In this episode, host Julia Streets is joined by Dr Nancy Doyle, Chartered Psychologist and founder and CEO of Genius Within CIC and Andy Gibson, award-winning entrepreneur, author and Head Gardener of Mindapples. They discuss how workplaces are not ideally set up to accommodate neurodiverse individuals in comparison to ‘neurotypical’ employees, attitudes towards mental health in the working environment and in general, the physical versus mental health prioritisation imbalance, the intersectionality of neurodiversity and mental health, and what financial services organisations must consider adopting to help people make the most of their minds.
Research mentioned in this episode:
Dr Nancy Doyle
Dr Nancy Doyle is a Chartered Psychologist with expertise in organisational and occupational psychology and is the founder and CEO of Genius Within CIC. Genius Within is a Community Interest Company that sits between the charitable and corporate sector working towards a future where all people with neurodiversity will be able to maximise their potential and work to their strengths using The Organisational Science of Neurodiversity: Evidence-based solutions for individuals, teams and professionals.
Genius Within is dedicated to developing talent and achieving success with ADHD, Autism, Dyslexia, Dyspraxia, Tourette Syndrome, Mental Health, and embracing neurodiversity through consultancy, workshops and interventions around disability, inclusion and employment.
Nancy helped create and featured in both series’ of the award-winning BBC Two series Employable Me, where she supported a group of extraordinary job seekers to unlock their own unique talents and abilities in order to secure employment. Syndicated in 2019 in the USA as ‘The Employables”, Nancy continued to deliver the trademark positive assessments and Employable Genius group coaching with some extraordinary individuals as they search for work.
You can follow Nancy on Twitter @NancyDoylePsych
Andy Gibson is an award-winning entrepreneur and author who specialises in helping people make the most of their minds. He is the founder and Head Gardener of Mindapples, the campaign he started in 2008 in response to the lack of attention being given by policymakers and campaigners to public mental health. Mindapples has since gone on to reach hundreds of thousands of people around the world with positive messages about mental health and wellbeing.
Before that, he co-founded the influential social web start-up School of Everything in 2006, which won several awards for its innovative work connecting independent learners with teachers in their local areas. He also advises large and small organisations on innovation and performance through his consultancy, Sociability Ltd.
Andy writes books and speaks at conferences about mental health and business performance. His last book, A Mind for Business (Pearson, 2015) was WHSmith’s Business Book of the Month in March 2015, based on his work on Mindapples’ business training programmes, which are now used by many major multinational businesses to help their staff work smarter and more sustainably. His latest book, The Mind Manual, is out now published by Hamlyn Press, and is also based on a decade of work advising the public on mental health and wellbeing. His previous written works include Social by Social, a practical guide to using social media for social good, and various policy papers and thought leadership pieces about social innovation and digital transformation.
Andy has worked with some of the biggest brands in global business to help them get the best from their staff, including Tesco, NewsCorp, L’Oreal, Gowling, Lendlease, Accenture, the Wellcome Trust, the Nature Conservancy, the NSPCC, MSF, Save the Children and most of the world’s top investment banks. He holds degrees in history and psychology, and has advised the UK Government on health promotion, supported many entrepreneurs to launch and grow their ventures, and speaks internationally about business innovation and social change. He’s also a former Trustee of the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce. Wired magazine once named him the 78th most influential person in UK technology – although they changed their minds again the following year.
He lives in London but writes in Weymouth.
You can follow Andy on Twitter @gandy
Series Seven, Episode Four Transcript
Julia: Hello, my name is Julia Streets and welcome to Divercity Podcast, talking about equality, inclusion, and diversity in financial services. On the podcast, we seek to shine a light on positive progress, call out areas requiring further focus, and offer lots of ideas to help drive change.
Today, I’m joined by Dr. Nancy Doyle and Andy Gibson. Dr. Nancy Doyle is a chartered psychologist with expertise in organisational and occupational psychology. She is the Founder and CEO of Genius Within, the community interest company that sits between the charitable and the corporate sector. Her focus is on working towards a future where all people with neurodiversity will be able to maximise their potential and work to their strengths, and this is deployed using the organisational science of neurodiversity, evidence based solutions for individuals, teams and professionals. Nancy helped create and featured in both series of the BBC Two series Employable Me and she supported a group of extraordinary job seekers to unlock their own unique talents and abilities in order to secure employment. Since airing in the UK, the show has been in the USA, also known as the Employables, and in addition, Nancy is a proud Research Fellow of the University of London. Nancy, welcome to the show.
Nancy: Thank you for having me, Julia.
Julia: Andy Gibson specialises in helping people make the most of their minds. He is the Founder and Head Gardener of Mindapples, an acclaimed author, and his book A Mind for Business was listed as W.H. Smith’s business book of the month. Mindapples is a campaign that Andy started in 2008 in response to a lack of attention being given by policymakers and campaigners all about public mental health. Mindapples has gone on to reach thousands if not hundreds of thousands of people around the world, both through public campaigns and corporate engagements. He provides training, keynotes and e-learning programmes to both public and private sector organisations, ranging from the smallest startups to truly multinational conglomerates. Andy, welcome to the show.
Andy: Thank you for including me.
Julia: As always, we invite each guest to take a minute to tell us about what they’re focused on in 2020. Nancy, let me bring you in there first of all, what’s your focus for this year?
Nancy: In my campaigning mind this year, I really think it’s time that we focused on breadth as well as depth. In the neurodiversity field, neurodiversity has become very popular. I’ve been doing this for 20 years. It absolutely wasn’t popular 20 years ago and there’s been some real shifts in people’s willingness to think about the talents of different kinds of minds, and there’s been some deliberate programmes to try and engage and bring in more neurodiversity into workplaces, all of which is very welcome. What we’re getting out of that is some thought leaders who are telling their own stories, who’ve got personal connections to neurodiversity, who are championing within their businesses, and so as a result, we’ve got a great depth of understanding building and we’ve got some very inspirational stories and people sharing those stories and building awareness. I think we need to move on and we need to look at breadth as well as depth and breadth is going to be looking much more at the systems, the processes, the institutionalised barriers that have created a disparity in inclusion in the first place, and how do we break those down. That’s really where my attention is at the moment.
Julia: Wonderful. We’ll unpick much of that for sure on the show, which is great. Thank you very much indeed. Andy, let me bring you in at this point. Your focus for 2020?
Andy: It’s always a challenge for people who are interested in starting things and making things to be focused on just one thing. I’m trying to stay focused I suppose on making our content more available to people in different forms. We’ve got a lot of new material that we launched over the last few years and we’re having a lot of success with our training programmes and our commercial activity, but what we’ve tried to do is create more e-learning modules, so that particularly larger businesses can access our material at scale and introduce that in a way that’s a bit more on demand that people can access wherever they are in the world and whatever their working environments. We’re hoping to launch an app soon, which will mean that that can be accessible, partly because businesses, you want to offer that as a benefit to staff but also to the general public so that you don’t necessarily have to rely on your employer to buy in everything, that perhaps the employer can bring in a keynote talk or something to get the conversation going, but the employees and general public can seek out information that they think will be useful for managing their mind and applying insights to how they live and work.
Julia: I imagine that the focus for actually rolling out all those products, it’s going to be quite intense year for you in that regard. I’m very interested in this intersection between neurodiversity and also mental health as well, I think we’re slightly at risk for the listeners, because as you say, Nancy, over the last X number of years, let’s call it 20 years, the shift to understanding the value that cognitive diversity can bring. Is it at risk of being bucketed with the conversation around mental health? I’d love your thoughts on that first.
Nancy: I don’t think there’s a risk. I think we need to generate that conversation on mental health as well. What is quite clear is that there is a lot of overlap and there’s a lot of misdiagnosis. For example, we know women in particular are more likely to be diagnosed with anxiety and depression when actually the underlying root of that might be an autistic spectrum condition or ADHD. We know that men are more likely to be diagnosed with personality disorders if they come from BAME backgrounds or if they don’t have access to private diagnostic services. So we’re in this position where mental health and neurodiversity intersect quite a lot. What we need to be doing is thinking about a person centred approach and how can we create the conditions for everyone to work at their best. The other thing that happens when you’re experiencing mental health is that it actually has a big impact on your cognitive performance, so in a period of anxiety or depression or with certain medication you can find that your attention is compromised, your concentration is compromised, and the environment that you work in might be overwhelming from a sensory perspective, and that might not be true when you’re in better health.
You can find that the same symptoms occur in a workplace. 92% of my clients want help with memory and concentration, and in my business, we see thousands of clients each year for workplace coaching from lots and lots of different backgrounds, neurodiversity predominantly, but also mental health, but I think it’s quite interesting that almost exclusively that’s the most predominant symptom. The second most predominant symptom is organisational skills and time management. And again, that’s conditioned blind. It doesn’t matter what condition people come with, that’s the thing they’re struggling with. When those things are so similar in terms of what people are having to manage on a day to day basis and what kind of advice people from an HR background might want to give, that the distinctions are really not necessarily helpful. What’s helpful is how do we get people to work at their best? What do we need to do to our environments? How can we clear the blockages for people? And that’s really what I think we can focus on.
Julia: Andy, you’re nodding along to that. Would you agree with Nancy’s comments there?
Andy: Yes, I mean I absolutely agree with it and I suppose the interesting thing for me is thinking about it in the context of the work we do, what constitutes an inclusive way to approach mental health, it can be defined in a lot of different ways. One of the things that we’re often talking to clients about is to try and encourage them to make this something for everyone, because our origins are in public health and in prevention and of course you don’t prevent people from getting ill by only talking to them after they have become ill. You talk to everybody because this is something that can affect anybody at any point. It’s one of the interesting questions for us when we engage with clients is whether we are brought in through a disability inclusion diversity agenda or whether we’re there for health and safety to improve habits and performance, whether it’s wellbeing, whether it’s staff engagement, sometimes it’s heads of commercial team asking us to improve collaboration, boost creativity.
A lot of it is the same underlying principles about how do we create the conditions for people to thrive. I suppose the interesting thing I find is that whilst companies find different routes into it, they often arrive at programmes or interventions that may well deliver on the objectives that they have, but also can accidentally help them with a whole load of other things elsewhere in the business and actually go from getting the different parts of the business to coordinate and talk. They realise they’re doing a lot already of things that perhaps they think they’re not doing enough on and underestimating what they could do potentially to join it up.
Julia: Nancy, I’m really keen to explore within organisations, I don’t want to be too negative at the beginning, but what do they do that actually isn’t helpful, because I’d love to be able to explore the things that could be changed tomorrow in order to make workplaces more inclusive for neurodiverse employees.
Nancy: There’s things that I’ve been talking about for years that I would like to just wave a magic wand and have sorted, and one of those is open plan offices. Open plan offices are particularly disabling for anybody with a condition that affects cognition. That does include autism, ADHD, dyslexia, dyspraxia. It also includes anxiety. It also includes social anxiety. It includes bipolar disorder, includes multiple sclerosis, includes the menopause. If you are in a loud environment with lots of distractions, it is harder for you to concentrate. If you have a condition that means your baseline for concentration is already low, it can be the difference between performance and not performance. If we could just sort out open plan offices, that would be great. We don’t have to get rid of them altogether, because they do encourage teamwork and collaboration and chatting, but what we need is flexibility.
We have a team of psychologists that go out and do workplace needs assessments and one of the things they do is they look at the environment somebody’s in, they look at their concentration ability and then they go, right, this is where we need to be flexible. We can do things like book out meeting rooms, we can do things like allow flex time so you can come in later and stay later when it’s quiet or come in earlier when it’s quiet and leave earlier..
You can have a working from home day on Fridays when you need to collect the week’s data and write it into a report that takes lots of concentration. There are ways to do it. We don’t have to go from one extreme to the other. And actually the research I’ve done has found that environmental flexibility like that was rated as helpful by 85% of people who were offered it as a reasonable adjustment, which was actually the most helpful reasonable adjustment out of all the ones that I surveyed. It’s little things like that that can just be the difference between functioning and not functioning for a lot of different people.
Julia: That feels like something that’s moderately easy to implement tomorrow. Are there some things which are harder to do, which organisations should look ahead and make some investments in?
Nancy: That’s technology. Hands down technology. One of the things I say a lot is that a lot of the reason that we have dyslexia, ADHD, autism coming under the categories of disablement is because we’re living in a very polarised society. Where we live right now in our education system and our workplaces tend to mirror the education system to a greater or lesser extent, you have to be literate and/or numerate. You have to be able to sit down and concentrate for eight hours at a time and you have to be able to smile and make eye contact. Those things are essential. We have decided they’re not really, if you think of human experience over thousands of millennials a year. These things are actually fairly new, but because they’re so embedded in our society, if you can’t do one or more of them, then you must have a condition that creates disablement.
However, when you look at our technology, is literacy a transition technology? When you look at our phones, every one of us in this room and probably listening to this podcast has got a phone where you can talk at it and it will type what you say. At what point is the ability to spell going to be an obsolete skill? At what point is it not going to be necessary to sit still and concentrate all day? Because actually, you can send emails while you’re running around and you can pop to this meeting and do it on the train. And actually the people who need to sit still, are they going to be disabled? Are they going to have a sedentary concentration dependency disorder? Are we going to have people who are hyperlexic instead of dyslexic, and they can only communicate through the written word and they can’t talk into their phone and send a quick message? So that makes them disabled.
We’re in a society transition with technology, that’s going to affect who the winners and losers are as that all plays out. My advice to organisations right now is to embrace that technology sooner rather than later. Get ahead of the game and think about how to make it available equally to people and to flexibly use it so that it plays to people’s strengths and people get to communicate and work in the way that suits them best.
Andy: One thing, just picking up on that actually that I think is very interesting, is that I hear these kinds of conversations essentially in two areas. One is in diversity and inclusion and the other is in the future of work and productivity. And they are almost the same conversation. One of the revelations we’ve had over the years is that actually we shied away a bit in the early stages of Mindapples a few years ago from talking too much about productivity and business performance, because what we realised is that people were often bringing us in to be focused on the people, to be about “we want you to be okay, we want to improve your wellbeing, we want to show that the company cares.” But actually talking about productivity is a big root in to talking about what helps people thrive and the difficulties they have, the adjustments they need.
Thinking about open plan offices and productivity, the World Health Organization’s definition of mental health includes working productively and making a contribution. If you think about the driver, how productivity has been defined, the angles on it over the years have moved more and more towards collaboration, towards collective productivity, to the point where I think a Harvard Business Review study last year or year before said that I think around 80% of the average manager’s time is spent responding to emails, on phone calls or in meetings, which suggests we’ve moved the dial all the way over to it being about a collective activity. So everybody is struggling with their individual work and then staying late in order to finish things, because they’d been in meetings all day, and so it affects people’s health and their wellbeing, they get stressed and they go off sick. And so actually the conversation starts to join up about what is the right optimum way to bring the best out of people to allow us to work together and as individuals in ways that are flexible, but also allows us to communicate effectively together.
Julia: How do you think that’s going to then change the mindset of leadership? Because we’ve talked exactly there about environmental conditions, let’s call it. We’ve talked about the technology, we’ve talked about the future of work as well. Andy, when you’re out there working with corporates, obviously they are bringing you in to help think about the mental health of the employees and management strategies, let’s call it. As leaders, are they having to radically rethink how they employ people and nurture and retain talent over time? Love your thoughts about what are leaders thinking about at the moment.
Andy: It’s interesting about the retaining talent bit is definitely one route into it. I think it speaks to what we’re comfortable talking about with mental health and what we’re not. One of the things that I created Mindapples to do, and even back in 2008 when it was very different culture than it is now. Things have certainly moved on a lot, I think there is still, and there was even more so then, a culture of othering, of difference, of focusing on there are these people, they have mental health and they’re weird and we need to support them and give them extra things, but not us, because we’re fine. I’m fine. Are you fine Julia?
Julia: I’m fine.
Andy: I’m fine too. A lot of the time, for example, people in public policy, and funders, it was always about young people. We must make young people more resilient, but not us, because we’re fine. With employers, with leaders, it’s often we’ve got to do something for the millennials, because the millennials are weird and they need support, not us. We’re fine. It’s always this thing of its route in to say there are these people that seem to have a different requirement to us. But if you look at what the average graduate entering the job market would like from their employer, it’s pretty similar to what I wanted when I was entering the job market and I’m not unfortunately a millennial, much as I would like to be, but a lot of it I think is about trying to figure out what is essential about the culture that actually helps us to perform and to do our jobs vs what is just a legacy of the way things have always been done and sort of bad habits, and particularly in some city firms, I’d say there’s a shedding off of the initiatory culture of when I was young I had to work 15 hours a day and sleep in the office and so you should too.
Law firms will be a good example of this, that if you think about the actual work of being a lawyer, it is cognitive work. It requires you to be at your best, to be able to concentrate, to be able to think clearly. If you were designing in a lab a situation that would make it hard for you to do law, you could probably design the average junior role in a law firm. Short of putting somebody on a wet floor with an electric cable dangling near them, turning the lights on and off and shouting at them and threatening their mother, I don’t think what would harm your proofreading skills more than being that deprived of sleep. I think a lot of this is about leaders starting to unpick what they were taught and ask, do we actually need to do that or is it just a habit, and actually is it possible to step into a different way of working and do more and get more done and increase our productivity rather than feeling that it’ll put us at risk? But it does involve stepping into that risk.
Nancy: I have to say, as an organisational psychologist, this is very much music to my ears, because organisational psychology research has been demonstrating for 30/40 years that the way to improve productivity is not to have people sleep deprived and feeling fearful. The corporate commando culture is not motivating for the most, however a certain amount of pressure is. The relationship between pressure and performance is curvy linear. Performance improves as pressure improves until a certain point and then it goes backwards very, very quickly. So it’s about finding that sweet spot, isn’t it? That tipping point where pressure and performance are maximised, but allowing there to be some cutoff points, and also knowing that that’s going to be different for different people. Not everybody is going to be the same. That’s I think where the neurodiversity movement really comes in is saying, “right, well you might have been able to cope in this environment with these people, but actually this person needs to be more solitary and is going to need regular breaks.”
I myself, I’m neurodiverse. I have ADHD and I tend to work in big bursts. I will work 70 hours a week, very happily for weeks and weeks and weeks at a time. That’s how I wrote up my PhD. Then I need some time off and then I need to have late mornings where I take the dog for a walk and go for a swim and have my hair cut and what I need is an organisation that will allow me to have those ebbs and flows. I didn’t find one. I have my own. I haven’t had a boss since I was 25 years old, but in my own organisation, we have about 200 staff, and what we’ve tried to do is create systems that allow that to be possible for not just me. It’s actually really, really hard to do. What if everybody’s having a peak at the same time and everybody’s having an off day at the same time? Creating that breadth again, that’s where I feel we need the most scientific research and attention right now, because it’s very easy to have the intention and to have the willpower to do that, but as I am learning myself as a leader, it’s very, very hard to make it happen in practise and to balance competing needs between teams, because you’ve still got to have a functioning business that runs.
Julia: I think that’s a beautiful moment, to just pause there to bring in Cynthia, who’s got some research to support today’s discussion.
Cynthia: Many businesses are failing to accommodate an increasingly diverse workforce despite the benefits of neurodiversity, conditions such as ADHD, dyslexia, dyspraxia and autism can bring. According to the National Autistic Society, there are around 700,000 people on the autism spectrum in the UK and just 16% of autistic adults are in full time paid employment. 77% of autistic people who are unemployed say that they want to work. A poll conducted by the Chartered Institute of Personnel Development in 2018 found that just 10% of HR professionals in the UK considered neurodiversity in their organisations, people management practises. Alarmingly, 72% said that neurodiversity was not included. Given around 10% of the UK population is neurodivergent in some way, more needs to be done to support these characteristics at work. The 2019 making the invisible visible supporting neurodiversity in the workplace article from Personnel Today suggests that you could call people with neurodiversity specialists as opposed to generalists. Masters of some things, but not jacks of all trades. However, the social and occupational exclusion for neurodiverse people is clear, only 16% of people in the UK with autism have a job and only 1% of corporate managers have dyslexia compared to a population norm of 10. 25% of the UK prison population have ADHD.
Julia: Thanks, Cynthia. The links to the research can be found on our website, divercitypodcast.com. That’s where you can find all our episodes and sign up for early notifications of future recordings. Please do follow us on Twitter @divercitypod, and DiverCity Podcast is available on BrightTALK and all good podcast channels. We’d love a rating because it all helps to promote the show.
Andy, let’s pick up on the question about mental health and whether there’s just enough understanding of what we mean when we talk about mental health.
Andy: It’s been a theme of all of our work for many years. Essentially where Mindapples came from originally was this, back in 2008, there was a lot of conversation about whether we should talk more about mental ill health, but not a great deal about talking about general health and wellbeing, before the five ways to wellbeing, before a lot of the more recent moves to that, and essentially what inspired Mindapples for me was the more inclusion focused campaigns that have been done around combating prejudice and changing behaviours. Partly, obviously the 5 A Day campaign and general things anyone can do.
There was an advert many years ago I think by the Commission for Racial Equality, which was, I think I saw it on the tube and it was a famous advert, won awards and it was a lot of brains and each brain was the same size and it said, “This is the brain.” It would say under each one, it’d say, “Indian, African, European” and everyone was the same. And then in the bottom right hand corner there was a very small brain and it said, “Racist.” And the point was to show that actually we should focus on what we have in common and talk about the things that we all need and make that a conversation we can all be part of. And so whenever we approach mental health in organisations, I’m very keen to make sure that organisations see that as something for everyone, because we all have mental health, and to talk about that as a positive rather than as a category of people who have got mental health meaning illness, and the NHS does this a lot. It’s a habit we can get into talking about having mental health as if that means not having mental health.
Of course actually it’s good to have mental health and we can all do things to promote that. The thing that we’ve really found is that when you start talking about mental health in the broad sense of it, you start to realise that one of the problems we have with the way we talk about it, the way we treat it, the way we diagnose it is category areas, that it’s all lumped in together. There will be somebody that’s saying, “well what I need for my mental health is lots of exercise and water and I need to keep doing things I enjoy and that helps stave off my anxiety or my depression.” Someone else is saying, “Well, my brother’s got catatonic schizophrenia and it’s not going to help him to do that, because he can’t even leave the house.” and we talk about it all as one big mush.
The same is true also things like autism, which get lumped into that as well. So everything ends up being one big category. And if you talked about physical health the way that we talk about mental health, it would seem insane and you wouldn’t expect to do a half day physical health awareness course which covered everything from cancer to going to the gym. You would expect it to be different areas of work and so when we approached this, we tried to say bring everyone, because everyone has a mind. If you have a mind, you’re welcome. Come to the training, learn about it, because actually what we’re trying to build is basic literacy about how our minds work and to start from there to if we understand ourselves, we understand what we need, what helps us get the best out of it.
If, for example, you understand what a mood is, it makes a lot more sense when someone tells you they have a mood disorder or when you are diagnosed with a mood disorder. But if you’ve never been told that, it’s very hard to know how to deal with it. It’s a bit like being told you’ve got a heart condition and you think, what’s a heart? Does everyone have one? Can I get mine removed? It sounds like a terrible bother. So those basic building blocks that we’ve done for other areas of public health with germs on our hands, cholesterol in our diet, plaque on our teeth, all of that stuff we can do for mental health. I think that the removal of some of that ignorance makes it a lot easier to have more helpful and constructive conversations about what we all need.
Julia: We’ve talked about performance, we’ve talked about productivity, but I’m also very keen to think about the recruitment dynamic and the leadership dynamic as well – how do we start evaluating mental health within the mix of corporate metrics?
Andy: It’s been an interesting challenge for us to do the evaluation, because essentially, although we’re sort of bracketed as a training organisation, in some ways it’s more education. It’s giving people information that they can apply in many different ways. It’s hard to predict exactly what people will do with it. For example, we’ve had some clients who are interested in measuring collaboration, creative thinking. Some people are interested in measuring inclusion. Some people measuring sick days, we’ve even sorted out someone’s golf swing. So it’s very difficult to know exactly how you would …
Julia: Golf swing?
Andy: Yes, because some of the things we need to learn is how we learn. If you’re thinking how to learn or how to take on information, how to make decisions, what good example of this would be, for example we’re approached by a financial services client who is struggling to get diversity into their senior management group. You look at their processes for promoting people to senior management and essentially they take all of the existing senior managers, lock them in a windowless room for a day with a pile of CV’s and ask them to say which people they think should be promoted. My friend who told me who was on the group said basically by the end of the day we were just looking at people’s names. If you redesign that process to bear in mind that people get cognitively fatigued, that actually that you become more biassed when you’re tired, because you can’t correct for your prejudices, that actually it becomes then a question of actually maybe we can help with a whole number of things all across the workforce and also there are metrics for some things, there are measures for some things than there are for others.
There’s lots of measures for stigma, because the stigma campaigns decided to build them. We’ve built a psychometric instrument for measuring attitudes and knowledge about mental self care, whether you feel like you can do things to look after your own mental health, whether you want to seek help. We need to design measures that help us to call attention to the things we think are important as well as just relying on the existing measures we’ve got.
Julia: Nancy, I know you’re thinking a lot about the evaluation question within your organisation and also how you’re working with your clients as well, building on those comments, where do you see there is sufficient and insufficient evaluation today?
Nancy: We are very much lacking information on what works for whom, when. We need to think about the individual level of analysis on the organisational level of analysis. We are delivering one-to-one interventions, we’re delivering group interventions, we’re delivering recruitment interventions. I think all evaluations start at the beginning, because what do you want to have happen? Why are you doing this? Why are you investing your money in this? What do you expect to change? What can we predict will change based on other interventions that we’ve done before? And how can we get more efficient about the way we’re spending money? For example, with our coaching clients where we’ve tracked what topics people come to coaching with and we can look at those. I mean, I’ve given you the general one, which is almost everybody wants memory and concentration support. We can look into that in more depth and we can look at people’s career trajectories, we’ve been able to predict, for example, that the majority of our clients come at a point of transition into management, which is very clearly obvious to me, because it uses a different part of the brain to read other people’s reports than it does to write your own. And it uses different parts of the brain to summarise and do basic management accounting than it does to go out and be a salesperson.
Since we know that those are our typical pinch points from our evaluation and from continuing ongoing continuous improvement data capture, we can start now being a bit cuter about the way we deliver services. Rather than waiting for those newly promoted managers to get into trouble, we can say, “Well, in your organisation, the last 40 clients that we had with you, we nearly promoted to managers. We think what you should do is build a workshop in as part of your promotion onboarding to prevent people from getting into trouble in the first place.” And then you get all the benefits that go with that. You get peer support supervision, people don’t feel isolated or stigmatised or “I’ve got to have the support, because I haven’t coped.” It’s just more preemptive and more generative generally. And I mean that principle of kind of keeping track of what you’re doing, watching people’s journeys. The other thing we do is look at how many of our clients have been promoted within a year of receiving a service from us, and it’s 25%, which is quite a lot.
But do people stay in work? Are we actually reducing turnover? Are we reducing absenteeism? I think that’s what’s lacking in a lot of the delivery in this field at the moment, particularly in neurodiversity, is that we’re throwing money at ideas, because it’s currently cool, but if we don’t think very clearly about that money and where it’s going and what we’re actually doing with the services that we’re providing, I think when it falls out of fashion, we risk it being chopped. “Oh yeah, we tried that. It didn’t really make any difference.” We’ve got to show what those differences are and we’ve got to capture data accurately.
Andy: I would also say that one of the things that employers could be looking at as the opportunity here, that one of the best things for people’s mental health is to be in good work, to be free from discrimination, to be able to contribute, to do something they’re good at, to learn things. So actually there’s a great opportunity for improving public health by creating psychologically safe, nurturing work environments that everyone can be part of. And that’s part of the future of a mentally healthy society.
Nancy: Yes. I wrote a report for the British Psychological Society on exactly that a few years ago. There’s a chapter about what constitutes healthy work, a chapter on neurodiversity, and a chapter on the mental health impact of being out of work, which is obviously the flip side. There’s some really good information out there on that.
Julia: This very much feeds into the question we talked today about the future of work and then also the conversation about culture, which really matters. I can’t believe how time just disappears on these podcasts. It’s extraordinary, but I just want to ask you just one final quick question. Each of you, which is what you’re really optimistic about at the moment. Andy, let me come to you first of all.
Andy: We did a whole bunch of research over the years and we found that people thought that we should be talking about mental health a lot more, but they never thought about their own mental health, but when you point it out to people, we generally think our mental health is as important as our physical health, so I’m optimistic that the door is open and it’s just a matter of helping to frame it in a way that feels accessible and that people feel that they can do something with it and actually it opens up a whole world of possibility, because we’ve solved these problems for other areas of public health. It’s not a mystery how we do it. We just need to apply some of the things that we know work from other areas into this area that for some reason we’ve taken so much for granted over the years.
Julia: Nancy, you’ve got a big event happening in March?
Nancy: I have, and it’s something I feel very optimistic about actually. We’re having this celebrating neurodiversity awards on the 20th of March, co-hosting with Microsoft at their Paddington offices and with Sienna Castellan who is a 17 year old neurodiverse individual who has set up something called “celebrating your diversity week,” and she has managed to persuade 500 schools to celebrate neurodiversity. This is actually covering nearly half a million pupils across the whole world. She has schools in Africa, in China, in America. She’s just 17. She’s absolutely amazing. Working with those two and a number of other sponsors, we will be celebrating neurodiversity and actually just the everyday achievements of people. We have some amazing role models in the neurodiversity sphere, people who have achieved great things. Michael Phelps with ADHD. Harry Potter has dyspraxia, so does Florence and the Machine. We know that there are some people out there achieving great things, but there are also some people out there doing everyday things. Last year, one of our winners was a primary school teacher with severe Tourette’s syndrome who was nominated by her pupils. How adorable is that? So yes that’s what we’ll be doing on 20th of March.
Julia: Fantastic. Well, I wish you every success with that event and both of you with both of your initiatives. It’s incredible to hear.
Andy: Can I get a tee shirt that says Harry Potter has dyspraxia please?
Nancy: Yes, you may.
Julia: What a great way to end the show. Thank you both so much for being on and to all our listeners, thank you for listening to DiverCity Podcast. Thank you both.
Nancy: Thank you.
Kieron: This episode of the DiverCity Podcast was produced by me, Kieron Yates, on behalf of Julia Streets Productions. Thanks to Cynthia Akinsanya for her insights. You can find out more about the guests on this week’s show on our website, divercitypodcast.com. Whilst you are there, you can also sign up to our newsletter for all our latest updates.
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