On Wednesday 20th September, the UNSW Medicine and Health Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Committee – Ability Network hosted a highly successful seminar on neurodiversity in the workplace. The hybrid event was part of the UNSW Diversity Festival and aimed to raise awareness of the diverse needs of staff and higher-degree research candidates at UNSW and provide practical examples of how we can support each other. The network was successful in obtaining a grant that funded a guest speaker, catering, and what proved to be very popular, fidget toys for attendees. In attendance in person and online were academic and professional staff members and HDR students. What became apparent through conversation and questions was the need for more resources and education across the university to support and ally neurodivergent staff and students. 

Kate Haplin, Director of the Corporate Consultancy Branch of Employ for Ability, was the keynote speaker. Employ for Ability is a social impact organisation that is passionate about building the capacity of organisations to support and value neurodivergence in the workplace. The organisation takes a balanced viewpoint on neurodiversity and uses a neuro-affirming and strength-based approach. Key take-away points from the keynote talk included:

  • 50% of the workforce are neurodivergent. 
  • Just like no one has the same fingerprints, no one has the same brain, therefore it is important to recognise that people do things differently and communicate differently. 
  • There are many terms for neurodivergence, let your staff member or colleague tell you how they like to refer to their neurodivergence. 
  • Don’t focus on the negatives but look at the positives of having a team that think, create, and respond in different ways.

Kate’s engaging and informative presentation was followed by a panel of UNSW staff speaking and answering questions on neurodivergence in the workplace and HDR student space, the current support available, and the need for further education and resources at UNSW. We heard from 

Ashleigh Harrington, Equity Diversity and Inclusion; Yazmine De Haas, ADA School of Education; Rosie Lipscomb, Black Dog Institute; Helen Craig, Student Support Advisor; Sonia Underwood, PVC Research Training. Ashleigh Harrington, from UNSW Equity Diversity and Inclusion and the Program Manager for the Disability and Inclusion Plan (DIAP), discussed some of the exciting implementations to be rolled out across the University that would help in the work towards removing physical, technological, attitudinal and social barriers that prevent inclusion. Ashleigh discussed the newly developed Workplace Adjustments Procedure and Toolkit for staff that were going to be available to staff shortly. This resource would include links to support services for people living with disability and training and awareness modules and accessible guidelines for all staff.

This first Ability Network large event was a great success, stimulating some excellent ongoing discussion and ideas for how we can do more to enhance equity, diversity and inclusion at UNSW. Thank you to the speakers, attendees and support from UNSW Diversity Festival.