How can wealth managers recognise 'the hidden diversity'?

Isabel Baxter, 13/01/2023

Neurodiverse individuals can bring valuable skills to wealth management firms.

These skills can include heightened attention to detail and pattern recognition.

Being neurodivergent means having different brain functions and behavioural traits to the average human population.

Examples of neurodiverse conditions include: ADHD, autism, dyspraxia and dyslexia.

Neurodiverse individuals often excel at jobs that involve looking at a large range of numbers and data, which is “especially important in the financial services industry”, according to Dr Ian Iceton, a senior HR practitioner from the Diversity Project’s neurodiversity workstream.

In many cases, they can also block out distractions and be hyper focused on tasks, allowing for deep focused work.

Although each individual brings unique talents to the workplace, the skills of neurodiverse individuals often go unrecognised, Dr Iceton argued.

This is because neurodiversity is somewhat of a ”hidden diversity” within the workplace.

People may not even realise their employees or colleagues are neurodiverse.

This has meant neurodiversity has not been given as much attention as other aspects of diversity, leading to neurodiverse individuals not benefiting from the progress that has occurred in some of these other aspects.

Subsequently, it has become “significantly underappreciated and unrecognised”.

Historically, individuals at the top of financial services organisations tend to operate in a “simple way”, Dr Iceton said.

He believes the historic image of the financial services industry – “white, straight, middle-aged men” - has recruited in its own image and operates assuming everyone is the same.

Dr Iceton argued this was not necessarily meant in a negative way, but because it was all they knew.

Nonetheless, he believes workplaces often look too much into the social elements and sometimes forget about the need for a “real deep focus” that neurodivergent individuals may be able to bring.

To make the most of these skills, workplaces need to give more opportunities for neurodiverse employees to utilise their talents effectively.

In a report the Diversity Project conducted at the end of last year, over half of its 120 neurodivergent respondents had not yet disclosed their condition to their employer, as they believe it would limit their career prospects.

However, 70 percent of those who have disclosed their condition, found their employers to be supportive.

This shows that firms need to make employees aware that support is available, so they hopefully feel more comfortable coming forward and accessing this support.

Neurodiverse individuals are probably stressed as they are having to cope with the neurotypical world and workplaces do not give them the opportunity to perform at their best, Dr Iceton noted.

“They don’t get to fulfil their potential.”

To combat this, firms need to improve and alter the recruitment process to become more neurodivergent friendly, he suggested.

In interviews, there are various idioms, metaphors, assumptions and working phrases used that neurodiverse individuals may not understand.

Dr Iceton gave the example of the question: ‘Where do you see yourself in five years’ time?’

This question is designed to get the interviewee to show ambition and show where their interests lie.

However, Dr Iceton explained those who are autistic, for example, will take this question literally.

He said one neurodivergent individual he knew told an interviewer this was a “stupid question because nobody could know what they are doing in the next five years – the world is so volatile”, which meant they did not get the job.

Meetings are another example of an area in which neurodiverse individuals may struggle, as lots of people speaking at once does not tend to suit their thinking style.

This means they may think of a good idea, but not feel comfortable enough to contribute and share it with the group.

“This often means a loss of great ideas,” Dr Iceton argued.

For progress to be made, workforces need to train and educate employees to be aware of the needs and differences of neurodiverse individuals.

Performance management processes also need to be altered for those who are neurodiverse, Dr Iceton stressed.

He believes the performance management process is aimed at the extrovert rather than the introvert.

It often focuses on being a ”team player” or being able demonstrate empathy, which are important values, but are things that neurodiverse people typically do not do.

Although these skills are important in the workplace, there are roles where individuals can still excel without these skills being necessarily required in the same way.

Firms need to realise that neurodivergent people will demonstrate their capabilities but it will look different to neurotypical employees. It will still give a good result, Dr Iceton argued.

Overall, he believes progress still needs to be made within the financial services industry to be neuro-inclusive.

“We still talk about the idea of gender equality within the industry, neurodiversity is even further behind.”

“Neurodiverse individuals are in the minority in financial services, so it is difficult to be one of the only people to be thinking differently,” Dr Iceton noted.

If neurodivergent individuals see financial services firms address neurodiversity and become more inclusive, they will come forward and progress can be made.

“They will start to advocate for themselves”, which in turn will create momentum for neurodiversity to be normalised in the industry, Dr Iceton concluded.

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