Neurodiversity in the workplace: my pledge for anticipatory inclusion

By Elisabeth Goodman, 13th August 2021

I am an Advocate for Neurodiversity.

This comes from my experience as a parent, and as a Trustee for 5 years of the Red Balloon Learner Centre who support young people who are “missing from school”, some of which will have been as a result of their Neurodiversity.

It also comes from the impact I’ve witnessed as a coach and as a trainer of a lack of understanding and valuing of Neurodiversity in the workplace.

Most recently, my advocacy has come from my self-diagnosis through the Do-IT Solutions profiling tool and the realisation that I gained through participating in Helen Amery’s Space of Transformation programme that I no longer need to choose between fitting in or rebelling but can simply speak up with my own voice.

I have just finished reading “Neurodiversity at work” by Theo Smith and Prof Amanda Kirby (2021). This has been the culmination of the journey I’ve been on so far, and I’ve lots more to learn.

“Neurodiversity at Work” jumped to the top of my bed-side reading pile when I received my copy ahead of the official publication date of 3rd August

The phrase “anticipatory inclusion” really gelled with me during a “Deep Dive” course on Neurodiversity for coaches with Lynne Tapper and Katie Friedman of Gold Mind. That, and my advocacy for Neurodiversity, have consolidated a journey I began in 2017 when Carol Fowler and I co-delivered a seminar, sponsored by Abzena, for the Life Science community at Babraham Research Park in the UK. The number of people who turned up could be counted on the fingers of one hand, but the discussion was rich and enlightening for all.

Since then I have had insightful conversations with my RiverRhee Trusted Partner John Hicks, who describes himself as a Neurodiversity coach and blogger, attended seminars and other courses with Julie Myles of The Spectrum Guru, the Gold Mind team, Jasmine Miller with Barefoot Coaching. I have also followed the learned writing of Dr Nancy Doyle, CEO of Genius Within, and of Prof Amanda Kirby, CEO of Do-IT Solutions. and many more voices on the topic of Neurodiversity who I’ve discovered so far on LinkedIn.

As of next week, I will be embarking on another voyage of discovery, as an associate coach with Genius Within. I can’t wait to begin!

What surprised, delighted and generally enlightened me in “Neurodiversity at work”

Smith and Kirby (2021) do a tremendously thorough job of exploring this topic. They do so to such an extent that I would say this is a ‘go to’ reference work for any coach, HR practitioner and line manager full stop! It’s not a question of whether you have an interest in Neurodiversity: it’s a question of whether you have an interest in understanding, valuing and finding ways to work more effectively with all of the people that you work with.

So the book covers definitions, origins, descriptions of Neurodiversity – as you would expect. It also covers everything you need to know from a legal and practical perspective for managing people through the whole employee life cycle process – something I touched on in my recent talk, with Téa Romero, for the Women in Technology Mentoring Programme (2021).

How inclusive are your HR and line-management practices for Neurodiversity? It’s easy to unconsciously include bias. Paying attention to the wording of your job adds; asking candidates what would help to make their interview experience a positive one; recruiting for strengths rather than all-rounders; making it safe for people to speak up about their needs around working hours, work place environments, IT assistive technology, coaching support to help them and their managers communicate, interact and generally organise their work… these are all things that can make a difference.

Smith and Kirby (2021) also talk about the value and risks of using Neurodiversity labels – another topic that I included in my talk for the Women in Technology Mentoring Programme (2021).

There are many potential labels for conditions such as autism. They will be personal and are best chosen by the individual concerned. The label I’m currently working with for myself is “I have an autistic profile”, but that might change. Labels can definitely have benefits, but they can also feel uncomfortable. There is no legal requirement for individuals to ‘self-disclose’. What I aspire to, as a coach, is to raise all of my clients’ awareness of their needs and of how to make those happen.

So what surprised, delighted me and generally enlightened me in Smith and Kirby (2021)’ s book?

The fact that they include a chapter on how to support both participants (delegates) and presenters / speakers in meetings, conferences and seminars.

Having a full chapter on what line managers can do to create a psychologically safe environment for people to speak up about what they need to be at their best at work.

Step-by-step guidelines for how to make each stage of recruitment and on-boarding neuro-inclusive.

The rich seam of case studies that people can learn from in terms for how to create a neuro-inclusive environment in small as well as large organisations.

Also a series of interviews to hear the voice of influencers in the field of Neurodiversity, including one by Nancy Doyle who warns us to be careful of “elitism, bad science and amateurism”.

The exploration of how to create networks of champions, whilst not over-burdening the champions, and making sure they have the necessary support for their and other people’s mental well-being.

That there is awareness training on Neurodiversity out there from the likes of Right Resources and that it includes listening skills, mental well-being, common workplace challenges and how to access workplace-related support.

That there is a new BSI guide (PAS 6463) in development that will address work place design in the context of sensory sensitivity and embodies the concept that “it should be a fundamental requirement to anticipate and design for neurological differences and wellbeing”.

All in all, Smith and Kirby (2021) fully fulfilled their goal (p.21), for me, “to excite, delight and open up the discussion around Neurodiversity”.

So what is my pledge for anticipatory inclusion?

I pledge to:

  • Continue my learning and have an open mind to what Neurodiversity might mean in general and for each individual in particular that I coach, train and generally interact with
  • Be alert to how I position my group coaching and courses to make it safe for people to speak up for what they need and what they believe in
  • Have zero tolerance of behaviours that are prejudicial towards Neurodiversity
  • Invite feedback to enhance my neuro-inclusive behaviour and practices
  • Raise awareness of Neurodiversity in my discussions with clients and fellow coaches

What will you do?

And what views, comments and questions do you have on what I have shared here that I can learn from too?



Elisabeth Goodman (2021, 6 August).  A perspective on Neurodiversity.  Presented in a co-session with Téa Romero for the Women in Technology  Mentoring Programme.  See retrieved 13 August 2021

Smith, T. and Kirby, A. (2021). Neurodiversity at work. Drive innovation, performance and productivity with a neurodiverse workforce. Kogan Page

About the author

Elisabeth Goodman is the Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting, specialising in “creating exceptional managers and teams”, through group-coaching style workshops and courses, with a focus on the Life Sciences. RiverRhee is a member-to-member training provider for One Nucleus.

Elisabeth founded RiverRhee in 2009, and prior to that had 25+ years’ experience in the Pharmaceutical Industry in line management and internal training and consultancy roles supporting teams on a global basis.

She and her trusted partners help RiverRhee’s clients to exercise choice and realise their potential in the workplace by recognising their individual values and strengths. Together they explore such topics as enhancing their leadership / management, interpersonal and communication skills, and their ability to deal with uncertainty and change.

Elisabeth is accredited in Coaching (ACC – International Coaching Federation, PG Certification in Business and Personal Coaching), Change Management, Lean Sigma, Belbin Team Roles, MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) and is an NLP (NeuroLinguistic Programming) Practitioner. She is also a member of the APM (Association for Project Management) in which she was a founding member of the Enabling Change SIG.

She is also the founder of The Coaches’ Forum – an international community of interest for coaches to explore ideas and insights as an extension to their personal and professional development.

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