Insights / Employers - 8 minutes

Supporting Neurodiversity in the Workplace - Carole Williamson, Durham Enable

Neurodiversity is the concept that there is natural variation in the human brain that leads to differences in how we think and behave. Unfortunately, there are many barriers to recruitment for neurodiverse candidates. Here are Carole's top tips for employers.

Supporting Neurodiversity in the Workplace - Carole Williamson, Durham Enable


Tech Talent Engine


Neurodiversity is the concept that there is natural variation in the human brain that leads to differences in how we think and behave.

It covers everyone but highlights the broad range of what are generally considered to be disorders, such as ADD, ADHD, autism, dyscalculia, and many more. The ND movement prefers the term neurominories, with neurodivergent, as the term for people who are different in these ways.

Although research is still new, the term neurodiversity means something different to each person. This is what makes it so difficult to identify in individuals, with many neurological differences often going unsupported or recognised for years, if at all.

As an employer, it’s important to take into consideration the different types of learners and workers in your office, ensuring you build an inclusive, workplace for everyone.

This will not only help to support your employees and improve retention, but it will allow you to position yourself as an employer of choice in the region, setting you apart from competitors.

Tech Talent Engine sat down with Carole Williamson, In Work Support and Training Officer at DurhamEnable, to discuss what it means to be neurodivergent and how employers can support existing staff.

As an autistic adult, Carole feels passionately about helping neurodivergent candidates into employment and works with employers to provide training to support existing staff.

Firstly, what does it mean to be neurodivergent?

What is Neurodiversity?

Neurodiversity translates to neurological and diversity, which is the difference in which the human brain thinks, learns and communicates. In the same way biodiversity is key in the natural world.

The neurodiversity movement started in 1990 when the Autistic Rights Movement emerged, seeking to promote understanding of the differences in neurological processing.

Carole is seeking to challenge the narrative around neurodivergent people being disordered, empowering individuals to use their difference as their personal strength.

As soon as I help people to see their differences are not wrong or that they are not broken or disordered, you see the change in their body language. They feel recognised, sit up and show a sense of pride.

Neurodiversity in the Workplace

Neurodiversity in the workplace is a great attribute to any organisation and has several benefits.

For example, those with ADHD have a natural ability to hyperfocus on certain tasks, allowing them to work in sustained periods of isolation.

On the other hand, dyslexic colleagues are non-linear thinkers, allowing them to often think outside the box and offer an alternative perspective – a trait that is highly valued among teams.

Currently, there is no obligation for an employee to disclose that they are neurodiverse. However, it’s an employer’s responsibility to provide an inclusive space where everyone, regardless of their background, can feel safe.


The first step towards inclusivity, Carole advises, is to educate and train your staff.

This can include neurodiversity awareness training, which focuses on providing the right support to employees. Further, it can empower line managers to spot any potential barriers to the workplace and identify employees that need extra help.

Leading from this, the training can focus on specific people and how to work with them comfortably and successfully. People can be very nervous about differences and often shy about talking about it - this can make for an awkward workplace.

Clarity and openness really make a difference. Something as simple as the desk arrangement plan can make a huge difference.

Consider asking colleagues their preferences, i.e., do they prefer to sit next to a window, in a group or work isolated?

Remaining open and honest here is essential, ensuring expectations are realistic. It can be upsetting to create false promises with no transparency.

Carole also recommends promoting a neurodiversity champion in the workplace to encourage a community.

This is someone who is extremely approachable and very knowledgeable, with a passion to encourage and support those with neurodiverse needs. Alternatively, it can also be someone who wants to gain these skills.

Recruitment Strategies

Standard recruitment processes can be a barrier to many neurodivergent applicants. Ask yourself, how inclusive is this advert?

This includes looking at the platform you are advertising the vacancy on, the text formatting and the language you are using.

That said, if you haven’t changed your recruitment strategy in the last five years and you’re struggling to fill vacancies, it’s a good idea to conduct a full audit of the recruitment process from start to finish. This can help you identify any potential barriers to applicants.

Carole’s top tips for recruitment:

  • Adopt gender-neutral language
  • Avoid jargon/ corporate language that is hard to understand
  • Consider blind recruitment
  • Format your job advert in an accessible way, making note of fonts and sizes that are easy to read
  • Include your companies commitment to diversity and inclusion statement

As for the next stage in recruitment, consider removing an in-person interview and conduct a call over Zoom. This allows applicants to conduct the interview in their own space. Choice here is key.

Also, is there a different method you could use, rather than the traditional sit-down interview? Can a working interview be a better option?

Here, tasks are undertaken over time and the candidate can relax. Both parties can assess whether the job is a fit, using observation, experience and more subtle questioning.

Before starting the interview, let the candidate know what is going to happen, i.e., 30 minutes of questions from the panel and a 10-minute opportunity for questions at the end, providing a sense of structure. Questions in advance is a benefit to all and can prevent freezing or over-sharing.

People feel this is cheating, but being able to answer properly, under less pressure, may get you the best employee.

Flexibility at Work

Everyone is different and what might work for one person may not work for another, so being open is key.

Those who struggle with regular working patterns may find a 9-5 role challenging and prefer a more flexible approach to work. This can include flexible working hours, focusing on output rather than the time completed in a day.

While one person may prefer to work on something for a full working day, others may need breaks in between to increase focus. For example, parents may prefer to work between 7-3 or pick up work later in the evening.

This added flexibility gives colleagues the autonomy to choose their own working hours, avoiding burn out. Similarly, working from home is an option that many candidates favour in today’s world.

In fact, according to the Digital Skills Audit, 63% of young professionals report that remote working is a key benefit of working for their company. Is this something your company could endorse?

Inclusive working environment

You might be wondering how to get people back into the office – here’s how.

Firstly, start by asking colleagues what would make their roles easier, whether break out rooms, thinking spaces and better equipment in the office.

An inclusive office can include:

• Noise cancelling headphones • Screen filters • Time management software and project management tools • Text to speech processors

Take the time to get to know your staff. Ask them about their preferences and, most importantly, show them that you care.

Support Staff

Creating an inclusive environment starts with culture. This involves creating a supportive environment where employees feel seen, supported, safe and successful.

Whether that’s regular check-ins and mental health support, providing support is something every company should adopt.

Not only does it create community, but it allows your employees to feel satisfied in their roles and empowered to do their best.

Carole also expresses that employers remain transparent about their needs to make objectives clear.

Tell them where they need to be and what you want from them. When you walk away, ask yourself – did I give them the right information and enough tools to achieve success?

Say what you mean and mean what you say.

Empower Employees

If you’re an employer that manages a team of staff, it’s your responsibility to provide a safe space for anyone you employ. This includes providing an inclusive space for everyone, removing barriers to work and giving employees the freedom to achieve success.

Carole Williamson has worked with several businesses employing neurodivergent people to upgrade and modernise their outdated structures and support neurodiverse candidates.

If you’d like to find out more about neurodiversity training and employing neurodivergent or disabled people with Durham Enable, you can find out more here.

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