Companies need to not only accept different thinkers, but embrace them

Cathy Donnelly

"Companies need to not only accept different thinkers, but embrace them"

Cathy Donnelly, Chief People Officer at Texthelp, shares insights on fostering workplace inclusion, supporting neurodiverse staff and driving employee engagement.

In this interview, Cathy shares insights on how companies can better support employees with neurological differences and embrace neurodiverse teams.

Neurodiversity includes a wide range of conditions including dyslexia, ADHD and autism, affecting approximately 20% of the global population. However, studies show that 76% of neurodivergent individuals decide not to disclose their condition at work. 

With more than 25 years of experience in HR, Cathy is passionate about fostering an inclusive employee experience that unlocks potential and celebrates different thinkers – a mission that plays a pivotal role in shaping Texthelp’s global inclusive community.

Q: What does Texthelp do and which geographies does it serve?

A: “Texthelp is a global inclusive technology leader dedicated to creating a more accessible, diverse and inclusive future through innovative technology solutions. We provide products for individuals at all stages of life, from the classroom to the workplace, addressing diverse needs such as reading, writing, and maths support.

“Our focus on workplace inclusion involves supporting organisations on their diversity, equity, and inclusion journey by introducing inclusive technology like Read&Write for Work. Texthelp’s solutions have already positively impacted the lives of more than 200 million people in 150 countries across six continents – with a collective vision to support 1 billion people by 2030. We currently work across the UK, US, Australia, Canada, Denmark, Norway and Sweden.”

Q: What are the biggest barriers and difficulties for neurodiverse employees in 2024 and what are the areas that urgently need to be addressed? 

A: “Neurodiverse employees face various challenges in the workplace that can often go unnoticed. Experiences vary from person to person, but some of these can include masking their symptoms to fit in, concentration and focus issues, reading and writing difficulties and social challenges.

“Some key barriers are the need for disclosure to receive support, non-flexible work environments, and stereotypes and biases. We know that not everyone feels comfortable disclosing a condition, and they shouldn’t have to. Companies need to not only accept different thinkers but embrace them to get the most out of their people.

“Urgent areas for improvement include implementing inclusive tools and leveraging assistive technology, especially when it comes to digital environments. Our Read&Write software is a great example of how businesses can make a small change with a big impact.

“Organisations must also work to foster a supportive environment where people can feel safe to be their whole selves. Promoting education and awareness among teams to challenge stereotypes and perspectives that others hold of neurodivergent employees is hugely important, as well as ensuring physical spaces are universally designed for everyone.”

Q: Where are the biggest gaps in provision for neurodiverse staff and how should businesses respond?

A: “Limited accommodations and inclusive recruitment and retention practices are some of the biggest gaps we have witnessed. When a business invests in support for neurodivergent employees, this is good practice. However, if the only way to access that support is by disclosing a condition – which many do not know they have or feel comfortable sharing – then this creates a barrier to the support. The truly inclusive response is to offer support to all employees from day one. This is what many of our customers in the workplace are doing with Read&Write, such as CIPD (The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development) and PwC.

“Texthelp recently surveyed 500 neurodivergent employees and found a number of areas where they don’t feel supported; 34 per cent experienced difficulty in recruitment and interview processes, 32 per cent reported a lack of career progression, and 61 per cent have dealt with stigma in the workplace. This is where solutions like inclusive technology such as Read&Write can play a key role. Our customers can offer this as a free trial at the interview stage to improve inclusion, and it also supports existing employees as they can work, ultimately boosting performance.”

Q: What is Read&Write for work and how does it help?

A: “Read&Write for Work is an inclusive technology solution that features a discrete toolbar with a diverse range of features. From Text-to-Speech, Screen Masking, Word Prediction, and more, it empowers employees to work to their unique strengths. It is particularly helpful for neurodivergent employees as they can choose how they process information and communicate more effectively.

“For multilingual teams whose first language is not English, it instils confidence in their work, with grammar and spell checking reducing errors. However, it has become clear that everyone can benefit from Read&Write, with many neurotypical employees being able to streamline tasks and use it as a productivity tool.”

“It seamlessly integrates into your already existing systems and makes a big difference for team collaboration, development, and inclusivity.”

Q: Can you share some of the ways Texthelp is assisting employees?

A: “At Texthelp, we don’t just accept different thinkers, we’re all about embracing them! With a global team, we understand that people have various learning styles and experiences, so we do our best to promote this from day one. This starts at the very first point of contact with us, for example our careers page includes a link to Read&Write which makes it easier for candidates to apply and utilise the tools they need.

“We offer our employees free access to all our inclusive technology products, empowering everyone to explore the incredible impact of this software. Through our Free for Family initiative, employees can also share the gift of inclusion with their loved ones at no extra cost. As many neurodivergent conditions are hereditary, we wanted to extend that support to the wider community.

“We have a theme of allyship running across all of our six Employee Resource Groups (ERGs), which represent a range of experiences from neurodiversity/disabilities to race and ethnicity, and LGBTQAI+. This year, we are training all employees on how to be strong allies and are creating an inclusive language guide to help our team feel more comfortable talking about certain topics. We also created an inclusive hiring positioning statement to ensure we always start with inclusion in mind and continue to encourage diversity.”

Q: How can organisations ensure they have an inclusive approach to all employees, especially if they are a global company?

A: “Firstly, it’s essential to implement localised policies adapted to align with regional regulations and cultural nuances. By doing so, organisations ensure that their inclusion efforts are respectful and compliant with diverse practices. We approach everything with a mindset of as global as possible, as local as necessary. 

“Secondly, a DEI training plan should raise awareness of different cultures, backgrounds, and conditions to promote understanding and respect among employees worldwide. It’s also important to create safe spaces for people to share their lived experiences; it’s a fundamental element of how we educate our employees on DEI matters. 

“Create Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) that are employee led and populated with people who are passionate about educating and driving change. For example, we have EnABLE for neurodiversity and disabilities and Represent for race and ethnicity. You also need to have constant communication opportunities such as virtual and in-person meetings and fun activities to foster a sense of belonging.

“Leveraging inclusive technologies like Read&Write can provide consistent support to employees regardless of their location, which, in turn, improves teamwork and collaboration. Continuous feedback along the way will help organizstions improve their inclusion initiatives and create a more supportive environment for all employees.”

To explore the capabilities of inclusive technology, Read&Write and the transformative impact it can have on your team, book a chat with Texthelp today.

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