Tag Archives: inclusion

Intersectional stigma at work

This is a lay summary of Doyle, Nancy and McDowall, Almuth and Waseem, Uzma (2022) Intersectional stigma for Autistic people at work: a compound adverse impact effect on labor force participation and experiences of belonging. Autism in Adulthood.

Why is this an important issue?

Employment data show that autistic people find it harder to get and keep work. This study focuses on understanding if multiple identities and people’s background make a difference.

What is the purpose of this study?

We asked a group of Autistic people about gender and race, as well as being gay lesbian, bisexual, transexual or queer (LGBTQ). We asked where people live, their education, parents’ education and if they had any

diagnoses in addition to autism. We predicted that these things would have a negative effect on autistic employment rates. We thought they would also affect how autistic people felt at work.

What we did

An online survey was completed by 576 autistic people. We analyzed whether their identities and backgrounds made it more or less likely that they were in work. We then asked the 387 employed people within this group about their experiences at work. We compared their experiences by identity and background to see if these made a positive or negative difference.

What we found

We found that white Autistic people living in western countries such as the USA and Europe were more likely to have jobs. They were also more likely to jobs specifically designed for Autistic people. We found that women, non-binary and transgender autistic people felt less included at work. We also f

ound that feeling that someone cares is more important than any adjustments to work scheduling such as flexible working to support people.

What do these findings add to what was already known?

It is already known that autistic people are less likely to be in work than non-autistic people. This study shows that these overall numbers are masking important differences arising from gender, race and ethnicity.

What are the potential weaknesses in the study?

The survey was taken at one point in time, which doesn’t explain how these differences happened. Most people wh

o completed the study were highly educated. We didn’t have enough people from the non-western countries or communities of color. Therefore, the sample is not large or diverse enough to draw firm conclusions.

How will the study help Autistic people now or in the future?

We hope that the study inspires people to think about different identities and additional stigma for autism at work programs. We have provided a sample of baseline data from all over the world which shows a difference by location. Even though this is just a trend, it might spark more research looking at the crossover between autism, identities and backgrounds. It provides a starting point to help researchers who want to do longer studies that test interventions to improve autistic participation and experiences in work.

Further Information


Inclusivity at an Organisational level

This blog is a lay summary of Doyle, N. (2022). Chapter 11: Adapting Other Internal Organizational Resources to a Neurodiverse Workforce in Bruyère, S. & Colella, A. (Eds) Neurodiversity in the Workplace Interests, Issues, and Opportunities. New York, Routledge.

Researchers and practitioners who work in the field of neurodiversity consider neurological differences to be more than just a disability. This view lets us see neurodiversity as a power- a power that comes with challenges but ones that can be overcome with systemic inclusion.

So, who are we referring to when we use the terms neurodiversity, neurodivergent or neurominorities?

The range is broad, but it includes neurodivergent identities such as: ADHD, autism, dyscalculia, dyslexia, dyspraxia, and tic disorders etc. Those that do not identify with these are known as neurotypical people. Some neurological differences might be caused by brain injury, chronic neurological conditions such as multiple sclerosis and mild to moderate mental health needs such as anxiety and depression.

This blog outlines changes employers could implement in their workplace so neurominorities feel more inherently included. This can lead to improved productivity and success.

Disability legislation is shifting towards a social model, where disability is seen as an effect of our environment, such as one’s workspace. Traditionally, organisations have been managing this by helping employees on an individual basis. Very little is done to change organisational policies and procedures on a broader level. For example, action is taken when someone discloses their disability or if there is a drop in an employees’ performance. This usually takes place in the form of reasonable adjustments or conducting workplace needs assessments. Nevertheless, this carries the risk of someone with a disability not receiving the support they need in the workplace if they choose not to disclose their disability. Also, there is a risk of discrimination and stigma for those who choose to disclose a disability. Injecting inclusive thinking at an organisational level means everyone is potentially covered to an extent rather than just the few. This aims to reduce discrimination and stigma and enable everyone to thrive in their roles.

What can employers do to be more inclusive?

Universal Design

Universal design is an approach that enables organisations to build an infrastructure so some of the accommodations that are broadly helpful can be put in place before a problem arises. These are likely to benefit both neurodivergent and neurotypical workers. In order to get the best results, universal design tells us to consider the following factors:

  • Equitable use: An employer could consider offering accommodations to every employee rather than an individual and make this best practice. For example, if flexible working hours for some led to increased productivity, could flexible working hours be offered to anyone?
  • Flexibility in use: Understanding that individuals may approach tasks in a different way and offering alternatives.
  • Simple and Intuitive Use: Use of clear and concrete language to avoid misinterpretations or confusion.
  • Perceptible Information: Presenting information in different ways, such as dividing long texts into paragraphs, using visual aids, use of audios etc.
  • Tolerance of Error: Not every accommodation can be in place, therefore there has to be a system for individuals to review their work, go back and change.
  • Low Physical Effort: To minimise physical effort on employees, for example, offering flex time for an employee to get to work to avoid rush hour traffic. This is useful for employees who might experience noise sensitivity or time management issues.
  • Size and Space for Approach and Use: Consider how to adjust a work environment since neurominorities could find some environments more overwhelming than others. Examples include noise, temperature, lack of personal space and privacy, visual stimuli, movements and smells.

Employee Welfare

  • Counselling, Mindfulness and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy via Employee Assistance Programme: If an employer offers traditional psychological therapies to support neurominorities, they should consider making sure that a referral is made to a specialist in neurodiversity. These traditional therapies focus on reducing the level of stress. However, the cause of the stress could be the result of the environmental demands in the workplace.
  • Assessment from Occupational Health: These assessments are carried out by occupational therapists (OT) and focus on physical health problems. Employers passing on referrals for an OT assessment should ensure their chosen provider has an understanding and specialism in neurodiversity.
  • Health benefits: When we look at medical interventions such as anti-depressants for anxiety and depression or medication for ADHD, employers should consider if the employment context itself is providing the unhealthy stimulus for the difficulty. If so, can the employer offer accommodations in the workplace first, before going down the treatment route?

Employee Resource and Business Groups

Many large companies have put together employee resource groups. Employees report that being part of such groups helps ensure they are heard. It is important for organisations to get feedback from individuals within their organisations. Hearing from a wider range of your employees is an essential and an important step towards introducing inclusivity in the organisations. Furthermore, business leaders have a crucial role to play in shaping and role modelling these policies and practices within their businesses.

Assessing the Effectiveness of Neurodiversity Programmes

This can be achieved through:

  • Assessing the longitudinal outcome after the implementations are made within the business
  • Reductions in individual-level compliance-based adjustments
  • Friendly and inclusive language around inclusion.

In conclusion, universal design should become the norm for organisations to create and promote a welcoming climate for neurominorities. The active steps outlined in this blog can greatly benefit organisations, leaders, and employees to create a meaningful and truly inclusive organisation.

Further Information


Physical workplace adjustments to support neurodivergent workers

This blog is a layperson summary of the paper Weber, C., Häne, E., Yarker, J., Krieger, B., & McDowall, A. (2022). Physical Workplace Adjustments to Support Neurodivergent Workers: A Systematic Review. Applied Psychology – An International Review.

Who are we?

We are a group of five researchers:

  • Clara is an environmental psychologist at the Zurich University of Applied Sciences, where she researches how physical workplaces make people feel, think, and behave and reasons why.
  • Eunji is part of Clara’s team and is a workplace management researcher, who figures out how offices can be better managed.
  • Almuth and Jo are occupational psychologists at Birkbeck, University of London who research workplace health and diversity.
  • Beate is an occupational therapy researcher at Zurich University of Applied Science looking at making the work environment better for young people with autism.

What is neurodiversity and neurodivergence?

  • Neurodiversity means that humans are all different from each other with particular strengths and weaknesses. The different ways that humans feel, think and behave are associated with certain conditions;
  • Neurodivergence describes when someone’s brain learns or behaves differently from what is considered ‘typical’. Not everyone likes this word, but we use it because we looked at research carried out on people with certain conditions. We use the two words interchangeably here for this reason.

What did we do?

  • We looked at ‘physical workplace adjustments’ for neurodivergent workers. These adjustments are mostly ‘physical helpers’ that aim to make it more comfortable to work in an office.
    • For example, if bright light in the office is hard to tolerate, you might prefer a different artificial light that you can also control or choose to use sunglasses.
  • We wanted to know what research has been done, what physical helpers are used, and if they make a difference to people’s wellbeing;
  • We confirmed if studies were trustworthy and of good quality;
  • Finally, we confirmed where there are gaps in research.

We need this information to make recommendations and to guide future research.

Why did we do it?

  • Research shows that neurodivergent people are excluded from work. Many experience difficulties finding or remaining in work because workplaces do not easily accommodate different needs;
  • People who are neurodiverse often have unmet sensory needs in the workplace. This means that sounds, lights, the touch/feeling of things, or other people’s closeness can be too much. This can affect their health and work ability, with people commonly reporting headaches, feeling dizzy or sick;
  • We need to know how to make workplaces healthy and productive environments for neurodiverse workers and what types of physical helpers are best;
  • There is guidance from charities and advisory groups listing different physical helpers;
  • Workplace design companies also offer various creative physical helpers, but they don’t say if these actually work. Little is known about how these helpers are tried and tested.

What did we do specifically?

We did a systematic review of the research evidence. A systematic review follows very specific rules and steps in order to find studies and make sense of their findings. By using this method, we developed a picture of all the available research in a specific area;

We looked for any studies that considered at least one physical helper used in an office. We included studies if this helper had anything to do with:

  • how well people felt at work (health/well-being)
  • how well people were able to work (performance)
  • the extent to which people found it easier to stay in work (occupational longevity).

We searched academic literature and guidance documents from charities or advisory groups and:

  • found 319 studies connected with our research topic/question. Of these, only 20 studies mentioned our particular focus;
  • confirmed how trustworthy the results of the studies are. We rated the quality of their research design and reporting of information;
  • grouped all the physical helpers and their positive effects to see at a glance what types have what kind of effect.

What have we found out?

  • Few studies say anything concrete about links between these physical helpers and improved well-being, work ability or staying in a job;
  • Many studies are based on interviews asking people about experience, rather than testing over time to see if physical helpers make a difference;
  • No studies focused specifically on physical helpers. This means that studies only mentioned physical helpers if participants did so;
  • Some studies report general helpful office adjustments such as altering light or desk placement (if available);
  • No studies used strong, reliable research methods, meaning other researchers cannot test their findings by recreating them. Without robust studies, we cannot say anything about cause and effect;
  • So far, we can mostly say that study participants believed that some helpers contributed to a good experience but we have no evidence that they actually work.

Why is this important?

  • We urgently need more and better research;
  • Neurodivergent workers are likely to be better able to access helpers if there is evidence that shows they make a difference;
  • Organisations might be spending money on helpers which don’t help;
  • Charity and other guidelines should acknowledge the evidence base for the accommodations they recommend so that people are aware of the basis for this advice;
  • Developing a specification for return of investment would help researchers and organisations gather more data to inform our understanding of what works, for whom and when.

Further Information


Can there really be one system and one path for success?

This lay summary is based on the chapter ‘Neurodiversity in Higher Education: Support For Neurodifferent Individuals and Professionals’ by Dr Nancy Doyle in ‘Neurodiversity: From Phenomenology to Neurobiology and Enhancing Technologies‘ edited by Lawrence K. Fung. The summary is written by Nicola Maguire, Psychologist at Genius Within CIC.

Headshot of Dr Nancy Doyle.

As time evolves, the understanding that humans are different is becoming more widely understood and accepted. However, when it comes to higher education (HE) we still live in a world where there is one system, one path to success despite knowing that individuals can be completely different learners, thinkers and doers.

For many neurodifferent students, accessing higher education still feels impossible. So, the issue that is presented in the chapter is that the higher education setting as it currently stands does not help everyone to flourish, to foster self-belief and build confidence. Rather people experience feelings of failure, not having self-belief and a lack of confidence.

In order to address this, the chapter notes that systems in higher education can be
redesigned to support neurodifferent students. The chapter suggests creating a ‘Universal Design’, based on disability research, to ensure that all students have equal access to learning. Universal Design creates a learning journey that considers the needs and abilities of all learners and removes unnecessary hurdles in the learning process.

In order for this to work, universal design principles need to be applied across contexts in the HE system.

Systems can be changed in the following areas:

  • Environment for learning
  • Learning materials provided
  • Testing conditions

The main ways to flex these areas is in considering the senses. Avoiding overwhelming, loud environments and giving students choice and flexibility about where they learn.

Making sure learning materials can be listened to or read, at different speeds and in multi-sensory formats. Give opportunities for questions asked live but also via chat. Testing conditions to reduce time pressures and reduce sensory overwhelm.

Additional supports can also be offered to individuals:

  • Assistive technology
  • Coaching
  • Mentoring
  • Group coaching

The most important thing for student support is building independence rather than doing things for students. They need to transition to the workplace when they leave HE. Therefore, they need to be doing things for themselves more and more. Coaching should be aimed at reinforcing strengths and self-awareness of barriers.


Higher education should and needs to be offering ND students different types of support. A Universal Design in environment, learning and tests would enable higher education to become accessible and achievable.

Alongside the combination of supportive measures such as coaching, mentoring and group coaching to increase self-efficacy in ND students. By implementing this approach in a higher education setting it will safeguard that ND students have equal opportunities to do their best, by ensuring that the process is proactive, positive and that appropriate support is provided for all.

We can deliver a much-needed healing and self-affirming experience to students through this process which will result in individuals building their self-belief in their ability to ‘be able to’ which means the difference between career aspirations being met or falling short.

‘Neurodiversity is a moral, social and economic imperative; we all lose when
human potential is squandered’