According to the National Autistic Society there are around 700,000 people on the autism spectrum in the UK, of those, just 16% of autistic adults are in full-time, paid employment.
To help, DMA Talent is leading a Neurodiversity Initiative, which aims to help businesses learn how to become more ‘neurodiverse friendly’, ensuring they are able to choose from a wider talent pool and seek out the most capable individuals for their roles.
Data-related skills are in high demand but the data and marketing industry lacks recruits
In a digital age, big data is the future of data and marketing. In terms of data and marketing teams across the UK, we are missing out on a large talent pool that can be highly analytical. Neurodiverse people, especially those on the autism spectrum, can often thrive with problem solving tasks, data analysis, and projects that require high attention to detail.
The ‘Professional skills census 2018
’ from the Institute of Direct and Digital Marketing (IDM) highlights ‘data-related skills’ as a key area with skills gaps that need to be addressed. They include Analysing customer data/insight, Data analysis & reporting, Data & database management.
How can your business become more neurodiverse friendly?
Matthew Trerise, who has 15 years’ experience working with individuals on the autism spectrum, will be leading the training workshops. Since 2009, he has worked in a specialised NHS diagnostic service to help develop their diagnostic programme and assist businesses with their training. He has advised multiple employers, including the HMRC, on alterations they should make to their recruitment procedures and working environment to be ‘neurodiverse friendly’.
Senior decision makers, line management and HR teams will unlikely be experts on neurodiversity, as there is limited research, best practice and training for this, although this is rapidly changing. That is why we are working with subject matter experts to help define best practice and we have been advised on a number of straightforward adjustments that can be made to help.
It is essential to tailor the candidate tasks to the job at hand, while being conscious of how to get the best from someone. For interviews, on-the-spot questioning isn’t necessarily always the most productive way to assess a person’s initiative. Someone with an autism spectrum condition (ASC) may benefit from taking a task away and analysing it in greater detail to look at the overall picture- then provide their thoughts at a later date.
There are a number of working practices and conditions that should be considered, with some becoming more common practice. Working from home and flexibility in working hours have really grown in popularity in recent years, as there may be days where someone is perfectly capable of doing their job, just not in a busy office.
Something I’d like to see more of, which Matt Trerise also recommends in his training, is different working zones. Working zones may be separated for ‘creative’ group work and ‘quiet’ project work, where analytical tasks can be focused on, noise is minimal and things like lighting don’t need to be so intrusive. Not everyone operates best in the same conditions and so you can learn a lot about your employee or colleague from observing where they prefer to operate.
Clearer communication between employees is a fundamental change that needs to improve. It can be very helpful for someone with autism, for example, to be clear what you are asking of them – let them know exactly what you need from them and when. Additionally, asking in advance so they aren’t approached with challenging questions unexpectedly. Keeping to deadlines, where possible, is also helpful.
Both managers and their staff should feel confident that they can communicate queries or concerns with one another, or if managers have challenges within their team, how they feel the company can help to resolve them.
Direct Line Group – Taking the initiative to understand and implement best practice
Louise Calvert, DLG’s Propositions Development Manager, and Amy Ah-kine, DLG’s Head of Campaign Selections, attended the Neurodiversity Initiative
training in September 2018.
Both Louise and Amy felt this initiative and training expanded on the current information available in the public domain in terms of research, advice and best practice. They were delighted that it aimed to bring people together from the data and marketing industry, and wider professional world, to share their experience and learn best practice.
There are a variety of staff at Direct Line Group who have a personal connection to this initiative, with some having friends and relatives on the autism spectrum. It affects a significant part of the population, whether directly or indirectly, and so the Group recognise the importance of DMA Talent’s Neurodiversity Initiative.
Like many organisations who attend, they believe organisations can be doing things better. Their internal ‘Diversity Network Alliance’ (which promotes diversity and equal opportunities within the company) were keen to learn best practice regarding neurodiversity and so this training would be key to providing further insight. Matt Trerise provided them with a real view of autism – quite often it can feel like there is disconnect between the theory and the people involved, but they both highlighted that his training felt much more real and personal.
They have found that by having both autistic and non-autistic professionals in mixed project teams it presented new perspectives within and significantly improved the team’s work productivity and output.
Looking to the future
We need to raise awareness of neurodiversity and provide a platform where consultation is available and best practice is continuously developed. DMA Talent’s Neurodiversity Initiative may be the start of a movement that will help the industry to bridge a number of skills gaps, while gaining access to a vast, highly skilled talent pool at the same time.
It is all about tailoring working environments for individuals – not just what is convenient for the majority. It still continues to surprise me today how much a person can thrive in the right conditions, given the right support.
Kate Burnett is MD of DMA Talent.