On the Beyond Labels miniseries we highlighted a range of social issues, from gender equality to neurodiversity and young leaders. On Episode 2 we were joined by Emma Parkin, the Strategic Campaigns Manager at BAE Systems Digital Intelligence, who is also one of our next generation of leaders. She shared her insights on the importance of creating neuro-inclusive teams, as well as her advice for companies who are trying to recruit them. 

Why should companies create a neurodiverse team? 

Cognitive diversity is massively important. I remember when I was being interviewed for university, I was applying for a physics course but I’d never studied the subject before. Someone asked me ‘How will you succeed in your degree if you haven’t studied physics before?’, and I went back and said, ‘Well, you don’t want everybody to have studied exactly the same thing and had exactly the same experiences, because then you won’t ever learn anything. I will come from a different perspective from my peers because I haven’t studied physics, and there will be things that I need to catch up on, but I can do it.’ When I started my first physics degree I was like, ‘Wow, this is a challenge!’ But I still came out with a 2:1.

It’s the same thing with neurodiversity. Neurodiverse people will see the world in a different way and have experienced the world in a different way, so they’ll bring a different set of insights and perspectives into your team. That’s really important, because the only way you’ll create a product or service that everyone can resonate with is by including a diverse range of perspectives in the creation phase. 

Do you think companies are becoming more accepting of neurodiversity and seeing the value in including neurodiverse people?

Definitely. In my industry companies are actively targeting neurodiverse individuals now because they recognise that their skill sets are highly valuable. That’s not something that they’re utilising at the moment, so there’s an active push to hire more people with those backgrounds. More people are becoming aware that they have those traits as well, because it’s becoming a more common topic and there’s more education surrounding neurodiversity now than there was a few decades ago. People are reading about it in articles and realising ‘Oh, I’ve got that!’, and getting diagnosed. Companies in turn are putting different mechanisms in place to make neurodiverse people’s lives easier. 

Neurodiversity is just one angle of creating diverse teams. You’ve also got the younger generations like Gen Z coming in, who are going to be quite a large population in the workforce quite soon. They’ve actually got different values to some of the older generations, and diversity is a big one for them. Being different is very acceptable to them. That requires a different set of working practices, so employers need to start thinking about how to best cultivate their talent. One of the best ways to do that is to make them feel included by deliberately creating a diverse workforce. 

What advice would you give employers who are trying to create more diverse workforces? 

You should be able to point to different programmes or examples that they’ve got that have been designed specifically to people with their skill set. As a woman, most industries that are quite male dominated, but where I am now, there are multiple women on the leadership team, to the point that it’s nearly 50:50. I didn’t realise how much that impacted me until now. It’s great to see people like me at a higher level who are succeeding, because I’ve never had that before. That’s why being able to point to programmes and examples of where you’ve helped people with their specific neurodiverse traits succeed before would be fantastic. Tailored programmes mean much more than a catch-all course would, because that can support them and their individual needs.

To learn more from Emma, tune in to Episode 2 of the Beyond Labels miniseries here

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