These are the benefits of a neurodiverse workforce

Hays’ Yvonne Smyth explores why employers should be doing more to hire and support neurodiverse employees.

Diversity and inclusion have been major areas of focus for many organizations in recent years, and for good reason. A 2020 McKinsey study found that companies in the top quartile for gender diversity outperform their competitors by 25%, while those in the top quartile for ethnic diversity outperform their competitors by 36%.

And while many organizations are taking steps to improve the inclusion of workers from different ethnic groups, genders or social backgrounds, other areas are being neglected.

Adults with autism, Asperger’s syndrome, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and dyslexia are largely excluded from the workforce. Looking at autism alone, the problem is clear.

In the United States, 85% of college graduates with autism are unemployed. In Australia, only 40% of people with autism are employed, compared to 83% of people without disabilities. In the UK, only 32% of adults with autism have “some form” of paid work, with 16% in full-time positions.

With so many neurodiverse employable adults sidelined, what exactly are companies missing? Could improving neurodiversity boost much-needed skills?

Improving neurodiversity can address talent shortages

Autism Europe suggests this might be the case. The nonprofit says that while people with the condition often struggle with social interaction, communication, and certain cognitive functionings (such as planning or prioritizing), they are also predisposed to display levels of high levels of concentration, detailed factual knowledge or technical skills and the ability to excel in repetitive tasks.

Similar skills are also often seen in people with Asperger’s Syndrome. Meanwhile, a 2019 EY report indicated that people with dyslexia often display the skills most in demand for tomorrow’s workforce – leadership, creativity and initiative.

Some of the abilities that many people with these conditions possess are particularly useful for STEM industries. Microsoft’s Autism Hire Program and IBM’s Ignite Program for Autism Spectrum Disorders are just two of the programs big tech companies are implementing to hire more neurodiverse employees.

Meanwhile, an Israel Defense Forces unit, Ro’im Rachok (Hebrew for “seeing far into the future”), was created to include young adults on the spectrum. Soldiers perform analytical intelligence work, visually analyzing aerial surveillance footage. Launched in 2012, it now accepts around 80 applicants each year.

Neurodiverse Candidates May Offer Different Strengths

Carlene Jackson, CEO of tech company Cloud9 Insight – who is dyslexic herself – estimates that around 20-30% of her business is neurodiverse.

Describing the benefits these employees can bring, she says, “Companies just need to understand the value of having people who don’t think in traditional ways. We find the ability to focus and to be loyal to be strong autistic traits, while being creative and an original thinker is the contribution of a dyslexic. Why wouldn’t we want that in our business? »

Aspiritech, an American software testing and quality assurance (QA) organization, went even further. Its entire workforce is made up of people on the autism spectrum. Founders Brenda and Moshe Weitzberg started it in 2008 after their autistic son Oran was denied many jobs.

“Our customers benefit from an affordable, US-based, and highly qualified solution for their quality assurance testing needs,” said Brad Cohen, director of marketing. “Staff get well-paid jobs in a suitable environment that supports their long-term employment. Everyone wins when people have the opportunity to use their skills for meaningful, well-paying work that leads to fully independent lives.

The benefits are also long term; Aspiritech has a 95% retention rate and team leaders and managers are hired within the organization.

Tailoring support for neurodiverse colleagues is important

But while these reports and experiences indicate that there are many benefits to improving neurodiversity in the workplace, the reality is that many organizations are simply not set up to help these employees succeed. One of the biggest challenges is to improve understanding and awareness.

“Research we conducted found that 32% of UK workers said their employer did not offer any extra help or support to neurodiverse employees – but that’s often because they weren’t aware of it. “, says Mike Blake, wellness manager at Willis Towers Watson.

“The first thing employers need to do is accept that they are likely to have neurodiverse staff in the first place. These are people who may be suffering because they are trying to do a job that their neurodiversity makes very difficult.

Organizations also need to ensure that, culturally, colleagues are aware of, accepting and reflecting on the different needs of their peers.

“That’s the hardest question,” says Dr. Nancy Doyle, CEO of Genius Within. “The paradigm shift is that everyone is asking, ‘What can neurodiverse people bring?’ Currently, thinking about neurodiversity is even closer to disability and discrimination law – about the need to make reasonable adjustments – rather than seeing it as a benefit as a whole.

It is essential to make adjustments at the maintenance stage

When it comes to making adjustments to recruiting practices, Cohen of Aspiritech says there are a number of hurdles to overcome. “It’s mainly about identifying a candidate’s skills and knowing how to adapt to their challenges. Specifically, poor social skills, lack of eye contact, and difficulty conducting interviews can mask candidates’ true abilities.

“Awareness of these issues can open up opportunities for both the job seeker and the employer. There are many resources to help employers with best practices and hiring tips.

He says the secret to Aspiritech’s success in hiring neurodivergent employees has been giving them the support they need. “We employ 116 autistic quality assurance testers along with a handful of support staff to assist our autistic employees with technical and soft skills. We also offer daily and weekend socials, coding clubs, women’s groups, and many other free activities planned to create an environment where our staff can shine and be effective QA testers for our paying customers.

Helen Needham, managing director of global management consultancy Capco, has experienced first-hand the difference small tweaks can make. She was diagnosed with autism in her 40s and says she struggled to make the decision to “come out” in 2018.

“My condition means I can’t read people’s emotions like normal managers can. I had a hard time opening up,” she recalled. “Because once you did, you can’t go back and i didn’t want people to think it was me apologizing for some type of behavior what i decided, however, is that it’s just me My brain just works differently.

Since disclosing her autism, Needham, who also runs the Me.Decode forum for other autistic people, says she has received tremendous support. She now has what she calls her “social bridges,” people she trusts who bring her team feelings and emotions she might have missed.

Improving neurodiversity will require everyone to think differently

Although there are challenges, some organizations are taking formal steps to implement programs to improve neurodiversity and ensure that workers with different needs and abilities are supported.

“To support neurodiversity, HR managers need to think about more than just harnessing skills or new conversations that result from thinking differently, but being totally supportive of differences,” says Nadya Powell, co-founder of Utopia and president of the diversity committee. from the British Interactive Media Association.

Powell helped write Universal Music’s Neurodiversity Handbook and is a consultant on its Creative Differences Project to support its 10% of employees who claim to be on the autism spectrum disorder scale.

She says that just by starting to talk about neurodiversity, staff learn to spot — and better accept — signs that their colleagues might be different. But Powell and others agree that being neurodiverse isn’t easy.

To get started, open conversations

For those looking to make a concerted effort to make their work environment easier for their neurodiverse colleagues, Cohen suggests just taking the plunge. “Just do it! Start by being really nice but think about the social challenges the candidate faces. Remember the skills and abilities are there.

“Once someone becomes an employee, find them a mentor or a colleague they can meet. Ask the employee what simple accommodations will make them more productive. Many of these accommodations are really easy; a quieter place to sit, noise canceling headphones, a place to decompress or have private lunch,” he adds.

“Why not offer them lunch or coffee? But don’t be offended if their response is straightforward. Be clear about communication protocols and listen to their ideas, you will be surprised. With successful hiring, loyalty and long-term job retention will benefit everyone. »

By Yvonne Smith

Yvonne Smyth is head of the equity, diversity and inclusion group at Hays. A version of this article originally appeared on the The Hays Point of View Blog.

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