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Owen Morris brings a fresh perspective through neuro-inclusivity

Category: diversity and inclusion, Neurodiversity, Aviva, Autism, Life at Aviva, national autistic society

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We are all different, and our society is diverse. Companies that reflect the diversity in society make more informed decisions, leading to better outcomes for customers and employees. Diversity is vital to the future success of industry, but until recently there has been little focus on neurodiversity, says Owen Morris, MD, Personal Lines, Aviva General Insurance. 


Owen Morris

Neurodiversity describes people who experience the world differently to others in social, education and workplace environments. It can include people with autism, dyslexia, ADHD and dyspraxia, amongst other conditions.

While estimates suggest one in 100 people1 in the UK have an autism diagnosis, it is thought the number could be much higher since many, particularly older age groups, are undiagnosed.  


"Just 22% of autistic adults are in any kind of employment ... employers are missing out."

Being neurodiverse can impact an individual’s interaction in everyday life, and it can significantly affect their employment prospects. Neurodiverse individuals are under-represented in the workplace, and just 22% of autistic adults1 are in any kind of employment.

This lack of representation adversely impacts neurodiverse individuals, but it also means employers are missing out on a largely untapped source of talent. Seeing the world differently by being neurodiverse should be seen as a gift, not a burden. It helps to bring a fresh perspective, encourage new ways of working and ensure that everyone in society can be represented in the products and services they buy.

However, workplaces and employment processes have been in place for many years with little consideration for neurodiversity. This lack of knowledge and understanding has resulted in working environments that are often poorly designed and ill-suited to neurodiverse individuals. For example, some neurodiverse people may have highly sensitive hearing, and it could prove challenging for them to sit next to a busy corridor every day. 

But it is not just the work environment that is a barrier; recruitment processes, ongoing job support and the way that employees are evaluated at work can often put neurodiverse individuals at a disadvantage. Until now, support in the workplace for neurodiverse people has been limited, but thankfully industries and insurers are waking up to the need for greater and dedicated action in this area.

At Aviva, we have recently launched a placement programme designed to attract neurodiverse individuals. The programme was developed by a group of data scientists, HR representatives and neurodiverse employees, who worked with the University of Cambridge’s Think Lab to help attract and support neurodiverse people at Aviva. The interns were recruited into 12-month placements in high quality, skilled roles in our Aviva Quantum data science practice.


"Working environments that are often poorly designed and ill-suited to neurodiverse individuals."

The placement programme was designed with neuro-inclusivity at its heart; from adapting the recruitment process, interview format and assessment to developing an ongoing coaching programme that supports career development and allows neurodiverse people to demonstrate their skills.

Not only has the placement programme enabled Aviva to attract new neurodiverse people to the company, it has also provided some useful learnings to help us offer better support to existing employees with neurodiverse conditions.

Crucially, action is also being taken across the insurance industry. This autumn has seen the launch of ‘GAIN’, the Group for Autism, Insurance and Neurodiversity, which aims to highlight the advantages and opportunities of a neurodiverse workplace. This should lead to some simple, but incredibly effective and fundamental changes that need to be made to the recruitment and interview processes across the industry and to raise awareness, particularly among leaders, of neurodiverse conditions.

Taking these steps will help to create better ways of working that work for everyone, neurodiverse and neurotypical alike. It is important that insurers learn and collaborate with each other to make these fundamental improvements.


"Neurodiverse people can bring particular skills to the workplace, including strong technical skills, problem solving and pattern recognition."

At Aviva, we have gathered some invaluable feedback and insight from our placement programme which we will use to improve the ways we recruit, onboard and performance manage employees.  This includes making sure our recruitment advertisements, colour schemes and fonts are clear for dyslexic people to read.

We have adapted our interview process, providing more information ahead of an interview, and adjusted the way we measure a candidate’s engagement. Ongoing support is also vital. A coach or mentor can be particularly helpful to neurodiverse individuals to provide on-the-job assistance as new employees navigate the world of work and to provide support for their future career development.

The National Autistic Society recognises that neurodiverse people can bring particular skills to the workplace, including strong technical skills, problem solving and pattern recognition. To an industry that increasingly relies on data and risk-based analysis, these skills can prove invaluable.

However, neurodiversity covers a broad spectrum of abilities and talents and it is important that companies recognise the benefits that neurodiverse individuals can bring across a variety of roles, not just those which require numeracy or technical skills.

Many neurodiverse individuals are already working in our industry, but they may receive limited or ineffective support because of a lack of knowledge and understanding among employers about neuro-inclusivity. Creating neuro-inclusive workplaces across the industry that better reflect our diverse society will improve outcomes and opportunities for those who are neurodiverse. But it will benefit all employees and allow us to provide better products and services to the communities we serve.

By working collaboratively, sharing knowledge and taking some important steps, we can make the insurance industry an attractive place to work for everyone. 

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VERCIDA works with over one hundred clients who are committed to creating an inclusive work environment. If you are an employer and interested in working with VERCIDA to promote your diversity and inclusion initiatives and attract the best candidates, please email [email protected] for more information.

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