The Diversity and Inclusion Journey: The Role of Neurodiversity and How to Change Mindsets

A winding path through the countryside

In the third of our series looking at current D&I practices, Bradley Honnor from Match Fit and Yasmin Egala, Diversity, Inclusion and Wellbeing Champion at the MOJ discuss whether too much emphasis is placed on physical differences, ignoring hidden differences like neurodiversity, and how to bring those that are resistant to change on board.

Yasmin Egala

If we were to focus more on hidden differences and celebrate those differences for the positives they give us, we might address some of the other big issues that we seem to be going round and round in circles with. Something like neurodiversity cuts across identities. It doesn’t matter what you look like on the outside, what group you belong to, what your background is.  It doesn’t discriminate in that way. I do think that’s an area of diversity and inclusion that has been neglected, because we focus so much on the outer appearance. You can’t make assumptions just because someone appears a certain way or someone looks like they belong to a group. They may relate completely differently to how we might expect given their outward appearance.

Embracing these hidden differences is something we could use to cut across all areas and create equal ground. It could maybe help us to find something to unite on as well, rather than just our exterior differences. So if we add that to the journey towards becoming better people, I think we could really reap the benefits.

Bradley Honnor

I agree. What you can see is generally more obvious, and we make assumptions about people and weigh them up in a few seconds, but we don’t really see what is underneath.

I also think we need to accept that not everyone wants to do this. That’s a challenge. Can we still hear and have empathy for those people that don’t want to integrate, that really do fear the direction that things might be taking? Here’s a challenging question: Are we so sure that this is a path that everyone has to and should go down? Because I don’t see much integration anywhere – I see pockets of communities of different ethnicities for example, but that true integration – I just don’t see it so much.

What do we do with the people that actually don’t want to engage in this? There are a number of people like that, so do we just leave those people behind? I don’t actually think an organisation can get everyone on board en masse. They can put some behavioural rules in place that if you break them you get disciplined, but that’s not really what we’re trying to do. We’re not trying to make people do certain things and behave in certain ways so they don’t get punished while still secretly believing something different. We’re trying to shift mindsets and have people see the value in a more inclusive culture.

If you look at the MatchFit Human model, not everyone is going to be in a position where they are ready yet to change. Beliefs are really strongly held, to the point that we think they are the reality. There will be people that believe ‘this is the wrong way’ and people who believe something very different. What do we do about that? With the best will in the world, until that belief is changed, they won’t come on board, so it does need to be a journey. This isn’t a ‘let’s do a workshop’ model. This is something that should be daily practise, and when that is something we’re engaged with constantly, the culture changes over time.

I watched a documentary about a well know dictator in history and one of the things that really struck me was just how many people followed him. There’s footage of him travelling around in the car with literally hundreds of thousands of people screaming for him, like he’s some kind of God. Look what happened to their mindset, following one person. My point is that it’s possible to shift perceptions and beliefs, but I wonder how we respond in a group or a session to someone who’s not ready for that conversation yet?

Yasmin Egala

 I agree with you. The reality is you’re not going to take everyone with you and it would be naive to think that we can make everyone be open to it. Some people are very fixed in their views – they don’t want to grow, they are happy with where they are, however negative that is.

If you think about the workplace, there should be certain boundaries. So while we’re saying ‘yes, you can be here, you are entitled to your views’, there are certain views and behaviours that aren’t acceptable. I think that’s all workplaces can do – create the boundaries for what’s okay in terms of being respectful and how colleagues can expect to be treated. That’s not saying that if you express something that’s negative it should automatically be taken down a disciplinary or grievance route, as actually that doesn’t resolve much and can make the work environment very tense going forward. But I think as a minimum, for those people that don’t want to come on board, we can create boundaries that they should abide by to create a safe space, because that space isn’t just about them.

We need to create an environment where everyone feels safe. We can then hope that through other people getting on board, the work, the journey and the things that are being put in place, those that are resistant to change will become curious. When people are curious, they want to learn more. I think that’s all we can do, really.