How to support neurodivergent staff in IT w/ Stuart Wright

two colleagues speaking with each other

Hear what challenges neurodivergent staff face in the world of tech and how you can support their growth

Ten10 does a lot of work to support neurodivergent individuals in our company – to discuss more about it, including how people with neurodiversity fit into IT workspaces, I’m joined by Stuart Wright, one of our wellbeing advisors at the Ten10 Academy. Stuart discussed how the fast-paced nature of the tech industry can impact the mental health and wellbeing of people who work in it, and how companies can better support neurodivergent individuals in their tech teams.

Click to listen below or read the episode’s transcript.

Stuart, thank you very much for joining us today. Could you introduce yourself and tell us what role the Wellness Team plays in the Academy operations at Ten10?

Good to join you. My primary role as you said is Wellbeing Advisor as you said. It’s primarily based on pastoral support and making sure each member of the Academy is treated like an individual rather than a number.

Everyone’s got their own learning requirements and needs. Everyone has their own issues that they face sometimes. People are individuals but me, Megan Aldridge (who is my boss) and Sophie Dezso who’s my colleague, we’re really close team and we look after all cohorts, so that’s making sure people are relocated properly when they go out to client sites, making sure they’re onboarded in terms of DBS checks. There’s always a period of uncertainty when you’re about to go into something new so we want to make everything as smooth as possible. We do check-ins, drop-ins, run things like AGM-style ARC meetings to make sure everyone gets their voices heard, and (as is the focus of your podcast today) support people with divergence as well. We’re proud to have a number of people with neurodiversity who have been really successful with Ten10. People who are neurotypical and neurodivergent – it’s a lovely blend of people.

I know that we’ve had an incredible number of people from lots of different backgrounds as well. People who are career-changing, and people who are coming to their very first job out of university, and then people who aren’t going to university and stepping into a workplace completely from an entirely different background, maybe straight up a college or high school. So that’s really exciting, that we get to tailor our support and we give everybody, no matter who they, are what they need.

How does the fast-paced nature of technology and the tech industry impact the mental health and wellbeing of people who work in it?

That’s a really interesting question and it’s something that is at the forefront of our minds in Wellbeing. Tech is constantly updating itself (excuse the pun), it’s so fast-paced and a lot of people are looking to get into it now. It’s the future of everything and there’s a bit of a tech revolution going on but with that comes a certain amount of pressure as well. There are a lot of different types of coding languages, business analysis where you want to be more of a people person, and devs and anything in between. And with that, there is sometimes quite a high workload and a high demand on people in tech. It sounds exciting but it can be quite daunting as well. Sometimes the very best people put the most pressure on themselves as well and they always think they could be doing more. That can lead to things like imposter syndrome, burnout, and just unnecessary pressure.

People aren’t so sure of themselves sometimes so that’s where we come in. We’re there to reassure our Academy members and junior consultants that they are doing a good job, [and] create lines of communication between the clients, the account managers, and most importantly the trainers as well. We’re there to meet their individual learning needs and to reassure them that they are doing a good job, or if they need help with something it’s not to catch them out or punish them or anything like that. It’s to refer them back to the areas that they need. Sometimes people don’t feel comfortable reaching out to the trainers or the trainers are quite busy or preoccupied as they deal with a lot of people. That’s where the Wellbeing Team come in. We intervene but in quite a gentle way. Quite a passive way.

What are some of the common challenges neurodivergent individuals might face in the tech workplace?

Obviously, there are different kinds of neurodivergent individuals. I remember a while ago reading the saying “Once you’ve met one neurodivergent person, you’ve met one.” Because neurodivergence is divergent, it’s in the name. For example, you’ve got dyscalculia, you’ve got people who have autism, and they view things in a different way but that doesn’t mean it’s the wrong way. That’s a really important thing to emphasise.

They may have gone through the schooling system where it’s catered for the masses a little bit more. We try and cater for the individual. We are an academy at the end of the day. That means we have to be specialists ourselves. So we really try to empower people whether they are neurodivergent or not. But especially if they are, if they’ve got autism or attention deficit disorder or anything, we’re there to help and make reasonable adjustments. To listen to people as well.

Certainly. We’ve spoken with Bianca Walker in the past and she’s told us firsthand that there are environments where she doesn’t feel comfortable or tasks are a bit of a strain. But similarly, there are tasks which she absolutely excels at: hunting down bugs or software defects in code. This is coming from a marketer: I don’t blame any development for being overwhelmed by the number of lines of code that they have to deal with. But just knowing that people with, for example, ADHD, there are tasks which are completely suited to them and they can really excel in. Whereas, if their manager isn’t aware of how certain neurodiversity and conditions can visualise themselves or come out of people, then they might assume ‘they’re only good at this job and they’re not good at the rest’. No, it’s more that they absolutely excel in that and may need some support elsewhere.

A hundred percent. That’s a really good point about Bianca, as well. She’s found her niche a little bit. There’s no doubt that if a square peg is put in a round hole, say someone does have ADHD and they’re doing something that doesn’t really suit them, it can affect self-esteem. It can knock some people’s confidence. So yeah, it really is [about] getting to know the person and that also creates a nice environment to work in as well.

Speaking broadly, you’ve touched a little bit about how we, inside of our own Academy structure, support neurodivergent individuals. Is there any advice that you can give to people from other companies (who maybe don’t have an academy structure, maybe their internal resources are a little bit stretched) on what can they do to better support neurodivergent individuals in their own companies?

That’s really interesting because I was discussing this with Meg and Sophie. Obviously, financial investment helps in some respects, but the real thing is to invest in people. I keep going back to it: if you do invest in people and get to know them a little bit better on a personal level. I think the thing that makes Ten10 really stand out is that we’re a people business. I’ve been here about a year now and I’ve absolutely loved it. There is a genuine level of empathy throughout the business. Everyone’s on the same page, which is fantastic. From the top to the bottom, it doesn’t matter where you are. Everyone’s great. So that’s the kind of thing I really emphasise. And if there’s any kind of additional training that can be done: any webinar, seminars, [anything] that can be sent out by HR departments. [Also] bringing up lines of communication between hiring managers, bringing up discussion groups during hiring processes. There are some absolutely phenomenal neurodiversity people in tech and to miss out on that is a big loss, I think. A big loss. So definitely investing in people is a big thing.

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