A conversation with an HR Manager (who shall remain nameless!) during a regular visit with one of my clients last week both annoyed me enough and inspired me to write this month’s article!

The conversation went something like this:

HR Manager – We need to plan another audit of our health and safety management system. What’s your availability like in the next couple of months?

Me – I’m pretty busy at the moment but I’m sure I can fit you in. We’ll use AS/NZS ISO 45003: 2018 this time since you’ve been moving your systems across to that standard. Would you like to integrate it with some of the elements in ISO 45003 to examine at your systems for managing psychosocial risk and look at how accessible your systems are for workers with differing learning, communication and literacy abilities, such as neurodivergent workers as well. How does that sound?

HR Manager – We’re good with including they psychosocial stuff but don’t worry about the neurodiversity or stuff. I know it’s your thing but we’re not going down that path yet.

Me – Oh really. Why not?

HR Manager – Disability employment is not really a big priority of the Leadership Team. We have enough trouble getting our healthy workers to turn up and do the job as well as providing suitable duties for workers on WorkCover. We’re not a sheltered workshop. We don’t have enough light duties for people with disabilities.

Me – Bangs head on desk….

neurodiverse safe work initiative

In 2010 the Sickness, Disability and Work: Breaking the Barriers report published by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), employment rates for people with disability were highest in Sweden, Iceland, Estonia, Mexico and Switzerland and Australia ranked 21 out of 29 OECD countries.

What is even worse than this is that Australia ranked exactly last out of all OECD countries in relative poverty risk for people with disability.

These statistics are shocking.


neurodiverse safe work initiative

What happened to Australia being “the Lucky Country”? “the Land of the Fair Go”? What happened to “looking after our mates” being an important part of our national identity.

How can Australia tolerate being “last” in anything when as a nation we are so competitive? Can you imagine if we consistently ranked last, or even 21 out of 29 countries in rugby or cricket? There would be national outrage!

Why are we prepared to tolerate coming last, or 21 out of 29 in how we treat some of the most vulnerable members of society?

With 15-20% of the global population having one or more “specialist thinking skill” (Doyle, 2020) and 65% of these being of working age (that’s 1 in 8 people), a diverse workforce is representative of the community it belongs to. Neurodiversity is a fact. Inclusion is a choice.

We are by nature a diverse species. We have diversity of ethnicity, gender and sexual identity and physical characteristics, languages, abilities and talents and so too we have diversity of thought. Diversity is important. It’s what makes us strong and resilient. Some of the best inventions and creations have been produced by neurodivergent brains.

Without Autistic, Dyslexic and ADHD brains there would be no telephones, the light bulbs, computers and artificial intelligence and Pokémon and no Virgin or Apple. Britain and her allies may not have won World War II since both Alan Turing (inventor of “the Bombe” – the Enigma machine that enabled British allies to decode German messages and gain valuable intelligence) and J. Robert Oppenheimer (scientific head of the Manhattan Project that invented the atom bomb which ended World War II) were both thought to be Autistic.

So why then, when employers (like the HR Manager that inspired this article) hear neurodivergent labels applied to workers or job candidates are they so quick to jump to a negative conclusion and assume that employing neurodivergent workers will create problems or more work for them to do?

To explore, demystify and raise awareness about the benefits and challenges of neurodiversity at work, the Neurodiverse Safe Work Initiative and Do-IT Solutions are proud to be co-hosting a series of Webinars called Neurodiversity at work – more than just noise-cancelling headphones”.

The series will feature guest speakers who are subject matter experts in their respective fields on topics including:

  • Recruiting neurodiverse talent – how to attract and engage neurodivergent candidates;
  • Training and competency assessment that incorporates the different ways that all workers learn;
  • Managing the health and safety of workers who perceive and respond to risk differently;
  • Workplace investigations – what workplace investigators need to know about the different ways that neurodivergent workers think, process information, communicate and perceive the physical environment.
  • Workers compensation and rehabilitation – what claims assessors and rehabilitation coordinators need to know when deciding compensation claims and returning neurodivergent workers to work following injury or illness.

The first Webinar will be held at 7pm (AEST) on Thursday 3 August and will be presented by Catherine Lee (Founder of the Neurodiverse Safe Work Initiative) and Prof. Amanda Kirby (Chief Executive Officer of Do-IT Solutions) This first webinar introduces neurodiversity at work as an issue that every employer should be concerned with, both for the strategic advantages that can be achieved by creating an inclusive workplace culture; and some of the performance and safety challenges that can be overcome through awareness, the modification of work systems to ensure accessibility and a person-centered approach.

By investing in neurodiversity, organizations can gain a competitive edge in the market and create a more inclusive and productive workplace. There are certainly challenges for both the employer and the neurodivergent worker. The Webinar series will provide attendees with some strategies for designing work systems that are inclusive and accessible for all workers.

For more information, get in touch or check out the event link here and please feel free to forward this on to anyone you think would be interested.

I will be sharing it with a certain HR Manager!

neurodiverse safe work initiative
Skip to content