Neurodiversity is a term that refers to the natural differences between people. In the UK it’s estimated that around 1 in 7 people (more than 15%) are neurodivergent, meaning that the brain functions, learns and processes information differently. Neurodivergence includes a range of conditions including Attention Deficit Disorders, Autism, Dyslexia and Dyspraxia. In a workplace context it's an area of diversity.
Despite most companies’ increasing focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) in the workforce, neurodivergent accommodations and hiring efforts are still trailing behind. As a result, neurodivergent individuals often experience higher rates of unemployment compared to the general population. However, when organisations attract and retain neurodiverse talent, the benefits can be far reaching.
Benefits of a neurodiverse workforce
A neurodiverse workforce can bring many benefits to an organisation, including:
Increased creativity: Neurodiverse individuals often have unique perspectives and ways of thinking, which can lead to innovative ideas and solutions.
Enhanced problem-solving skills: Neurodiverse individuals may approach problems differently than their neurotypical counterparts, which can lead to more effective problem-solving and decision-making.
Improved productivity: By tapping into the strengths of each individual on the team, a neurodiverse workforce can be more productive and efficient. Deloitte research suggests that teams with neurodivergent professionals in some roles can be 30% more productive than those without them.
Better employee retention: When organisations embrace neurodiversity, it creates a more inclusive and welcoming environment. This can lead to higher employee satisfaction and retention rates.
Enhanced customer relationships: A neurodiverse workforce can help an organisation better understand and meet the needs of diverse customers, leading to improved customer relationships and increased sales.
Attracting and retaining neurodiverse employees
According to the CIPD neurodiversity guide:
“To be neurodiversity smart, firms should strive to develop a language and acceptance of neuro-difference, and to celebrate and leverage neurodiverse strengths while taking steps to accommodate - and not belittle - any specific challenges that an individual may face”.
To ensure the success of neurodivergent workers, Deloitte suggests the following 3 approaches:
Re-visit the hiring process: Consciously hire from different sources and consider how the hiring process can be made fairer by reducing AI or natural human bias. The interview process may also require tweaking. Consider moving from the abstract to specifics, and do not assume that everyone will connect the dots the same way
Create a conducive work environment: Everyone has different working styles, but managers should consider how individuals work best and what accommodations can be made. This may be as simple as adjusting communication styles or providing workplace mentors, or considering how flexible work policies can be expanded.
Provide tailored career journeys: Many organisations may not have specific policies to support neurodivergent talent. Clearer policies ensure that everyone understands them in the same way and unspoken rules that some neurodivergent workers might otherwise miss should be codified. Tailored career paths should therefore recognise the goals, capabilities, and strengths of the individual - whether neurodivergent or neurotypical.
Why neurodiversity is good for business
Neurodiversity is more than just a moral imperative, it’s a business imperative too. Various scholarly reviews have suggested that neurodiversity should in fact be reframed as a ‘competitive advantage’ as employers look to harness the unique talents of neurodivergent individuals.
In one example, JPMorgan Chase created an ‘Autism at Work’ initiative and found that their neurodiverse hires were, on average, 90% to 140% more productive than employees who had been at the company for five or 10 years.
The authors of this report also make the case for neurodiverse hiring as a competitive advantage, given the skills shortages in technology and other industries. They cite how in the European Union there is a shortage of 800,000 IT workers, according to a European Commission study. “The biggest deficits are expected to be in strategically important and rapidly expanding areas such as data analytics and IT services implementation, whose tasks are a good match with the abilities of some neurodiverse people”.
The halo effect
What’s clear is that what organisations do to provide an inclusive environment for their neurodivergent workforce can have a halo effect on the entire workforce. These ‘universal accommodations’ are adjustments that benefit all employees, job-seekers, or customers and make the workplace a better, safer, more inclusive place for everyone.