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65% of neurodivergent employees fear discrimination despite UK businesses promoting neurodiverse workplaces

The research team surveyed 1117 people, including 127 employers and 990 neurodivergent employees.

New research from Birkbeck's Research Centre for Neurodiversity at Work commissioned by the charity Neurodiversity in Business (NiB) has found significant barriers to neurodivergent employees disclosing their neurodivergence to employers.

Led by Birkbeck Professors Almuth McDowall and Nancy Doyle, the research team surveyed 1117 people, 127 employers and 990 neurodivergent employees, asking about how work is adjusted, as employers need to accommodate requests, barriers and opportunities, and neurodiverse careers. The researchers identified stark barriers to neurodivergent employees disclosing their conditions to employers: 65% of employees feared discrimination from management, 55% from colleagues, and 40% said that there aren’t knowledgeable staff to help.

The research team looked at both sides of the coin. Employers reported that they experienced barriers to making adjustments: with 69% saying that lack of disclosure is an issue, 65% that managers don’t know enough, and 30% had little faith that adjustments work. This highlights a catch 22 – employees don’t feel safe enough to disclose, but without them stating their needs, employers and managers don’t know how best to support.

Neurodivergent employees reported remarkable abilities and work strengths, and employers concur: over 80% reported hyperfocus, 78% creativity, 75% innovative thinking, 71% detail processing and 64% people being authentic at work.

Professor Doyle says: “These qualities speak directly to the World Economic Forum’s reported top skills for 2025. The world of work needs people who can create and are divergent thinkers – neurodiverse workers bring exactly this!”

If employers want to retain such remarkable talent, they must take steps to understand what makes people stay or likely to leave. The research team established that employees are far less likely to leave where adjustments are tailored (50%), and report that women and ethnically minoritized people are more likely to leave. The most important thing for predicting the extent which someone thought about leaving was satisfaction with their career, yet this was an aspect of inclusion which employers did not feel confident about.

Professor McDowall explains: “Our figures document that reasonable tailored adjustments are not simply a ‘nice to have’ but an urgent business need. Organisations need to upskill and support their line managers who are first responders.”

Worryingly, all neurodivergent employees reported low levels of wellbeing. Only half report that they feel calm and relaxed. Nearly 1 in 3 report problems with sleep. This UK data underlines that mental health at work has to remain a core priority across all organisations and all employees.  

The researchers have produced an accessible report with clear recommendations which will be launched at the first Neurodiversity in Business Annual Conference on 16 March 2023 at ExCel London.  

Dan Harris, CEO of NiB added, “We thank the research team for this rigorous gap analysis of ‘what works’ in the UK. The findings make the business case for supporting neurodiverse talent. Tailored adjustments are crucial and support a case for specialist career pathways.” 

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