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Embracing neurodiversity at work

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​A pioneering new recruitment program finds the best minds in the business.​

'When I previously applied for jobs, I did not reveal my neurodiversity as I was concerned I would be judged on it.'​

We only need look at the many people who’ve led extraordinarily accomplished lives to realise that neurodiversity should not be a hinderance to a person’s profession. Though they lived in an age before diagnosis, it’s widely recognised that great thinkers including Sir Isaac Newtown, Mozart, Charles Darwin, Albert Einstein and Marie Curie, among others, would be diagnosed as neurodiverse today.

And what of the modern world? Some of the most successful people in their fields are now building awareness of neurodiversity by discussing their own diagnoses. Elon Musk recently revealed he has Asperger’s Syndrome. Greta Thunberg is on the autism spectrum, with some experts explaining the condition lends a ‘unique moral clarity’ to her activism.

There is, it seems, the beginning of a shift to celebrate and include ‘all kinds of minds’.

That is why the Department of Education is thrilled to be the first Queensland government agency to undertake a neurodiversity recruitment program that targets the strengths and talents of a diverse workforce, focusing on people who are neurodiverse.

Traditional recruitment processes have often failed neurodiverse job seekers and so, the department has looked for new ways to assess skills and abilities in people that may otherwise have gone unnoticed. A new assessment centre does things a little differently, using practical activities including problem solving and working collaboratively within a team environment.

Recently, the department has offered positions to the first new recruits through the program.

Emma Sellars is one such successful applicant. She has recently begun her role as an Administration Officer.

'When I have applied for previous jobs, I did not reveal my neurodiversity as I was concerned I would be judged on it. I felt that employers would attribute my mistakes to my neurodiversity,' Emma says.

'Being neurodiverse is not a barrier to success. This program helps lift a social stigma around people with neurodiversity and shows that we have strengths and weaknesses like everyone,' she adds.

Those strengths are, of course, varied and different for everybody but neurodiverse thinkers often lead the way when it comes to innovation, design thinking, pattern recognition and problem solving.

For Emma, she cites her particular strengths from her neurodiversity as being a strong sense of empathy, ('It allows me to connect and understand people better'), her strong memory ('I remember details easily') and an excellent attention to detail ('It enables me to see errors or pick up mistakes that others may have missed').

Emma’s manager, Slavica Crnic, says Emma is 'proactive, innovative, great at absorbing and retaining information and she’s solution driven'.

Beyond the initial recruitment, the department’s ‘All Kinds of Minds’ (AKOM) team has an ongoing support system in place, with new recruits offered regular meetings with an AKOM team member, a Neurosmart Mentor, and manager and team training for the new employees colleagues.

Dr Tanya Murray, Principal Project Officer in the AKOM team, says that the support offered by her team helps neurodiverse employees gain confidence and navigate their roles, particularly in team relationship building, organisational skills and managing their work/life balance.

'As a neurodiverse person myself,' Tanya says, 'I feel honored to support other neurodiverse employees to have successful careers in the department'.

And it is this supportive, inclusive culture which has impacts far beyond the individuals involved. 

As Shannon Cook, Deputy Director General of the People and Corporate Services team that created this initiative says, 'The department’s focus is our students. And what a wonderful opportunity this program presents, showcasing the benefits neurodiverse employees bring to our central office, whilst also providing role models to our large body of neurodiverse students and showing them first-hand the amazing impact they have on our workforce. This fosters that all-important sense of belonging and worthiness all our students deserve to feel.'

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Last updated 08 November 2021