Neurodiversity is a variation in how people's brains function or to put it simply, how we think. And believe it or not, it’s one of the latest approaches to diversity that some employers are now actively embracing.
Companies like Microsoft, SAP, Google and JPMorgan Chase incorporate neurodiversity parameters into their hiring practices and have done for quite some time now with great success. And it’s really no surprise.
The ideal candidate
According to research carried out by the Harvard Business Review, individuals who are considered neurodiverse have great memory and math skills while pattern recognition is often a breeze for them. This makes them well-placed to work in high-tech environments.
A dream candidate one would think, but unfortunately these skills aren’t the only ones that we consider when hiring for the workplace. Quite often there’s a set of skills that will often give a candidate a headstart in any interview situation, but it’s a set of skills that the neurodiverse individual may lack or simply have a different handle on.
Breaking the social barrier
However, neurodiverse individuals don’t often fit the mould of the ideal employee. Their different way of thinking may make them seem like a loner or a non-team player. They may be quieter in social situations which suggests that they won’t speak up during meetings. As you can imagine, these attributes will be noticed at the interview stage and are often red flagged.
But when employers like Microsoft et al look past those social skills and focus on the on-the-job skills, neurodiverse people are model employees.
After all, how important are ‘great interpersonal skills’ in a programming environment?
Who are neurodiverse individuals?
We are all neurodiverse on some level, but there are certain people within society who are considered more diverse than others. Quite often, these are individuals who have dyslexia, ADHD, or those who are on the autism spectrum.
Those on the autism spectrum are particularly relevant to this discussion. For example, people who have Asperger’s Syndrome often have higher than average intellectual capabilities, but they may lack the social skills that will serve them well in an interview scenario. As a result, they miss out on opportunities that they could have been the perfect fit for.
But it’s not just interviews that can negatively impact a neurodiverse individual’s chances. Personality tests and screening questionnaires at the start of the hiring process can also be a bit of minefield that are tough to get past.
And then there is the unconscious bias that we all experience when we meet different types of people. When a candidate seems out of sorts in an interview, our unconscious bias may see us zero in on that discomfort and dismiss the person as a bad fit.
As you can see, neurodiverse individuals are really up against it from the off, which is a terrible disadvantage when competing against a host of other candidates for a single role.
So what are the benefits of hiring for neurodiversity?
Let’s take a look at JP Morgan for starters.
In 2018, James Mahoney, executive director and head of Autism at Work at JPMorgan Chase said in an interview:
“Our autistic employees achieve, on average, 48% to 140% more work than their typical colleagues, depending on the roles”
That’s an incredible statistic and just shows that productivity can go through the roof with the right kind of candidates.
What else do they bring to the table?
‘Thinking outside the box’ may seem a little old hat, but there has never been a better scenario for its use.
Neurodiverse individuals are alternative thinkers. That doesn’t necessarily mean that they’ll fight against the current, but they will offer a different perspective on methods and processes that other employees may not have considered.
And it’s this kind of non-conformist thinking and diversity that is one of the primary drivers of innovation in the workplace.
Neurodiverse people often have a knack for analytics. They have the ability to focus on the minutiae of a problem and as a result identify possible solutions. And remember what we said earlier about pattern recognition? Well, that is an incredibly useful skill to have in roles such as data analysis.
Is it worth considering as a recruiter or an employer?
Anything that broadens that talent pool and brings in productive and innovative employees has to be worth considering at the very least.
However, hiring for neurodiversity isn’t as easy as just deciding to do it. If you make the decision to incorporate neurodiversity parameters into your search for talent, it is extremely important that you are well prepared and have an inclusive hiring process.
This means updating your job descriptions and ads to remove language that may cause neurodiverse individuals to think twice about applying. And to do that you need to really think carefully about the responsibilities for each of your vacant roles.
For example, as we said earlier, does a programmer or data analyst really need to be a great communicator? Or is it enough that they are able to produce stellar reports and hand these off to their team leader?
Spending this time removing template job responsibilities from your ads and descriptions will also help you identify the best roles for neurodiverse talent. These will often be roles that will require more analytical skills as opposed to social skills.
You can also introduce awareness training for employees that will be working with neurodiverse talent including management level staff.
Hiring for neurodiversity isn’t a new concept, but it is one that has yet to be embraced in the industry on a wider scale. So if you do decide that this is something that you’d like to do as an employer, it may be a good idea to seek expert advice. You might even consider hiring a diversity consultant who can help ensure that your hiring process is fully inclusive so you don’t miss out on any potential hires.
If you’re an employer struggling to fill a role or a candidate looking for a new challenge, we’d love to hear from you. Get in touch with us today and let’s talk about your goals for the coming new year.