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Co-funded by the Erasmus+ Programme of the European Union 

Co-funded by the Erasmus+ Programme of the European Union

The neurodiversity paradigm for inclusive workplace growth

by Sylvia Liuti and Chiara Marchetta NEurodiversity at Work (NEW – project funded by the ERASMUS+ programme) is a three-year initiative that aims to support SMEs and micro-enterprises in creating workplaces that enhance the strengths and talents of their human resources. The main innovative element of the project is the focus on enhancing neurodiversity in the workplace. The concept of neurodiversity (neurological biodiversity) refers to the fact that each human being has a different nervous system with a peculiar combination of abilities and needs.  As with biodiversity, the more neurodiversity is respected and promoted within a culture, the more stable, adaptable and sustainable the social ecosystem of that culture will be. In the workplace, however, neurodivergent employees, i.e. those who present differences in neurodevelopment compared to what is normally considered typical (e.g. autism, dyslexia, ADHD, etc.), are at risk of discrimination and/or exclusion, due to a reduced knowledge of the phenomenon and above all because often, and with particular reference to adults, neurodivergence has not been formally recognised or diagnosed, as has been the case in Italy for some years in the world of education.  A work context designed primarily for ‘neurotypical’ people can, in fact, hinder the job placement and professional development of those who are neurodivergent, lead to their being assigned to inappropriate tasks and miss the opportunity to recognise and enhance talents and other available skills. Starting from this perspective, Neurodiversity at Work aims at valorising the characteristics and strengths of neurodivergent people, in order to rethink working environments as places of learning and growth, where the wellbeing of human resources is pursued and conditions are created that encourage the full expression of each person.  To achieve this aim, the partnership of NEW, led by FORMA.Azione, a European design company, particularly expert on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion issues, is working to produce a concrete impact on the Vocational and Continuing Training system and on European SMEs and micro-enterprises, having developed an Awareness Raising Strategy targeting entrepreneurs, HR managers and leaders of SMEs and micro-enterprises, trade unions and employers;  a (r)evolutionary inclusion model, which will be tested in the SMEs of the 4 countries involved, with the aim of offering business leaders and all relevant staff concrete strategies and tools for the inclusion of neurodivergent people and for enhancing neurodiversity in the work environment; a European Network of professionals interested in contributing and working on the topic, to build a lasting framework for action, involving multiple stakeholders and supporting and further developing the results of the NEW project. Starting in December 2023, we are therefore implementing the experimentation phase of the (r)evolutionary inclusion model, with short-term online training interventions focused on the key processes of companies that intend to revolutionize their human resources management system, opening it up to the neurodiversity paradigm. In addition to the awareness-raising process of management and key resources conveying values and virtuous inclusive practices, the training focuses on solutions, directions, tools and methods to improve the physical working environment and to be applied to the processes of recruitment and onboarding, retention and career development, and leadership. So far, 7 online training modules have been carried out in which more than 200 HR managers, occupational health and safety professionals, recruiters, DE&I managers, and training specialists have participated. Although the programme is aimed at SMEs, many of the participating companies are large and multinational, as awareness of the issue is higher. However, as we are seeing from the initial feedback gathered during and at the end of the training modules, the same large companies are working with service providers that are small and even micro enterprises with whom they are beginning to build an effective word-of-mouth mechanism, which is arousing curiosity and initiating a gradual process of change and adherence to the topic.   Following the training, some of the most motivated and interested companies will be able to experiment the proposed solutions and tools in order to verify their ability to impact on the level of sensitivity and knowledge system of the personnel, with respect to the issue of neurodiversity as an important paradigm for the world of work specific and regular collection of data on neurodiversity in different workplaces, with particular reference to SMEs, where the emergence of the phenomenon is aimed at creating truly inclusive environments; skills, strategies and tools to promote the value of neurodiversity in order to prevent discrimination and ensure the well-being of all staff. The NEW project will end next August. In the first week of July, it will be possible to attend the final conference together with participating companies and other key stakeholders in the area.    NEW is realized by six partner organizations at transnational level: from Italy FORMA.Azione (IT) and AIDP – Italian Association of Personnel Management, from Belgium EDA European Association for Dyslexia, from Austria DIE BERATER – training and development consultancy agency, from Bulgaria CATRO – agency specialized in the field of business consultancy and human resources management and development, from Ireland Specialisterne Ireland – organization specialized in the employment of autistic people.   For information www.neurodiverseworkplaces.eu Chiara Marchetta – marchetta @action.com                                

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