By Candice Chung
When it comes to attracting diverse talent, most companies tend to think of this in the context of improving gender or ethnic diversity. In recent years, however, the concept of neurodiversity has emerged as an area of growing interest on the HR frontier.
Put simply, neurodiversity refers to the idea that workplace inclusivity should extend to neurological differences. This means finding a way to hire and retain talents with conditions such as ADHD, dyslexia, Tourette’s syndrome, or those who may be on the autism spectrum.
In Australia, over 80 percent of people with autism are unemployed or underemployed. Neurodiverse candidates often get left behind in standard hiring processes, with some struggling to fit in with typical corporate culture or missing social cues.
And yet according to a 2015 study by Drexel University, many high-functioning autistic job seekers have the kinds of skills, focus and problem-solving abilities that are highly sought after in specific industries.
“Technology-related work resonates for many on the autism spectrum, with many excelling at mathematics, cryptography, and programming,” says Andrew Ramsden, Founder and CEO of leadership development firm, Alpha Transform.
Companies that are currently leading the charge in hiring neurodiverse workers include accounting firm EY, software company SAP, Microsoft, and Hewlett Packard Enterprises, which pioneered the highly successful Dandelion program in Australia. Launched in 2015, it’s a holistic pilot program that includes on-the-job and life-skills development training, matching candidates with autism with roles in testing, analytics and cyber security.
“Research tells us time and again that diversity in all its forms will galvanise a company culture, so long as the culture doesn’t perpetrate silos,” says HR expert Nathalie Lynton from Shared and Halved Consulting. “The more diverse and inclusive a workplace, the better and faster problems are solved. Innovation will occur at a greater rate, too.”
To improve workplace neurodiversity, Lynton suggests being open and transparent in everyday recruitment practices. This means incorporating taglines like, ‘Our company supports diversity in all its forms, neurodiverse candidates are encouraged to apply’ in job ads.
Also, don’t hire purely on ‘cultural fit’, says Ramsden. “This can too easily become a ‘gut-feel’ excuse to reject those who are different.”
“Remember that for many roles, job-hunting skills are very different from the on-the-job skills required. Allow applicants opportunities to show you the work they’ve achieved and what they’re capable of. On-the-job tests and trial periods allow a better assessment of what people are actually capable of.”
In the end, just as some employees will be introverts and some extroverts, some will be neurodiverse. ”Part of a leader’s tools box is learning how to interview and communicate with different people and understand [the opportunities they may bring to the company],” says Lynton.