Discrimination holds people back - not autism or disabilities!

In the UK, the disability pay gap stands at 14.6%[1], and the government’s own Buckland Review of Autism and Employment acknowledges that only 28% of autistic people are employed in the UK [2].

In a world seemingly so passionate about fostering inclusive approaches, why are these figures so alarmingly high? 

The Gap Between Policy and Practise?

Reasonable adjustments are meant to create a level playing field for autistic employees. However, a concerning gap exists. Despite Access to Work often fully funding support, in very rare cases autistic workers struggle to obtain the adjustments they need. Unions like Unison call for a two-week response deadline where employers should consider, deny or agree to reasonable requests [3]. Remember, unreasonable denials of adjustments can be considered discrimination under the Equality Act 2010 (Section 21) [4]. Seek support from your union, Citizens Advice, or ACAS if you face this issue.

Toxic Work Environments - A Breeding Ground for Lost Talent

Workplace toxicity, fueled by behaviours like yelling at employees or discriminatory treatment, creates a breeding ground for fear and lost talent. Failing to address such harassment normalises it, leading to a dangerous cycle:

Abusive senior managers promote similar individuals ➡️ pushes out valuable employees ➡️ toxic environment rife with bullying, harassment = low morale, catastrophic impact on productivity and exponential rises in costs.

A solution should never be to force victims out and into redeployment. Employers should hold bullies accountable, fostering a culture where respect and psychological safety are paramount. Again seek support from your union if you face this issue.

Harnessing Neurodiversity - The Power of Autistic Strengths

Celebrating neurodiversity and unlocking its potential. Dr. Temple Grandin's famous quote, "the world needs all kinds of minds," perfectly encapsulates the value autistic people bring to the workplace. Here are my five key strengths that can be immense assets:

Beyond Strengths - Autistic Employees as Agents of Change

Research by York University highlights another strength: a reduced susceptibility to the bystander effect [5]. This means autistic people are more likely to intervene in situations where others might hesitate. This translates into several benefits for the work environment:

By recognising and harnessing the diverse strengths of autistic employees, businesses can foster a more inclusive, innovative, and thriving workplace.

Early Warning of Toxic Workplace Environments

In autistic culture, the canary bird is often used as a metaphor. Canaries, with their rapid breathing, small size, and high metabolism, are much more sensitive to airborne pollutants, distress, and toxic environments. For years, canaries acted as living early warning detectors of toxic carbon dioxide gas in mines, signalling danger and saving countless human lives.

How does this story translate into modern autistic culture, and what can we learn from these songbirds?

The theory suggests autistic employees, with their heightened sensitivity, can serve as similar early warning systems for toxic work environments. When autistic workers experience high work-related stress, it's a red flag signalling the need for action.

Just like in the mines, if the problem with modern-day canaries (autistic workers) isn’t addressed, the local team is likely to succumb to the same fate. 

In conclusion 

The significant disability employment gap and the underutilisation of autistic talent highlight the need for a multifaceted approach. While policies like reasonable adjustments exist, ensuring their implementation and challenging discriminatory practices are crucial. Furthermore, fostering inclusive and supportive work environments that value neurodiversity unlocks the immense potential of autistic employees. Recognising the early warning signs of toxicity, just like with the canary in the coal mine, allows for intervention and the creation of a safer, more productive space for everyone. By dismantling discrimination and embracing neurodiversity, workplaces can unlock a wealth of talent and create a thriving future for all.

Written by JAHugill 🙂

May 2024


[1] https://www.tuc.org.uk/research-analysis/reports/jobs-and-pay-monitor-disabled-workers-23

[2] https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/the-buckland-review-of-autism-employment-report-and-recommendations/the-buckland-review-of-autism-employment-report-and-recommendations

[3] https://committees.parliament.uk/writtenevidence/126536/pdf
[4] https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2010/15/section/21

[5] https://neurosciencenews.com/autism-bystander-effect-25105