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Want a thriving business? Why you should focus on hiring for neurodiversity

Posted by Shivali Anand

August 31, 2021    |     6-minute read (1172 words)

Diversity is a hot topic in the business world, but it's more than just a fad. Maintaining a diverse and inclusive workforce now directly influences the potential of a company’s growth. The common understanding today is diversity in the workplace refers to an organization that intentionally employs individuals with a range of characteristics, such as gender, religion, race, age, ethnicity, sexual orientation and education.

But the definition of diversity is expanding as businesses come to recognize the value of neurodiversity. According to the Harvard Business Review and a slew of other publications, neurodiverse individuals frequently bring valuable memorization skills, mathematical knowledge and pattern-recognition abilities to employers. 

Such skills confer innovative problem-solving capabilities that can be critical competencies for employers, particularly in high-tech contexts.  Now a growing number of employers are investing in recruitment strategies that target neurodiverse candidates. 

Neurodiversity: What does it mean?

The majority of people are defined as "neurotypical," which means they process information in keeping with societal norms. Neurotypical brain wiring has long been the model through which social and work environments have been evaluated.

The brain may function, learn and process information differently in people who are neurodivergence. Advocates oppose the longstanding assumption that brains must be one-size-fits-all and instead hold that differences such as autism or ADHD are not inherently dysfunctional. Instead, they advocate for people's neurological differences to be recognized and appreciated, and for society to continue to adapt to meet the demands of neurodivergent individuals.

Hiring and neurodiversity

The term neurodiversity is making its way into the HR lexicon as an umbrella term for people with autism, ADHD, dyslexia, dyspraxia and Asperger's syndrome (but a more comprehensive list typically includes other conditions such as bipolar affective disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder and more). Employers who choose to ignore neurodiversity risk losing out on talent, as it is estimated that 10% of the total population is neurodivergent in some way.

Furthermore, failing to consider how different types of thinking styles can collaborate, whether they have recognized conditions or not, means you may be actively encouraging “groupthink” and failing to reflect the neurological makeup of society as a whole.

Employers are increasingly recognizing these advantages and developing hiring programs aimed at attracting neurodiverse staff. While these initiatives are more prevalent at larger firms, they are catching on at organizations across an array of industries. Employing neurodiverse staff can give firms a competitive advantage that results in demonstrable financial and workplace culture benefits.

Advantages of neurodiversity in the workplace

Neurodivergent people can be a valuable asset to your workplace because:

  • Neurodiverse personnel may broaden your perspective on your target audience.
  • The more distinctive your team members are from one another, the more diverse the range of thoughts and views your business can draw from.
  • Neurodiverse people are an underutilized resource. Experts cite a reservoir of talent to help cover skills gaps frequently lamented by employers, particularly in the IT and finance industries.
  • Diverse organizations have been shown to outthink and outperform homogenous spaces.
  • People with dyslexia frequently have above-average intelligence and superior creative thinking abilities. They also often have excellent problem-solving and spatial thinking skills.
  • People with autism often demonstrate trustworthiness, strong memories, reliability, adherence to rules and attention to detail.
  • In one study, people with a high level of inclusiveness were four times more likely than those with a low level of inclusiveness to grow personally.

How to engage neurodiverse employees in your organization?

For businesses that decide to capitalize on hiring for neurodiversity, we have culled the following recommendations from recruiting and HR professionals.

  1. Obtain buy-in from all levels of the organization.
Engage with senior management to discuss what it means to have a neurodiverse workforce. These discussions must be open and transparent. It must be a safe area for both neurotypical and neurodiverse staff to ask questions and come forward and disclose.

  1. Get involved in the community.
Employers might benefit from community groups that can assist them in locating and attracting neurodiverse talent. Government agencies, nonprofits, vocational rehabilitation centers, educational institutions and disability offices are examples of these organizations. In addition to assisting with recruitment, such organizations can give valuable training guidance and resources.

  1. Make changes to your hiring procedures.
Hiring managers must rethink what constitutes a "good candidate." Many superficial norms are challenging for neurodiverse people to perform, such as a firm handshake or looking someone in the eye. Managers must also ask the right questions to get the most out of an employee's talents and abilities. 

It is also essential to remember that resumes don't give the whole picture. Many neurodiverse people are self-taught or have transferable skills because they have failed to find work that matches their abilities.

  1. Have patience.
It takes time to develop a neurodiverse applicant pool. The hiring process itself may be around two weeks. The first week can be entirely virtual with video chats, virtual activities and mini-projects serving as assessments. The second week, be held on-site with activities involving team-based work simulations and the development of interpersonal skills.

  1. Arrange for expert-led, two-way training.
Soft skills training is an element of developing a neurodiverse workforce you may wish to explore. It should be done by a professional with relevant experience, whom you can likely find in your local community. This training isn't only for neurodiverse employees; it's for everyone, including managers, who must understand what it is like to be on the spectrum and collaborate effectively.

  1. Be flexible and eager to adapt.
Temperature, sound and lighting are elements that people with autism may be sensitive to. As a result, you may need to give accommodations like noise-canceling headphones, private rooms or flexible work schedules to ensure that employees are as productive as possible. For example, if a person has trouble sitting still for more than 45 minutes, they should be free to go for a walk and return. 

  1. Make the message louder.
Neurodiverse people have often experienced unfavorable encounters in many settings. As a result, while they may feel understood at work, they may not feel as safe outside of it. A strong neurodiversity program should promote its message internally and externally, making it a more common aspect of any workplace.

Neurodiversity involvement enabling significant change in people management

Executives should be encouraged to adopt a management style that emphasizes placing each employee in a situation that maximizes their contributions. This recognizes that people are randomly formed puzzle pieces. 

But it’s simpler to fit individuals together if they're all perfect rectangles, so firms have traditionally pushed employees to perform accordingly. The problem is that the rectangle approach necessitates employees leave their differences at home, but those differences are what businesses need to innovate. 

Key takeaways: To hire neurodiverse staff, businesses will have to do the difficult work of putting odd jigsaw pieces together, meaning see people as unique assets rather than containers of fungible human resources. Managers will have to work harder. But the benefits include access to a broader range of abilities and a more comprehensive range of perspectives that may help them compete more effectively. 

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