 'differently'.
'The ADHD Advantage' from Dale Archer has helped me to reframe my own understanding of my diagnosis, but for leadership teams I'd strongly recommend 'The Power of Neurodiversity' by Thomas Armstrong to understand why neurodivergence goes far beyond the traditional view of 'mental illness'."
Charlotte Boerescu-Kelly, Head Of Marketing at GO!
“There are two things neurotypical colleagues can do to help those of us that are neurodiverse in the workplace: the first is stop trying to rationalize the things you don't understand - just accept that the way we do things is different from neurotypical people.
The second is to stop trying to help us be more "normal" - in my case, I've spent decades working to develop coping mechanisms for minimizing the challenges being neurodiverse creates for me, and help to try to make me more normal can be really stressful.”
The final thing is to ask more questions, where you don't understand. I am happy to answer any questions about my neurodiverse experience - I'm aware that I appear different to many people - and I only ask that people accept the answers, rather than trying to make me justify them because people can't rationalize them.”
“I was really lucky to be diagnosed with dyslexia at an early age. It didn’t feel like it at the time, but it gave me the chance to develop resilience and create my own coping mechanisms and strategies to overcome the things I found more challenging. I had to find what I was passionate about, tap in to it, and harness my dyslexic superpowers – connecting, communicating and creating, as well as acute awareness of emotional intelligence.
So, my advice for anyone who has just been diagnosed, or maybe with children who have just been diagnosed: every dyslexic experience is different but diagnosis is the first step to harnessing your superpowers. Tap into the knowledge and technology out there to help you along the way, and you’ll be flying in no time (NB. unfortunately flying isn’t actually a dyslexic superpower – although there is probably a dyslexic mind working on making it a reality!).
I’d recommend the resources produced by charities like Made by Dyslexia and the BDA for anyone interesting in finding out more.”
Edward Thomas, Group Head of Marketing and Communications, The Wrekin Housing Group
"My tips for neurodivergent professionals:
Eat a high protein breakfast - this has made the biggest difference to me. It helps focus and concentration all day.
Avoid sugar - ADHD's focus nemesis
Read ADDitude Magazine online. It's got so many great articles for research and for treatment.
“Leaders have a responsibility to make it possible for neurodivergent individuals to amplify their strengths and manage the things they find difficult; the lifeblood of your organisation is at stake!
Research shows that different thinking styles improve innovation and organisational effectiveness. Not just because of the individuals in the room but also because of the networks they are plugged into.
If you want to get your head around this and understand the practical steps you can take to make it a reality my book recommendation would be: Neurodiversity at Work: Drive Innovation, Performance and Productivity with a Neurodiverse Workforce by Theo Smith and Prof Amanda Kirby
My advice would be if you have met one individual with neurodivergent traits you have met one - treat them as an individual and have a conversation about how you can work together to help them be their most effective.”
“There’s a lot of focus on diversity in the workplace at the moment, but we need to make sure that diversity also leads to inclusion. Providing a couple of simple adjustments that support your neurodivergent colleagues with their executive functioning and emotional regulation needs, is a really easy way to include them.
This could be as simple as setting timers to remind them of a deadline, ensuring they remain hydrated during the day, and giving them space to process information in the way best for them.
By doing this you’re not only enabling them to celebrate and understand themselves, you’re also ensuring you’re creating a sustainably diverse team that understands and works effectively with each other, whilst celebrating everyone’s unique talents and strengths.”
Lucy Patterson, Founder, Design Thinking Practitioner & Sustainable Community Builder, Flourish Unlimited. Lucy has recently joined with Alison Wombwell to create the NeurOkay program to support neurodivergent entrepreneurs and their organisations
“I’ve always looked at the world differently. Often this has allowed me to spot patterns that others didn’t. Sometimes it’s meant I struggled to grasp points or concepts others found easy. I recently discovered that this was because I had ADHD. It's a form of neurodiversity caused by lower than normal levels of the neurotransmitter norepinephrine in the brain (not too much TV or sugar, as some people believe!).
I’ve embraced the fact that my ADHD makes me great at making sense of complexity which is at the heart of my role as a consultant - solving complex problems with my clients.”
Vijay Luthra, Head of Strategic Partnerships, Thriva & IOD Expert Advisor/Ambassador
“My best employee has ADHD and has brought out-of-the-box thinking, creative solutions, inspiration and so much more to my business. It's these skills that have helped BoldMove formulate and build our new business model and better ways of working. Yes, I've had to adapt very slightly to accommodate her needs but actually, these adjustments have been beneficial for everyone and I wouldn't change that.
I have dyscalculia which means I have difficulty understanding numbers and mathematics. Thankfully this hasn't impacted my life too much and I'm very grateful for the invention of the calculator.
Members of my family also live with neurodiversity differences including dyslexia, slow processing, Irlen Syndrome & Asperger Syndrome. I genuinely believe that we all need to embrace what Neurodiversity can bring to every one of us and our world.”
Julia Fenwick, Founder & Director, BoldMove Consulting
"After waiting 2 years from my initial GP consultation, I was eventually diagnosed with ADHD 4 years ago, at the age of 49. In some instances, the waiting NHS waiting list for ADHD diagnosis can be even longer.
I was astonished by the lack of information available to explain what it actually meant… which was the catalyst for starting ND Positive.
My tip to the world of business is to take a closer look at and embrace the competitive advantage neurodivergent thinking in the workplace, spark and drive innovation.
I have come to believe that the way our minds are wired, our way of thinking is circular, not linear. From experience, I now understand when I look at a problem or challenge, is not in a straight line from A-B or the obvious route. I discover solutions or notice answers from a different perspective, I genuinely believe that neurominority thinking has the ability to change the world."
Yogi Erasmus, Director, Element Event Consulting and Found, ND Positive. ND Positive's aim is to "share resources, with interviews and stories that draw from real-life experiences lived by people who embrace their neurodiversity, enabling a positive life because they are ND, not despite it".
“Creativity comes in so many forms the challenge is really for the neurotypical to understand that what is easy for some is a real challenge for others and the key is to support and celebrate everyone's skills, while also remembering that small changes can also make a huge difference.”
“My top tips for neurodivergent individuals applying for work:
1. Know what you offer the team or business because you are neurodivergent
2. Make sure you know what adjustments you may need to culture, role, expectations, physical space and social interaction that mean you can shine, thrive and be of greatest value to the company.
If that means they don’t hire you, you’ve escaped a life of masking and a huge toll on your mental well-being trying to fit into a situation where you aren’t valued as you."
Dr Anne Collis, Visiting Research Fellow, University of Southampton and Founding Director, NeuDICE (NeuroDivergent Innovation Centre for Entrepreneurs)
“Whether it's employees or customers, organisations like to put people in boxes. These boxes allow the organisation to monitor, measure and understand what success looks like. The assumption is that we all have the ability to be as good as each other at every single task. We are, however, individuals with our own strengths and weaknesses
Being neurodiverse means that a person will have further needs and support outside of these fictional boxes. That said, neurodiverse employees will likely have key strengths. Brands that focus on their key strengths, strengths that likely attracted them to employ the individual in the first place rather than putting neurodiverse employees into the same boxes will get the best results.
It's important to remember that this isn't pandering, this is optimising time and efficiency of an organisation. Why waste time trying to put neurodiverse employees in these fictional boxes when you can instead celebrate their unique abilities and skills?"
“I think the biggest thing I'd say for Neurodiversity Celebration Week is…neurodiverse people are not children or prisoners to be locked up; we can handle coordinating our own care if we have the right support and resources.
We have unique needs and can't always do things the way neurotypical people do.
Adjusting communication styles and making room for the ways different people think is a huge part of making any environment accessible.”
Bryant Harland, Content Marketing Director, Independent Consultant
“I was finally diagnosed bipolar 1 rapid cycling when I was 25 years old although I had suffered from the age of 12.
I now realise that I have thought differently from most others my entire life although my denial of this (I assumed we all thought the same way, the sky is blue, the grass is green and we all go through times of utter despair leading us to fantasise about our death, as you do...) lasted until my 30’s. After finally being tested, it turned out that I had an IQ higher than 161 (this is the highest you can score with Mensa and I decided not to pursue this any further).
I would say I have been blessed with my career as I work as a professional guitarist and a freelance creative/art director and designer, although my illness has made me take a few years off from work. I feel living a life where you are totally transparent about the person you are is a healthy experience. I can look back and almost smile at my life experiences, be them good or horrible, as it all set me up for my later life - my hobbies with guitars, design and photography became my job.
It’s not your fault if you suffer from x,y or z but if we all communicate fully with each other, we all have problems (from your Ferrari breaking down to being a very sad person with nobody who will listen) life is just a little easier to navigate.”
Further resources for understanding, supporting and celebrating neurodiversity in the workplace
Communities talking about inclusivity and diversity for professionals
All the contributors to this post are members on Guild who responded to our request for advice and perspectives.
You can be part of the Guild network and join communities which regularly discuss and collaborate on professional issues with the aim of making our organisations better places to work.
Building Inclusive Cultures is hosted by Kevin Withane, a purpose-led senior lawyer and founder of Diversity X. Building Inclusive Cultures is a community to support individuals committed to building a professional culture of belonging, wherever you work.
It's a safe space to have challenging conversations and welcomes those with lived experiences of discrimination, allies and business leaders.
Future of Work - Reimagining Business is hosted by Mike Weston, author of Reimagine: how to create tomorrow's great businesses, and a consultant and lecturer on the future of business.
Future of Work is a community for anyone interested in fostering a more equitable, sustainable future - a world of work that works for all.