In recent years, many organisations have come to recognise the importance of diversity in achieving financial and creative success. Whilst these organisations have made great progress towards diversifying gender, race, and cultural backgrounds in the workplace, neurodiversity is yet to receive the same level of focus. Some of humanity's greatest minds – including Albert Einstein, Alan Turin, and Henry Ford – have been identified as being neurodivergent, so perhaps it's time for the accounting world to start acknowledging and embracing this element of diversity within the talent pool.
Neurodiversity is a collective term for cognitive differences including dyslexia, Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Tourettes syndrome. This term refers to the range of different ways that people interpret and understand information – many neurodivergent people have exceptional mathematical and technical abilities and a keen eye for detail. As of 2020, it is estimated that neurodivergent individuals make up 20% of the global population with as many as 1 in 100 people in the UK being identified as such.
Dr Dawn-Joy Leong, a researcher at the University of New South Wales in Australia, describes the neurodiversity paradigm as "a perspective that every kind of mind is equally deserving of respect and value, and therefore potentially capable of contributing powerfully to society in positive ways" . Interestingly, JPMorgan Chase found that – when compared to a neurotypical team – a neurodiverse team achieved 48% higher productivity.
Evidence of this kind certainly suggests that promoting neurodiversity in the workplace leads to positive results so why are businesses failing to employ and support neurodivergent individuals?
A report released by the United Nations in 2016 indicated that more than 80% of adults with autism around the world were unemployed. On a smaller scale, this statistic is reflected by research published by the UK Office for National Statistics that showed that only one in five autistic people in the UK are in any form of employment.
Support neurodiversity in finance and accountancy
Having identified the benefits of neurodiversity, it's also important to understand how to support new and existing neurodivergent talent in your organisation. Mark Charlesworth, a UK-based coach and trainer for those with ADHD and autism, explains that companies need to stop promoting programmes such as 'inclusion weeks' and instead "reflect on how practices affect people with various conditions every day".
Although building these new support programmes may be difficult, ultimately the benefits far outweigh the cost. David Kearon, director of services for Autism Speaks recommends inviting existing neurodiverse employees to brainstorm how to improve neurodiversity hiring at your company. By re-thinking how you recruit new talent, you can change traditional hiring practices that typically filter out those who might struggle with typical interview techniques that may not allow neurodivergent individuals to showcase what they can do.
So, could neurodiversity be the new frontier of accountancy? It seems obvious that it is an area that requires more focus and airtime in professional services generally, and also within the accountancy world, as it is apparent that promoting neurodiversity can lead to positive team-working, and ultimately business results.