The push to build an inclusive workforce continues to gain traction within recruiting and hiring circles. Much of this focus is on improving gender roles and racial diversity. A lesser-known element of inclusivity is neurodiversity, sometimes referred to as cognitive diversity.
This week we begin a two-part series exploring the benefits of boosting neurodiversity in the workplace.
Roughly 6.5 million people in the U.S. have autism, intellectual, or developmental differences, but employment rates for neurodiverse people remain staggeringly low.
If, however, talent acquisition professionals can look beyond the actual neurodiverse diagnosis a candidate may have, they may find an employee who has a unique way of problem-solving, creating, strategizing, and communicating. The result is not only an inclusive workplace but also an innovative one.
Neurodiversity is recognizing natural variances in the brain that result in different ways of thinking, learning, and socializing. You may have heard examples of neurodiversity before – ADHD, autism, Asperger’s, dyslexia, and dyscalculia are some common types. But there are lesser-known aspects of neurodiversity such as working memory difficulties, processing differences, and sensory issues that may not be as apparent in an individual.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report there are almost 5.5 million adults with autism in the United States, yet fewer than 1 in 6 of them have full-time employment.
“Approximately 85% of adults with autism are unemployed or underemployed,” says Sean Gill, Associate Director of Neurodiversity In The Workplace, an organization that works with businesses to build a framework to hire more neurodivergent people.
“It’s not due to ability, it’s due to barriers in the hiring and employment process.”
The biggest barrier to hiring neurodiverse employees, according to Gill and other experts, is companies’ reliance on non-inclusive recruiting practices like using a standardized Applicant Tracking System or requiring a communication-based interview. These tools are considered “neurotypical” among the neurodiverse movement because, in most cases, they automatically screen out anyone who may present with divergent thinking, interpersonal skills, processing patterns, and different skill sets.
For example, a neurodivergent candidate may have all the necessary skills required of a position, but because their resume isn’t formatted or written in a “typical” way or because they have gaps in employment related to their neurodivergence, their resume won’t get through the initial ATS screening procedure.
Heavy reliance on virtual interviews – a common neurotypical hiring procedure – throughout the pandemic has also posed a significant challenge to neurodiverse people with communication, processing, or learning differences. These interviews are exclusionary by design with a hyper-focus on literal communication, social skills, appearance, and direct processing.
“The neurotypical interview process puts much more focus on communication and social skills than actually the hard set of skills needed to perform some jobs,” says Gill.
Regardless of what neurodivergence a person may have, many of the behaviors associated with it often carry the stigma of being a “bad” employee. Think of terms commonly used in job descriptions – strong communication skills, being a team player, emotional intelligence, the ability to network. That’s one reason why 72% of HR professionals do not consider neurodiversity in their practices.
While neurodivergent talent may not outwardly display neurotypical social skills, they make worthwhile employees for entirely different reasons. They bring new perspectives, have longer retention rates, provide keen attention to detail, improve company culture, and foster creative problem-solving in a unique way that breaks up an otherwise cognitively homogenous employee pool.
“If you’re a neurodiverse person and you’ve been having to problem solve your whole life because of your neurodiversity, you’re enabled with dynamic problem-solving abilities someone without your neurodivergence doesn’t possess,” says Gill.
Many neurodiverse people have higher-than-average abilities; research shows some people with certain conditions like autism and dyslexia have special skills in pattern recognition, memory, or mathematics.
There are impressive financial benefits, too. Accenture reports companies with inclusive and accessible workplaces have 30% greater economic profit margins and 28% higher income.
Prominent companies such as SAP, Microsoft, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Dell Technologies, and VMware have successfully implemented programs to expand neurodiversity in their workforces.
In Part Two of our series, we’ll examine how you can revamp your neurotypical hiring procedures to be more inclusive of neurodivergent talent.
Great companies embrace obstacles as challenges to be solved creatively. Sometimes the very best innovators to help companies solves these challenges are neurodivergent thinkers. If you’re looking to turn today’s obstacle into tomorrow’s win, you may want to introduce more neurodiversity into your workforce.
Writer. Digital marketer. Storyteller. An award-winning writer and editor, Tricia O'Connor is the Marketing Content Manager at EBI. Tricia worked as a broadcast and print journalist for nearly two decades writing and producing programming for high-profile networks like ESPN Radio, History Channel, and Hallmark Channel, as well as contributing editorial work to publications nationwide. Tricia joined the EBI marketing team in 2019 and is responsible for content strategy, development, and engagement. Tricia earned a master's degree in journalism from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University and is a proud undergraduate alumna of Wheaton College in Massachusetts.