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Neurodivergent workers overlooked in New Zealand

Neurodivergent people in New Zealand workplaces are at risk of being overlooked, with a third reporting their condition has negatively affected their career advancement, latest research shows.

The 2022 New Zealand Workplace Diversity Survey also revealed that it’s likely many people with a neurodiverse condition are masking it in the workplace, with 63 percent of people who identified as neurodivergent reporting their organisation was unaware of this.

Diversity Works New Zealand Head of Research and Development Pete Mercer says another concerning statistic from the annual research was that only 17 percent of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that senior leaders in their organisation were equipped to effectively manage a neurodiverse workforce. Almost half of those surveyed (47 percent) disagreed or strongly disagreed with the statement.

There are encouraging signs that organisations are starting to engage with neurodiversity in the workplace – the number of people who indicated neurodiversity was an important issue for their organisation doubled from 12 percent in 2021 to 24 percent in 2022.

Thirteen per cent of survey respondents said they considered themselves to be neurodivergent or living with neurodiversity, six per cent didn’t know and 81 percent did not identify as neurodivergent. This is in keeping with international estimates that suggest around 15 to 20 percent of the population are neurodivergent, Mercer says.

But organisations in New Zealand are unlikely to have information on the number of individuals within their workplace who are neurodivergent, with 71 pe cent indicating they do not collect demographic data on the neurodiversity of their workforce.

Those who did identify as neurodivergent were more likely to agree there is a bias against a neurodiverse workforce (29 per cent) than people who did not identify as neurodivergent (14 percent).  With up to a fifth of employees likely to be neurodivergent, organisations need to raise awareness around this topic, says Mercer.

“There are some excellent resources and training available to people leaders. But it’s also important to encourage conversations around neurodiversity. Senior leaders should empower neurodiverse people who are open about their condition to talk about it at work and normalise the situation, making it okay for everyone to feel safe to disclose.”

Other key findings from the 2022 New Zealand Workplace Diversity Survey:

· Wellbeing, bias and flexibility were again identified as the three diversity issues that are most important to organisations, consistent with previous years

· Ethnicity was ranked as the fourth most important diversity issue, overtaking gender for the first time in six years

· Māori, Pacific People, people with disabilities and transgender/gender diverse people are the four groups that organisations report having most difficulty recruiting into their workforce. This was more of an issue for private sector organisations than public sector workplaces

· Covid-19 was more likely to have a negative impact on personal wellbeing and work-life balance for people working in small organisations – 63 percent reported

they were impacted negatively or very negatively, compared with 59 percent of respondents working in medium-sized organisations and 56 percent from large organisations.

· Leadership in the private sector was seen as more inclusive than in the public sector – 61 percent of private sector respondents indicated that leadership style in their organisation was a best practice example of inclusive leadership or mostly inclusive compared with 51 percent of respondents from the public sector

· Respondents in the private sector also perceived their team as more inclusive than respondents in the public sector – 74 percent of respondents in the private sector perceived their team as a best practice example of inclusivity or mostly inclusive compared to 69 percent in the public sector.

· Almost 90 percent of organisations offered employees some sort of flexible work arrangements but access is not always equitable. Respondents who work on the front-line indicated that it is harder for them to work from home, while others reported that access to the initiatives varied depending on a manager’s attitude and management styles, work location, and fields of work. Fixed-term and casual workers also reported fewer opportunities for flexible working.

Download the full survey report.

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