As neurodiversity is increasingly acknowledged as an essential tenet of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) initiatives, it’s important to understand how to recruit, hire, and nurture a neurodiverse workforce.
Much progress has been made over the past few years when it comes to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in the workplace and in the classroom. These days, building and nurturing diverse workforces is a top priority in more and more organizations across the world.
However, one area of DEI that is sometimes overlooked is neurodiversity in the workplace, which we’ll explore in this article.
What is neurodiversity?
Neurodiversity refers to variation in neurocognitive functioning. That is, the different ways different people’s brains work. Whereas a “normally” functioning person is considered neurotypical, neurodivergent people are those who live with conditions such as autism spectrum disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety, Tourette’s syndrome, and obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Neurodivergent people often have trouble with non-verbal communication, can miss social cues, and struggle to make eye contact. Many have sensory processing issues, becoming overwhelmed by lights and sounds, and reacting negatively to touch.
Neurodiversity in the workplace
Historically, neurodivergent people have been at a disadvantage when it comes to getting hired because of the stigma surrounding their cognitive functioning. But neurodivergent people have perspectives, skills, and talents that organizations can greatly benefit from.
For example, neurodivergent people often excel at analyzing data, processing information, and spotting patterns, which is useful in fields such as IT, artificial intelligence, and engineering. Neurodivergent people can also be involved in product development and marketing, as they represent a large portion of the market share across the globe.
Many organizations are now specifically seeking to create a neurodiverse employee base. For instance, facing a shortage of IT professionals, the European Union recently launched an initiative to recruit more neurodivergent professionals. A number of private companies have also launched neurodiversity hiring programs.
But still, the unemployment rate for neurodivergent adults is up to 40%, according to the University of Connecticut’s Center for Neurodiversity and Employment Innovation. And for those who do hold jobs, over half of the current employees on the autism spectrum have higher skills than their job requires, according to the Drexel University National Autism Indicators Report.
How to become a truly diverse organization
It is essential for organizations that are pursuing DEI initiatives to include and embrace neurodivergent individuals too. This means not only recruiting neurodiverse candidates, but training managers to make workplaces accessible and inclusive for them. For example, managers of neurodivergent employees may want to:
- Avoid using abstract language – that is, to speak in an explicit, low-context way.
- Give precise instructions, backed up in clear and concise writing, either via email or on the organization’s project management system.
Also, ask yourself if any of your organizational systems do not align with attaining full diversity. For example:
- Do recruiters emphasize strong handshakes and eye contact as a sign of confidence and competence during the interview process?
- Are employees judged on their ability to build strong team relationships as part of their annual review?
- Are employees expected to participate in social activities that may be difficult to navigate for those on the autism spectrum or those with social anxiety?
- Is there a quiet part of the office where employees with sensory processing issues can work?
However, the reward is a dynamic, inclusive, and integrated employee base, which helps benefit both the staff and the organization as a whole.