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Neurodiversity And Investment Finance – The Future Of Work?

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Looking at most statistics around inclusion of neurominorities we typically find a consistent picture of exclusion and discrimination. The Westminster Achieve Ability (WAC) report, published in 2018, indicated that 69% of respondents regretted disclosing their neurodivergence sometimes or always.

Conversely, The Diversity Project’s report published in October 2022, which focuses on individuals working in investments and savings, indicates that 70% of respondents have had positive responses to disclosure from their employer. What is responsible for this flip? Have we had four solid years of progress or, is there something special happening in investment and savings finance?

Comparing The Findings

The comparable statistics from the Diversity Projects report, which surveyed 150 neurodivergent investment sector employees, are as follows:

54% found it easy to get adjustments, compared to only 20% of the WAC respondents.

58% reported finding their employer supportive compared to only 27% of the WAC respondents.

41% were Autistic and 45% were ADHD, compared with only 22% dyslexic and 10% dyspraxic. This is disproportionate to the general population prevalence where dyslexics outnumber ADHDers two-to-one and Autistics ten-to-one.

The WAC report did not report the industries in which respondents worked, indeed even if they worked, but had a much larger sample of 600 people. They did ask about race and ethnicity, finding that those from minorityized backgrounds were much more likely to report discrimination than white British respondents.

Both reports singled out psychometric testing as a barrier to recruitment for neurominorities. In the Diversity Project report, one respondent is quoted as saying ““I have never got through any personality test-type interview. I was fine whenever anyone tested my ability to actually do the job.” Similarly, a WAC respondent said “I found it very hard to complete the online exercises as they were time dependent and for reading tasks I have no text to speech software.”

Can We Discern Progress Or Privilege?

The Diversity Project also look at race, gender and other forms of marginalization such as socio-economic class and disability more broadly, but not in this report. They have compiled significant resources on diversity and inclusion activity on their website. They report that there has been an increase in the number people minoritized by race and ethnicity on FTSE100 boards since 2020 however absolute numbers are hard to find, and indeed their stated objectives for 2022 include encouraging 90% of firms to report on race and ethnicity. Similarly for gender equity, the numbers of women versus men, or non-binary people, are hard to find. These nuances are a good reflection of general picture in diversity and inclusion. Firstly, the lack of absolute numbers and disclosures upon which we could base a reliable interpretation of progress. Secondly, the need for intersectional data.

We need to understand whether the high numbers of ADHD and Autistic people in the Diversity Project survey were mainly white middle-class men and whether this privilege is therefore responsible for the comparative gains reported compared to the WAC report. It is well reported that there is a gender and race/ethnicity bias in diagnosis, this is likely following through into employment. We know that investment banking is the very epitome of privilege, where some of our most well-resourced businesses exist, alongside the technology giants and professional services. In these bastions of conservatism, progress is showing in the Diversity Project’s report. But can simultaneous attempts to move the dial on categorical silos of exclusion start to add up to genuine inclusion?

Interestingly, the participant quotes in the Diversity Project report themselves signaled the need for diversity to be considered more broadly, and an acknowledgment of privilege. One participant quoted the following imperative for making improvements:

“Enactment and enforcement of basic, well-researched interventions that ensure basic fairness in recruitment, advancement, pay, etc. My experience shows political maneuvering plays too large a role and this undermines diversity of all kinds. I say this as someone who has been a beneficiary of politically motivated decisions at times.”

Another added their comments regarding the need for flexibility and accommodation of working conditions for all employees, circumventing the need for diagnosis which is stigmatizing and biased by race/ethnicity, poverty and gender:

“Discuss accommodations with all employees without the stigma of a diagnosis. Humans are diverse and even neurotypicals have lagging skills. Everyone could benefit from broader acceptance of accommodations.”

Now these are the sort of ideas that could truly change the workplace.

Neurodiversity = The Future Of Work?

The world is in a transition towards this undefined, slightly intimidating “future of work.” We don’t know what that looks like yet, but we can explore trends in wider society that might give us some clues. Our challenge is the symbiosis of complexity and personalization. We’re increasingly aware of interdependence and how problematic it is to create simplicity with one dimensional categories. We’re also realizing the error of designing systems exclusively for the average person. In medicine, for example, complex adaptive syndromes are increasingly being identified as causal mechanisms for systemic diseases – for example Mast Cell Activation Syndrome – and the treatments pathways are varied. More frequently, we are finding that people need personalized intervention, that they “one-size-fits-all” miracle drug only works for 67% (the average) so we need flexibility for the remaining 33%. In media, we have personalization algorithms that feed us information that suits our interests, rather than all consuming the six o’clock news. These are the wider trends of the post-industrial world.

So it will be in the workplace. What neurodiversity is teaching us is how to apply personalization in employment. Those of us in the margins can point to which areas of flexibility will make the most difference to productivity and wellbeing at work. In these endeavors, reports such as those from WAC and the Diversity Project are exceptionally useful in signposting us towards the barriers created by a neurotypical norm. The more we learn about how to make a workplace neurodiversity inclusive, the more we will learn about what is absolutely necessary versus what is outdated convention. That said, we have to make sure that all neurodivergent voices are included, or we will miss great chunks of opportunity and learning. Neurodiversity is making progress in industries of privilege. Will this “trickle down?”