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Neurodiversity – the missing piece in the diversity jigsaw? – and ‘GAIN’, a great industry opportunity to find it and complete the picture

Laurie Edmans CBE1 October 2021 sees the launch of ‘GAIN’ the ‘Group for Autism, Insurance and Neurodiversity’ (‘GAIN’), a new organisation and hub for the insurance sector highlighting the advantages and opportunities of a neurodiverse workplace.

‘Neurodiversity’ concerns the different ways the human brain works and interprets information. The term encompasses people with conditions including autism, dyslexia, ADHD and dyspraxia. Considering it shows the possibilities and the power of those who think differently. 

The situation with neurodiversity feels quite akin to where gender balance was a decade ago – beginning to get widespread recognition, with some leading organisations taking well thought through steps for the mutual benefit of their organisation and of the individuals concerned, by recognising the talent pool which they represent. But it is far from the general case.

The autistic community, for example, is a largely untapped source of growth and opportunity for employers. Although 1 in every 100 people in the UK has an autism diagnosis (which almost certainly understates its true incidence), only one in six ever get full-time, paid employment, despite the overwhelming majority having the ability and desire to do so. A tremendous waste of talent.

GAIN believes that the insurance sector and closely associated fields – actuarial, investment and pensions – could benefit greatly from the skills in which autistic people often excel, like a methodical approach to tasks, strong attention to detail and looking at situations from a different perspective. Not just at the gifted level of the great brains such as Alan Turing, but in tasks of all kinds where attention to detail and consistency are crucial – from the post room to the board room. Similarly, people with other forms of neurodiversity bring talents and abilities which are often lost, when minor adjustments to recruitment and appraisal processes could realise them. For new entrants to the industry and for neurodiverse people already in our workforces.

the insurance industry could benefit greatly from the skills in which autistic people often excel - from the post room, to the board room

These skills and abilities are, too often, masked because the people concerned don’t want to appear different, when in fact, their difference is their potential key strength. For example, the positive benefits of creativity and lateral thinking which often accompany dyslexia, are well established. 10% of the population is dyslexic. This is not a matter of marginal importance.

GAIN is seeking the commercial, societal and economic benefits of the insurance industry becoming pathfinders, an exemplar to other industries, of a step change in the employment of neurodiverse people. By creating a community aware of and committed to matching the needs of such individuals for rewarding work, to the industry’s need for talent.

GAIN will be a hub where individuals and organisations can find out more, and find each other. Open to everyone in insurance and related sectors, GAIN will raise awareness of the potential from neurodiversity, but will also arrange routes to training and employment opportunities for individuals, and for businesses to understand how to unlock the potential of autistic and other neurodiverse people.

A standard workplace environment can be challenging, and often disabling, to neurodiverse people. Even getting far enough in the job application process to the point where someone’s talents become evident, is tougher. But as experience in businesses – like NEST, the hugely successful pension provider – have found,  adjustments to overcome this are quite straightforward. More a matter of mindset than significant physical or expensive change. For example, for an autistic person:

  • Modifying interview questions, so as to not expect a closed question to trigger an open response – asking ‘please describe…..’, rather than ‘ have you had…..’
  • More frequent check ins with a manager or supervisor
  • Permission to work in a quiet area towards the end of the day, or use noise-suppressing headphones
  • Internal coaching for colleagues 

The latter is one of the most effective – a really striking thing about the effect of making the quite modest changes needed to transform the workplace prospects for neurodiverse people, is the lasting positive effect on the people who work alongside, or manage them. 

GAIN is not for profit and established by a growing alliance of people and organisations committed to seeing the opportunities realised, both for individuals and the industry. Its doors are wide open to any other people or organisations to join in, and we are hoping that many will be interested in doing so and will log in to our launch. You can register here.

We are delighted to say that such significant and forward looking businesses as Marsh and McLennan, Swiss Re and Principal Financial Group are sponsoring GAIN. Amongst those leading the effort are Barbara Schonhofer MBE, Founder of the ISC Group and a champion for inclusivity within the industry and for the industry itself and Johnny Timpson, until recently the Cabinet Office Disability and Accesss Champion for the Insurance Industry.   

Individual businesses in other sectors have seen the possibilities and realised them – proof real benefits can be achieved.

When the industry rarely seems to be recognised for the contribution it makes to society…..the GAIN initiative is an opportunity for a profound and unchallengable positive

But there has never been a cross-sectoral initiative. When our industry rarely seems to be recognised for the huge contribution it makes to society by (recalling my first CII textbook) ‘making it possible for the losses of the few to fall lightly on the shoulders of the many’, and by providing a safe and carefully nurtured home for so many peoples’ long term savings, the GAIN initiative offers the opportunity to score a profound and unchallengeable positive.

We have been surprised how many people in the industry have either direct or close personal experience of family members or friends who have found difficulties from autism or other neurodiversity. If any person or organisation would like to learn more about what is possible now, or contribute to what might be able to happen in the future, we would be delighted to hear from them.  To see more or contact GAIN:  www.gaintogether.org or, LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/showcase/gain-group-for-autism-insurance-and-neurodiversity/ or me at laurie.edmans@gaintogether.org.

Laurie Edmans CBE, Co-chair, GAIN

Last updated 13/09/2021