Podcast: What are the workplace issues of neurodiversity?

Podcast: What are the workplace issues of neurodiversity?

Neurodiversity - the workplace issues

In this podcast, I am joined again by Jannett Morgan who’s a neurodiversity coach consultant, and today what I want to do is start to explore some of the issues in the workplace and how neurodiversity kind of presents itself, how organisations see it and what can kind of happen if something different happens?

Listen to Jannett Morgan and David talk about the workplace issues of neurodiversity

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Jannett Morgan

Jannett is a teacher, trainer, consultant and coach specialising in leadership development. Inspired by her personal as well as professional experiences, Jannett has supported students and employees with ‘hidden disabilities’, mainly the neurodivergent learning differences of dyslexia and dyspraxia, since 1998. During this time, she has delivered over 10,000 hours of support, working part-time as a neurodiversity tutor at several universities and as an independent consultant in the workplace.


What are the workplace issues of neurodiversity with Jannett Morgan

[00:00:00] David: Welcome back, and this is the second podcast in the series about neurodiversity. And I’m joined again by Jannett Morgan who’s a neurodiversity coach consultant, and today what I want to do is start to explore some of the issues in the workplace and how neurodiversity kind of presents itself, how organisations see it and what can kind of happen if something different happens? I suppose. So my first question Jannett is, so how do organisations tend to, when you are brought in, tend to experience neurodiversity issues, why are you brought in?

[00:00:35] Jannett: It’s often reactive. The majority of the time it’s reactive, there’s usually a performance issue of some sort, and so someone is on the verge of losing their job or being under some type of probationary punitive process, or there has been some stress related issue where someone has found themselves in HR, occupational health, that [00:01:00] type of space, something has gone wrong, that’s usually the approach, the standard approach to neurodiversity and as a coach, as a specialist workplace coach, that usually, in some respects as challenging as that is, that usually means that something positive may happen, it’s just that it may have come rather late in the day but as a workplace coach, it means you’ve usually come in under the guise of some type of funding. There is a particular funding pot called access to work that many people have not heard of and it tends to be the larger organisations, but what it does is it brings funds into an organisation, so someone like myself who is a workplace coach can come in and work with an individual, they may have access to things like assistive technology and there may be other interventions, including awareness training for staff. So before someone like me even gets to the organisation, there may have been a whole series of unfortunate events or some undisclosed anxiety and stress that an individual has been going through. So it’s really [00:02:00] often quite difficult for everybody by the time someone like me meet turns up in an organisation.

[00:02:04] David: So you’re kind of largely you brought in to fix a problem from the organisational point of view, they’ve got a problem, they want you to come and fix it.

[00:02:11] Jannett: Yes. How do you do that? Yes.

[00:02:13] David: Right. Okay. Okay. So that’s the most of the time, organisations that are bringing you in on a more, I suppose preventative process.

[00:02:20] Jannett: Increasingly. Yes. So, there will be some organisation, I guess public sector organi sation that, more of a social justice slant to them, and they have a public sector duty to support colleagues, and service users. They may be a bit more anticipatory in terms of their service users, their colleagues, their staff members. So they may be saying, right, okay, we’re aware of our social identity groups, people with protected characteristics and of course neurodiversity, it’s a bit complex but it does fall under the umbrella of disability when we think about the equality act. So there are some levers and drivers that will mean that some organi[00:03:00] sations are anticipatory and they will have some processes in place. So the best organi sations will have staff networks, for example, for people who identify as either disabled, not everybody does, or some networks may be neurodiversity networks, so you may have those processes you may have quite robust HR processes, which say, right, okay, in our recruitment and selection we know that there may be people who have got additional needs and then you will have the tick box, the dreaded tick box, so there are still tensions with these things, I’ve got to disclose stability in order to get some help, so there are still some things that are problematic. The most progressive organisations are those organisations who say we want to receive people as they are and they remove as many of those things that are going to stigmatise people as possible and they have workplace cultures that celebrate the idea of neurodiversity, so the representation, in their communications, in their material, I would say they are the exception and not the rule. I would [00:04:00] also acknowledge that because lot of the issues that we’re talking about are hidden, if we think about the iceberg, what we see on the tip of the iceberg might be difficulties with literacy and numeracy for example, what we don’t see are the difficulties with processing information, sequencing information, putting things in the right order, time management, perhaps we won’t necessarily see those things, we also may not see the hidden strengths, we may not see those people who can get to the problem solving really quickly, where a lots of neurotypical people like me sit around for hours and cogitate where someone else’s said, right, okay I’ve got immediately Eureka. So, because of the hidden aspect to it, who may have a leadership profile that again is neurotypical are not thinking that way, they don’t have the input from people who could actually challenge the culture and say, well, this is how you’ve always done it, and you haven’t got enough diversity in your leadership to actually start thinking differently about your workplace cultures and your practices. [00:05:00] So, yeah, there’s still a huge long way to go and nervousness as there often is, even though people talk about wanting to be fair and inclusive, how that translates into today’s practice is another matter altogether.

[00:05:12] David: Yeah. And I suppose once you’ve got a problem child on your staff, it’s the problem that becomes the issue and you don’t see the other things. Well, I’m curious then ation and they’ve got some people that aren’t performing like they want to, or there’s some issue that’s kind of said, right, okay, we’re going to go and get a coach, right? How do we move from that situation to one of a, and again, I’m a little uneasy about using this word, but diagnosis of a neurodiversity issue, how do we get from there to that.

[00:05:39] Jannett: I think there’s a need fluidity. We’ve got to work with nuance, we’ve got to work with the fact that for some people, as I say, the idea of disability just doesn’t factor at all, it’s an unhelpful way to be thinking about neurodiversity, and there are some people for whatever reason who are clearly going to struggle [00:06:00] in the workplace and will need some type of support in some kind of way, and we’ve got to work with some core and flex around those ideas. So for some people having and you know, again an identification is a term that as teachers trainers assesses, we would more likely use rather than a diagnosis which goes back to that medical model but a lot of people will talk in that way and so, I think the other thing is we can’t ascribe language to people, people have to self-identify, they have to talk about what their own neuro divergence means to them, organisations need to be able to work with that, so coming from the place of positivity is a starting point, getting away from this idea of… so, if you and I are both wearing glasses, if I dunno about you David, but if I take my glasses off, I certainly will feel disabled in the environment, I wouldn’t be able to carry out my job and what I do, I often wear contact lenses, so again, my issues with sight are hidden by the fact that [00:07:00] I’ve got some technology, and same applies in terms of neurodiversity, what is happening in the environment that is gonna enable people to thrive, to shine, to work to their best, how do we appreciate what people are bringing in rather than getting so fixated with spelling errors, grammar errors, and if people are making those errors and everybody does, but we get very fixated on a certain group of people, but if they do, how do we approach that with a respectful curiosity as to what might be going on rather than rushing straight to punitive measure?

[00:07:34] Jannett: So if people are struggling in social situations and we know organisations are very much about relationships, we know that the informal they means that attending events, networking meetings, gatherings are an important part of one’s career progression, well, what happens when you find those situations overwhelming in a sensory. How do you manage that? What happens if your, and we haven’t [00:08:00] spoken about things called executive functions, but this is our ability to manage goal directed behavior, so starting tasks, knowing when to stop tasks, having the motivation to see things through, what happens when if you’ve got a deadline and it’s an hour away, you can get the job done but if it’s three weeks away, actually it goes wrong for you, you don’t ever start that. If we can approach those things with interest, respect, and curiosity, then you can think about, okay, how do we think about the way that individual wants to work, that’s gonna allow them to deliver and how can we think about the organi sation as a whole, can install assistive technology for everybody, because what works for people who are neuro divergent often works for everybody in the organi sation. So why do we need to put people in a situation that says, well, why have you got two screens? Why have you got this? Why have you got this software? Can we think about the fact that open plan offices are actually not gonna be great for lots of people, [00:09:00] they are going to be particularly disabling for people who are neuro divergent. If we can start to think that way and do some reverse thinking and some reverse engineering ations, rather than thinking about what our needs, well it works for me, I’m fine, I don’t need that, thank you very much, you can write me, you know, an email that is a thesis, if we stepped back from that then you will have fewer people who will need workplace coaches to come in, because that’s not what’s happening in the workplace, you will still need some people who will come in and do that, but you’ll need fewer people and we will do better because of that, stress levels will go down, productivity will go up, people will feel more authentic in the workplace, teams will function better, you’ll get more innovation, who wouldn’t want that, so it’s what is it that’s stopping people therefore from actually benefiting from all of that? I think that’s the interesting thing.

[00:09:52] David: I love that idea about interest, curiosity, and respect and treating this as a question as to why is this happening and what can we do [00:10:00] to help as opposed to you’re wrong or there’s something wrong with you? Yeah, and while you’re being brought in largely support and help the individual, what it sounds like is that organisation needs the support and the help as well as the individual.

[00:10:13] Jannett: Yeah. And I would say it’s the organi sation individuals going to workplaces and they will have had those early childhood experiences and we know an early identification of dyslexia or dyspraxia or autism, and the appropriate support and interventions will mean that more people are more likely to end up in roles, suit them and, you know, find their passions but also that they will have developed a lot of their own strategies to enable them to work in a way that, you know, plays to their strengths. People who don’t have that early identification and you’ll see that a lot in universities where, they may have coped somehow, they may have internalised a lot of the tough stuff, you know, I think I might be teaching granny suck eggs a bit here, David, if I can say that, but they’ve learned how to cope, you know, we often talk [00:11:00] about resilience in underrepresented groups and marginalised groups, don’t they learn how to be very resilient and pushed through, at some often in terms of their emotional wellbeing, but they’ve made it, and then it may be that there is a practice in the workplace, there’s a way of working or a particular environment which is just too much and people sort of crash at that point. So organisations first of all, need to develop their own awareness, and develop their own resilience. I often talk about majority group resilience, cuz as I say, resilience is something that marginalised people are supposed to have, but never majority groups, you’re never supposed to build your own resilience muscle. So often when people are challenged in majority groups, they fall apart, the fragility comes to the piece, they get defensive, they push back and some organis ations develop their own resilience muscle, as I say, do their own learning, actually do their own audits of what’s happening in the organisation because there may be some unidentified neuro divergence in the organisation that they haven’t thought about in that way, then they are going to be better placed to actually [00:12:00] identify neuro diverse talent, and actually make sure that they onboard them and allow them not just to wither on the vine e and excel and progress, and progression for those people who want it can often be a barrier.

[00:12:13] Jannett: You go into management suddenly the administrative expectations go up through the roof. So where is the support that sits around that, where’s the intervention, I’m not sure I like the word support, because again, it’s a bit deficit, but where are the practices that will take someone from, you know, a role where they are doing their job to one where they may have to manage others? What are the processes that come with that, that are going to enable a smooth transition for that person, that might be technology that might be, other types of training and development, it might be how to have conversations about their own neuro divergence and what that looks like because for most people they felt they had to hide it. So what are the everyday conversations around neurodiversity. If it’s all [00:13:00] about Richard Branson and a Superman Cape and Steve Jobs, if those, you know, sort of hyper stereotypical narratives are the only ones that are out there that can actually be quite off putting to a lot of people, what happens if you’re not dyslexic, then do you not have a superpower? It’s only people with dyslexia that have superpowers. Do you see what I mean? So what are the conversations that people are having about neurodiversity and particularly intersectionally as well. So as I said to you, I’m very interested in race and I would say certainly the events since 2020 have, a, got people talking about race a lot more and holding the mirror up, but also looking at the various intersections, and I think neurodiversity is one that hasn’t been explored, sufficiently in terms of what that might mean for someone who, for example, I will say is from the African Caribbean community who may be dyspraxic in the workplace and dealing with some biases and stereotypes, what have you about performance, and let’s say time management is your issue, and there are stereotypes about black people [00:14:00] and time, you’ve got this toxicity then of how someone might be seen and framed and, you know, managed, all of those nuances and complexities organisations have to open themselves up to and do a lot of that work first, rather than say, let’s get the neurodiversity people in because everybody’s talking about cognitive thought and then they come in and we are like, oops, okay, we dunno what to do now.

[00:14:21] David: Yeah. And it becomes, they’re bringing people in for a box ticking exercise as opposed to a change..

[00:14:27] Jannett: For sure

[00:14:27] David: …perspective.

[00:14:28] Jannett: Absolutely.

[00:14:28] David: I’ve seen that a lot. I think it’s interesting listening to your talk there, there’s a couple of things that I kind of want to pull out certainly from an organisational point of view. So, one of the core strategic enablers of organisation in terms of lots of things to do with its flexibility, its ability to be able to kind of work in changing markets and things is this whole idea about a learning orientation. And, it’s a big issue, how do we get, and it’s been popularised as you know, how do we get a learning organisation, but how do we get a learning orientation within that organi sation? How do we get people so their doing what you are saying [00:15:00] here is asking questions, being curious, but doing it in a respectful way and that then brings us to another question, which I’m not actually anticipating that you’re going to answer because it’s a very, very big question, but it’s probably something that we need to talk about in another podcast, which is how do you go about developing a learning orientation across an organi sation and there’s a very big question and I think we’ll donate a podcast episode to that, and I’ve made a note of that because I think it’s core to everything that you are talking about here. I love this idea about majority group, both resilience and majority group inference, so the kinds of thinking and the inferences that the majority group within an organi sation may, which comes back to the whole issue about group think and in a lot of organi sations, you know, kind of financial services, emergency services and things like this, one of the issues that they face is, things are moving very fast, they’re engaged in the day job, and how do we, and I know this is a core coaching issue for a lot of people [00:16:00] anyway, is how do we clear enough space, both physical space, both mental space in order to engage with this, with anything really, with actually learning, but also with neurodiversity, but the issues and things like that.

[00:16:12] David: I think the other thing that kind of struck me as you were talking was again, this whole idea of a deficit model, the way I see it and the kind of realisation that I’m having about this is actually all it is, is a different system structure and processes for these people in the workplace. Now I include myself in this and allowing that to be, which really is about diversity and inclusion so that people can develop their own systems and structures for doing the best work that they can, and I know that, you know, just, and I don’t wanna keep harping back to this, but know the conditions that I work best in, I know when I work best, you know, I’m an early bird, I like to be writing at five in the morning, I like to have focus time, I don’t like noise around, you know, and all of those, and I must admit, you know, as you were talking about open offices, I just want to kind of go and hide in a corner, the thought [00:17:00] of, and I’ve operated in open offices, coaching other people, and I’ve kind of just looked at them and gone, you are joking, and if interestingly there’s a really, and I’ll dig out the reference for this, there’s a really interesting study about workspace, and it wasn’t talking about neurodiversity, it was just talking about work being done, I suppose effectiveness, and they found that having a mixture of offices that people could go in and get their work done, where they weren’t being interrupted, so when you shut the door people didn’t just walk in and then other open spaces that were inviting people in and having a mixture of those in the organisation was found to be much more effective. Sorry, that’s a bit of a ramble.

[00:17:37] Jannett: But you know, it’s a beautiful ramble. And I think, again, it’s a lesson for us. We spoke about learning, one of the things that my neurotypical part of me, I would say that there is some, you know, neuro divergence in me as well but one of the things that I have learned to appreciate is, the learning that’s in the ramble cuz often in that is the answer. [00:18:00] And you talked about time so often that means that people are shut down in terms of their ideas and their thoughts or they feel that they’re under so much pressure in order to get to it, that you never get to it. So part of this appreciation of how we learn our metacognitive skills is accepting it may well be that it doesn’t happen in that meeting hour that we’ve set up where you’ve all got to dash off and jump on another team’s meeting two minutes later, so you’ve had no time to download, you’ve had no time to actually prepare yourself for the sort of sensory onslaught that it feels like for some people. So yes, it’s definitely a big question, and thank you for saying that about the learning and that, no, I wouldn’t be able, to even attempt to address that and it certainly have something that I’d be happy to explore, elsewhere, but I think what you also are reminding everybody about here from the time perspective is, actually it’s more efficient to think about affording people the time to learn, and that [00:19:00] we know that when people are learning in a way that is more fun or more engaging, that it is longer lasting, if we make learning a chore, and when we talk about inclusion, it’s often as a chore, you’ve got to do this and you’ve got to do that, and you have to think this, and you have to think about rather than an appreciation of the fact that it makes perfect sense that people would learn differently. Now, how do we manage the benefits of what might feel like chaos and our desire for that order? How do we work together, to actually do that in a way that is going to serve us most of the time? And how do we cope when we feel like it’s not serving us because actually sometimes it is going to be very, very difficult if someone is talking and it feels quite verbose, I might lose my train of thought, but I’m not gonna fall apart, so how do I work with that person to think about, okay, we might need to summarise, would it be useful if we recorded this? Shall we capture some key notes? I’m happy to take some notes in this situation. How do [00:20:00] we develop those strategies and those ways of thinking so that we can say, yeah, this makes sense. We’re not all going to be doing this in exactly the same way. We’re not all gonna lean to the left at the same time, but and we might not, when you go left and I go left at the same time, that might happen, but we’ll be okay and we’ll just figure it out and then we’ll end up with this nice, beautiful choreography. So I think there’s, you know, we can talk about learning organisations and there’s learning and development, but some more perhaps input around neuroscience. I’d like to think that had I been open to neuroscience at school, that’s probably what I would’ve done, I realised that much later and way too late, but that’s what I was really interested in because I was really interested in the way that people think and learn and that ran contrary to what I was being told about the way that I taught and learned. So theories around intelligence described people who look like me as less intelligent, that didn’t compute in my brain but I had no way of disrupting that narrative and perhaps if there was more learning around the [00:21:00] neuroscience and the way that people learn and why they learn that way, you come to appreciate what people do who don’t look like you, who actually learned there are all sorts of ways that people do things that can inform how you do things and collectively you can make organisations better, you can make schools better. So, you know, I guess that’s my way into that wider conversation about learning and just, I think that, you know, for lots of practical reasons organisations feel hemmed in and, you know, they’re watching the clock. You know, how efficient is that, that’s often sort of quite counterproductive, isn’t it? And are we brave enough to do something different?

[00:21:36] David: Yeah, it’s like sometimes we kind of just need sit back and do a bit of planning. We create that space to do it, well this is just planning in another way. And one of the things, as you were talking, that kind of struck me and it kind of goes back to Dennett’s work and things, what’s interesting is we accept certain types of diversity. So if you like a certain type of art and I don’t, we accept it. If you like a certain [00:22:00] group and I don’t, we accept it. If we go and we describe a sunset together and we describe it differently, all of that’s accepted, what we ignore to accept are different variations on what we term intelligence. There’s a whole load of work that’s been done over the years around IQ tests and how biased they are and that actually what they’re testing is how similar you are, person who wrote the test. I did a whole load of work many, many years ago on this there’s the work that Howard Gardner did on multiple intelligences that’s quite big in the education scheme. And even though from a research foundation we’ve kind of moved on from that, we do see this range of a thing called intelligence, we see this range and different capabilities in different areas. And, I think one of the things that is a useful thing for each individual to be doing is challenging what diversity they’re accepting and which diversity they’re not accepting. That has become more.. you know, that’s good and that’s bad as opposed to yeah, I get it if you don’t like the same picture that [00:23:00] I don’t like but that’s fine, or you’re not quite as enthusiastic as I am about that whatever it happens to be, but it’s all part of that same subjectivity and the difference in the way that we perceive things, we process things and do things, and the range is as big as humanity.

[00:23:16] Jannett: I would agree, I guess that takes me back to his quote, in terms of us all being neurodiverse, but not all being marginalised by it. So where and why is that marginalisation happening and where do you locate that? So if we locate that within ourselves, first of all, and think about, okay, what might I be think that might result in that way. At least it’s a different way of examining what the issue is rather than sort of turning it towards another person and pathologizing whatever might be happening in that situation. So often it’s the interaction, that’s an interesting one in workplaces, you know, those one to ones between line managers and members of staff, what’s happening in those interactions, and that’s where coaching again can be really useful [00:24:00] because you know, coaching then opens up the inquiry and takes you away from being the expert. So I think that coaching could be very useful, it’s not always appropriate for everyone, because again, if you have a hidden difference and you are still trying to make sense of it yourself, sometimes what organis ations will do is say, oh, you’re dyslexic, right? Tell us what you need and then we’ll go away and get it. Well, you may not know, what you need because you yourself have not heard of this term neurodiversity. You’ve no idea that access to work is out there. You don’t know what dragon ware is and what it does. So you can still find again, well-intentioned organisations who may set up something like an access to process and someone ends up having training on all sorts of equipment that then sits on a shelf because they front loaded the training, it’s overwhelming and they’re not gonna open the box, it just sits there, and they’re actually feeling even more you know, disempowered than before. So yeah, I think, you know, maybe I’m going off my own ramble at that point, see, we do all do it. But I think that constant [00:25:00] checking in with one self, and that respect as I say, an appreciation for how other people think and learn, that doesn’t mean you have to agree, it doesn’t mean that there aren’t issues that people who are neuro divergent bring to the workplace that can’t be addressed through performance management processes. We’re not saying that you know, that people may not need to work on their work performance in some kind of way, but what they shouldn’t be is discriminated against on the grounds of the fact that they might arrive, as you said, you might arrive at an answer in a different way at a different time, often quicker you may have held back on it because of the perception of you. So sometimes a lot of neuro divergent people have known the answer long before anyone else and just haven’t said it, and then nobody sought to invite them to contribute an answer, whether that’s in situ or externally. So all of those things require some thought retraining of one’s own neurotypical brain so that you can change the behavior. If you just default [00:26:00] to the way that you’ve always done things in a neurotypical way, then it’s not going to help people feel confident enough to step forward, unless they really are in that kind of, you know, activist space, and then again, that comes with its challenges, because then you really are a member of the awkward squad, aren’t you? So yes, it’s this joint enterprise in learning, and in wanting workplaces to be places where people wanna be after all you spend most of your time there. So you want it to be a place where you actually want to be.

[00:26:29] David: Mm, brilliant. I’m going to leave it there. I think that’s an excellent place to end. Thank you very much, Jannett.

[00:26:33] Jannett: Thank you.

[00:26:34] David: And we’re going to keep having a look at the issues around neurodiversity. There’s a couple of things out of today’s podcast that I want to kind of explore in the next podcast. One is this whole idea about learning orientation and how it connects to what’s going on in organi sation but also the place, kind of leadership management in all of this and kind of going back to that thing about them asking questions about having a more facilitative style, but we’ll have a look at styles of leadership. [00:27:00] Brilliant.

[00:27:00] Jannett: Looking forward to..

[00:27:00] David: Thank you.

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