How the construction industry can better support neurodiversity

Andrew Kitley is managing director of Kitall

In the construction sector, the extent of support for neurodivergent individuals significantly varies depending on the employer. A notable observation is that the highest levels of awareness and support are often found in companies where leadership openly identifies as neurodivergent. This personal connection appears to foster a more inclusive and understanding environment.

“Recognising that neurodivergent individuals have unique needs, companies are increasingly willing to provide tailored accommodations”

Yet we must confront a challenging reality: the construction industry is predominantly male, with a staggering 84 per cent male workforce. Compounding this, more than 60 per cent of these men reportedly do not openly discuss their feelings or insecurities. This culture of reticence presents a significant barrier to change, making it a tough egg to crack.

This situation is particularly concerning when considering the recruitment process. Current hiring practices in the industry are not neuroinclusive, inadvertently sidelining a pool of talented neurodivergent individuals who could bring valuable skills and perspectives to the field.

Some progress

In my opinion, the UK construction industry is making commendable strides towards accommodating and supporting neurodivergent employees. The development of inclusive site environments, such as the introduction of sustainable cabins with integrated features, is a significant step forward. It shows an understanding of the unique needs of neurodivergent individuals and a commitment to providing equal opportunities.

Furthermore, the industry’s growing focus on building inclusivity, despite its historical challenges in this area, is a positive sign. It reflects a broader cultural shift within the sector towards recognising and valuing diversity in the workforce.

Lastly, the emphasis on creating neurodivergent-friendly workplaces speaks volumes about the industry’s commitment to inclusivity. By adopting strategies that cater to the needs of neurodivergent employees, the construction industry is not only improving the work experience for these individuals but is also setting a commendable example for other sectors to follow.

Overall, these developments in the UK construction industry are both progressive and necessary, reflecting a growing awareness of the importance of supporting neurodivergent employees in the workplace.

However, the construction industry has not yet reached the stage of actively attracting and hiring neurodivergent individuals. This necessitates a more focused approach to ensure that the support mechanisms are not just in place but are also effective in fostering the growth and success of these individuals within the industry.

Sharing experiences

Several individuals in the industry openly discuss neurodiversity, but the persistent stigma associated with being neurodivergent often leads to its neglect. The construction sector remains predominantly male, and there’s a general reluctance to openly address weaknesses. However, I’ve observed a significant improvement in attitudes and awareness since the media began focusing more on ADHD. This increased conversation has positively influenced perceptions and understanding within the industry.

So what practical steps can construction firms take to create an environment where neurodivergent employees feel comfortable expressing their needs and concerns?

    1. Awareness and education programmes: Many construction companies are implementing awareness and education programmes for their staff. These programmes aim to foster an understanding of neurodiversity, reduce stigma, and promote an inclusive culture.
    2. Open communication channels: Establishing open and nonjudgmental communication channels is crucial. Companies are encouraging neurodivergent employees to share their needs and concerns without fear of discrimination. This might include regular check-ins, anonymous feedback systems, or designated points of contact for discussing workplace accommodations.
    3. Tailored accommodations: Recognising that neurodivergent individuals have unique needs, companies are increasingly willing to provide tailored accommodations. This could range from flexible working hours and quiet workspaces to providing clear, structured instructions and feedback.
    4. Inclusive policies and training: Construction companies are revising their HR policies to be more inclusive of neurodivergent employees. This includes anti-discrimination policies, reasonable-adjustment policies, and specialised training for managers and HR personnel on how to support neurodivergent staff.
    5. Peer support and mentoring: Some companies are setting up peer support groups or mentoring programmes. These initiatives allow neurodivergent employees to connect with others who understand their experiences, share strategies, and offer mutual support.
    6. Mental health and wellbeing support: Recognising the importance of mental health, especially in a high-pressure industry like construction, companies are providing access to mental health resources and support services. This includes counselling, stress-management workshops, and wellness programmes.

Over the past seven years, the construction industry has devoted significant attention to mental health, which is a critical aspect of supporting neurodivergent individuals. Currently, these efforts seem to be concentrated more on the office-based segments of the industry.

However, it’s important to note that a substantial number of employees requiring support in this area are out in the field, on construction sites. While there is growing awareness and consideration for their needs, it could take 5 to 10 years for these initiatives to fully permeate through the industry.

While there are pockets of progress, the construction industry as a whole has a long way to go in fully embracing and supporting neurodiversity. It’s a journey that requires a shift in culture, practices and perceptions, but it is essential not only for the wellbeing of its workforce but also for the enrichment and advancement of the industry itself.

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