Pioneering research to support neurodivergent people at work

Philanthropic funding by Accenture and Bank of Ireland at DCU to drive further research on autism education and neurodiversity.

Bank of Ireland and Accenture have partnered with DCU to conduct a six-month study that will identify barriers and enablers to the participation of neurodivergent people in the workplace.

Dublin City University has announced a significant new programme of philanthropically funded research on autism education and neurodiversity at DCU Institute of Education. Four PhD scholarships are to be created, as well as a six-month postdoctoral position.

“Ultimately, we intend the research will help create practical guidelines for other Irish organisations, helping Ireland be a world leader in neuro-inclusion”

Currently, just under one-in-five workers believe their company’s policies and practices support neurodivergent people. It is expected that this project will ultimately produce neuro-affirmative and inclusive guidelines for Irish businesses.

Unlocking deeper insights into neurodiversity

“We value diversity in our business for a number of very clear reasons,” said Matt Elliott, chief people officer at Bank of Ireland.

“As an employer we aim to be welcoming to all, being representative of the society we are proud to serve. In addition, the diverse and unique contribution each of our colleagues makes leads to better outcomes for our customers, and wider society.

“We are taking practical steps and making improvements to our colleagues’ and managers’ understanding, the physical and operational infrastructure and our culture to make our organisation one of the most neuro-inclusive in the country. Our partnership with DCU to deepen understanding and create neuro-affirmative schools and workplaces will help us to achieve this ambition in Bank of Ireland. Ultimately, we intend the research will help create practical guidelines for other Irish organisations, helping Ireland be a world leader in neuro-inclusion,” Elliott said.

Dr Michelle Cullen, managing director and Inclusion and Diversity lead at Accenture in Ireland said that embracing inclusion and diversity “across all pillars of intersectionality” is core to Accenture’s values.

“Supporting our neurodiverse colleagues is essential to building a truly collaborative and dynamic work environment,” she said. “Our ambition is for this project to unlock deeper insight into the lived experiences of neurodivergent people and lead to neuro-affirmative guidelines that Irish organisations can adopt. Ultimately, this will create more dynamic teams driving innovation and success.”

This research will be led by Dr Aoife Brennan, Head of the School of Inclusive and Special Education at DCU and Dr Laura Gormley, the programme chair of DCU’s Graduate Certificate in Autism Education.

“This funding will play a crucial role in furthering understanding on developing neuro-affirmative schools and workplaces,” Dr Brennan explained. “It will also provide educators with the opportunities to develop essential research skills that will have a significant impact.”

Separately, a total of four full-time PhD scholarships, through matched funding from philanthropist Paul Kerley and Bank of Ireland, are to be created. This will enable research on Autism education in post-primary schools, starting in September 2024.

The PhD topics will include developing neuro-affirmative practices in mainstream schools, supporting the academic success of Autistic learners, supporting their wellbeing in schools and understanding the experience of Autistic girls in post-primary school.

“This announcement today marks another significant step in DCU’s commitment to continually push forward, working with partners to create knowledge and insights that can make an impact on individuals and communities,” said Prof Anne Looney, Executive Dean of the DCU Institute of Education.

“These PhD scholarships will build on our track record of participatory research – conducting research not just about autism, but with autistic children, young people and adults.”

Main image at top: Eimear Harty, HR Director, Bank of Ireland; Claire Whelehan, Director of Philanthropy at DCU; Matt Elliott, Chief People Officer at Bank of Ireland; Professor Anne Looney, Executive Dean, DCU Institute of Education; Dr Michelle Cullen, Managing Director and Inclusion and Diversity Lead at Accenture in Ireland; and Dr Aoife Brennan, Head of the School of Inclusive and Special Education at DCU.

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