Workplace Wellbeing Professional caught up with leading entrepreneur and neurodiversity advocate, Carlene Jackson, to discuss the benefits and importance of workplace inclusivity. Carlene is the CEO of Brighton-based tech company Cloud9 Insight, which provides businesses with cloud-based CRM software systems.
Carlene actively puts workplace culture front and centre of business growth. She is frequently featured in the media for her expertise and opinions on tech and entrepreneurship, as well as her views on company culture, employee wellbeing and neurodiversity.
Why do you think recognising neurodiversity in the workplace has become such a prominent discussion point lately?
In my view, there are more and more people who are recognising that there is a lot of new technology coming out which is increasing productivity. But actually, what’s really important is that companies are innovating, looking at trends and finding solutions to business problems that require a creative mindset. If you only do things the way you did in the past, you’re not going to create a competitive edge or move with the times.
The pandemic has accelerated a lot of change and a lot of trends. I think people are looking for the answer to where and how can we innovate our businesses, and what does the market need. I feel that while technology is looking after the mundane processes of our businesses, you can’t automate innovation; people will always be needed for that.
Leaders are starting to recognise that neurodiverse people, with ADHD or dyslexia for example, are fantastic. Even people on the spectrum of autism or asperges are very good at problem solving and thinking outside of the box – this is because their brain is wired differently.
What reasonable adjustments can employers make around the office to help support neurodiverse colleagues?
I would say that its different for every neurodiversity. Even two people with the same neurodiversity are unique and I think it’s important that people understand that.
Companies need to have open conversations so that the workplace not only supports diversity and inclusivity, but genuinely wants to recognise people for who they are and their strengths and their weaknesses. Unfortunately, it is rare that people disclose it [their neurodiversity]. I have never worked with anyone who has disclosed it to me. For that reason, if you have neurodiverse senior people in your team, encourage them to talk about it. If they disclose it, it will help others to share it themselves.
In all neurodiverse cases, managers need to help employees focus on what’s really important. They should not be overwhelmed with a multitude of tasks and responsibilities, but perhaps drip-fed tasks they can confidently execute to a high standard.
For example, if you have dyslexia, or suspect you have dyslexic people in your team, then you need to make sure they have access to tools that will help them plan their work and prioritise. This is because, usually, dyslexics are often highly creative and will have a lot of different ideas. However, they will need to have somebody grounded around them, such as a manager or a colleague, to say ‘they are brilliant ideas – but which one is the important one?’ – which you can then see through. Someone with ADHD, for example, will have similar needs. Another idea is to buddy neurodiverse colleagues with somebody in the team who has skills in areas where they are weak.
As a dyslexic myself, one of the things I struggle with is my memory, which is terrible. Do not stop me in the corridor and ask me to do even one task because I won’t remember it! I think, if you want to get the most out of anyone, it’s really important to give people advanced notice of meetings, and follow important conversations up afterwards in writing. Businesses can easily show support via planned agendas which will create a sense of structure for colleagues around the workplace.
How should employers go about setting up a recruitment process that accounts for neurodiverse candidates?
I love this question, a lot. The first thing to say is: do not have a degree as a requirement. You can have it as a preference, but not as a stipulated requirement.
People with Asperger’s typically have the highest level of intelligence and IQ (also people with dyslexia and ADHD all typically have above average IQ), but due to their experience of the education system, there is a lesser chance that they have a degree. So, if companies are stipulating this as a requirement, they’re already eliminating a lot of neurodiverse talent.
In your job advert, companies need to say that they welcome neurodiverse people, and that neurodiversity should be embraced. Especially since neurodiverse people so rarely admit it. I’ll give you an example. I was at London Business School participating in a course, which had a lot of senior people in attendance; people who are at the top of their game. At the beginning of my talk, I put my hand up and said, ‘who here is neurodiverse?’ before listing various neurodiversities. Then, roughly 1/3 of the room put their hand up. At the end, people came to me and said, ‘that’s so great that you talked about that, people don’t talk about that enough’.
In my industry, people with Asperger’s are phenomenal employees. They are very loyal and are very good at getting the job done. However, we don’t realise it, but during interviews, we tend to hire people like ourselves. We read so much into body language, such as eye contact and the way someone sits in their chair…Yet, somebody with Asperger’s might talk over you or struggle to listen, and the stress of a new environment means they will likely not be performing their best.
Therefore, if companies had work experience opportunities rather than traditional interviews, they’re more likely to see that talent. Companies who offer work experience as a form of interview, and set practical work-related assessments, will give the opportunity for neurodiverse candidates to spend time in your business. As a result, managers will likely find some incredible talent.
How can we collectively increase awareness of neurodiversity in the workplace?
My ambition is to normalise it.
We need to normalise the fact that nobody is normal. There is no such thing as neurotypical. I think it’s a safe assumption that we are all on a spectrum, maybe not the spectrum, but a spectrum somewhere – and that needs to be celebrated.
For me, it’s about normalising the conversation and recognising people as having various superpowers. Employers should think about the superpowers that surround different aspects of neurodiversity that can be celebrated in a business, such as creativity, the ability to focus or loyalty. For example, I always joke with friends of mine who have partners that have Asperger’s that they’ll never go off and date anyone else because they’re the most loyal people you could have. Your loyalist employees will be the ones who have Asperger’s which is a superpower businesses should treasure.
Be humble about your strengths and weaknesses around the office. I am very open with my limitations. For example, I am so highly creative that my team could leave a meeting with a zillion ideas, but that’s not very practical. My team know that I don’t expect them all to be executed, just to prioritise them for me and help pick out the good ones.
Both my children have been diagnosed with dyslexia. So, I think as a parent, the most important thing is to make sure your kids don’t grow up thinking they’re stupid. They have a neurodiversity because they are anything but. They need to recognise that their brain works differently, and they need to embrace that. My biggest regret is not having a diagnosis until I was in my late 20’s because I thought everyone thought like me and they don’t.
Ultimately, recognising that you are different should be celebrated. Celebrating our differences is what creates excellence.
Joanne is the editor for Workplace Wellbeing Professional and has a keen interest in promoting the safety and wellbeing of the global workforce. After earning a bachelor's degree in English literature and media studies, she taught English in China and Vietnam for two years. Before joining Work Well Pro, Joanne worked as a marketing coordinator for luxury property, where her responsibilities included blog writing, photography, and video creation.