March 13, 2024

96% of neurodiverse founders report experiencing discrimination

A new report reveals what it is like to be a neurodiverse founder in the UK — and it’s far from easy

Steph Bailey

3 min read

In the UK an estimated 15% of people have some form of neurodiversity — an umbrella term covering a spectrum of neurological differences including autism, ADHD and dyslexia. 

But the workplace remains a neurotypical world that’s challenging for those who don’t fit the mould, according to a new report from think tank The Entrepreneurs Network surveying 500 UK-based entrepreneurs with at least one form of neurodiversity. In the report's findings, 96% of the founders reported they face discrimination because of their neurodiversity and almost two-thirds said they felt starting their own business was the only way they could make a living.  

“We often struggle in traditional work settings,” says Ai Ling Walker, a neurodiverse cofounder who felt she had to set up her own business, Noetic Health. “From exclusionary hiring practices, to sensory overwhelm in open plan offices and long commutes, to rigid promotion plans that keep us from progressing into positions of leadership.”


There is still a lack of evidence about neurodiversity in startups and businesses, so here are some of the key findings from the report. 

In hiding 

Virtually all the founders (96%) surveyed for the report said they experience discrimination because of their neurodiversity, with almost half (48%) saying they “always” or regularly face discrimination due to their condition(s).

This data is bolstered by the increase in tribunals related to neurodiversity discrimination. Research from law firm Fox & Partners found claims relating to autism rose by 40% in 2021.

Of the surveyed founders, 78% said they hide their neurodiversity in business situations, compared to just 7% who do not. 

However, on the flip side, 61% of the founders in the report said they believe it has become easier for people with neurodiversity to succeed in business compared to when they first became a founder. 

Representation is increasing, but is it enough?

Awareness of neurodiversity is increasing, with the media portraying more neurodiverse characters and prominent business people — such as Richard Branson and Jo Malone — speaking out about their conditions.

But the founders in the report were split as to whether this representation is accurate — or enough. Less than half (48%) think there is an adequate level of understanding of diversity in the business community. 

Slightly more founders (48%) agreed than disagreed (35%) that there are enough role models in business for people with neurodiversity. 

“This report confirms that there are high levels of entrepreneurship amongst the neurodiverse community but very little support in terms of mentorship and peer-to-peer support,” said Kim To, founder of Own Your Flair. 

A predisposition for business 

Many of the founders (54%) said they thought starting their own business was the only way they could make money. Similarly, two-thirds (67%) think their neurodiversity makes them a better business person. Just 7% said they think it makes them a worse businessperson.


“Of course being autistic impacts me as a founder, I am certain it’s one of the main reasons I am an entrepreneur,” said Andy Clayton, founder of Fermtech. “I struggle to work for other people, I need control over my environment, and I have a relentless curiosity that has taken me to many business opportunities.” 

But neurodiverse people still struggle to find employment. According to the Office for National Statistics, autistic people have an employment rate of just 29% (compared to 82% among the non-disabled population) and nearly two-thirds (66%) of the sample in the report said they struggled to find employment before starting their own business. 

Despite the hurdles, more than half of the respondents encouraged others to see their neurodiversity as an advantage rather than a disadvantage. 

“It’s important not to judge the parts we find difficult and empower each other to lean into our strengths,” said Walker.

Steph Bailey

Steph Bailey is head of content at Sifted. Follow her on Twitter and LinkedIn