Building a Talent System That Includes Neurodiversity

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By David Reeve

5 minutes

Everyone benefits when people think differently.

This is reprinted with permission from the original.

Diversity is a concept that has become increasingly common in recent years but has always been important, not only in society as a whole but also in companies. Besides an improved company image and workplace inclusion, there are many other positive effects of diversity in the workplace. What can the benefits of an inclusive and (neuro)diverse workplace look like? And how can you build one? Read on.

What is Workplace Diversity?

Diversity can be broken down into inherent and acquired diversity. Inherent diversity involves the traits that everybody is born with, including gender, ethnicity and neurodiversity. Acquired diversity involves traits people can gain from experience. For example, enabling neurodiverse perspectives to enter the company can improve the acquired diversity of employers.

We at auticon are big about providing a neurodiverse, talented, agile workforce to improve the performance of our client’s information technology projects.

The term “neurodiversity” means there are differences in brain function and behavioral traits regarded as part of a normal, naturally occurring variation in the human genome. We view neurodiversity as a market advantage, because problem-solving, as an example, is enhanced by different styles of thinking. Neurodiversity in teams (i.e. the collaborative effect of working with different cognitive styles) can also have an astonishing effect on a work culture: Communication becomes clearer and more efficient; team spirit gains new momentum; and employees feel valued for their unique and individual selves.

The benefits of having a neurodiverse team include:

  • Variety of prospects. Diversity in the workplace means having more people with individual characteristics. With diversity, there is a higher variety of prospects, which is beneficial for all forms of doing business. It is exactly these different perspectives that we at auticon seek and collect. By giving a new perspective on a task through our neurodiverse IT consultants, we open a new approach to problem-solving.
  • Higher innovation. Leaders who give diverse voices equal airtime are nearly twice as likely as others to unleash value-driving insights, and employees in a “speak up” culture are 3.5 times as likely to contribute their full innovative potential. In addition, inclusive companies are 1.7 times more likely to be innovation leaders in their market.
  • Faster problem-solving. Research published in the Harvard Business Review found that especially cognitively diverse teams generated accelerated learning and performance in the face of new, uncertain and complex situations. Companies that allow neurodiverse perspectives have more innovative solutions for unsolvable problems. A new way of looking at things and particular skills such as an analytical approach can help improve project results. 
  • Leveraging untapped talent. In 2019, there were over 700,000 unfilled IT jobs in the US. The global tech talent gap is just one example of how much talent is needed in different sectors globally. Black-and-white thinking and rigid hiring resulted in a relatively homogeneous mass of perspectives. For this matter, neurodiversity can add some great talent to a workplace: 96% of our IT consultants in the UK have a science, technology, engineering or math degree or an equivalent qualification, yet have been unemployed for approximately three years before working at auticon. Up to 90% of adults on the autism spectrum are either unemployed or under-employed; 77% who are unemployed say they want to work. There is a lot of untapped talent to be discovered—and hired.
  • Reduced employee turnover. Diversity and inclusion in the workplace cause all employees to feel accepted and valued. When employees feel accepted and valued, they are happier at work and stay longer with a company. As a result, companies with greater diversity in the workplace have lower turnover rates.
  • Improved hiring results. When companies see diversity as an essential building block for their teams, it makes them more attractive to applicants. This allows more talent to be acquired, which improves the diversity furthermore.

Making Diversity, Including Neurodiversity, a Top Priority

Making diversity and inclusion a top priority has been one of the key missions for companies for years. Companies that build a truly inclusive culture will outperform their peers. Employees perform best when they feel valued, empowered and respected by their employers. 

For people on the autism spectrum, it’s not only important to be hired, but also to be understood. Many autistic people have above-average cognitive skills but unfortunately may choose to “camouflage” any social or communication difficulties in an effort to fit in socially at work. The cognitive skills common with autistic employees include distinctive logical and analytical abilities, sustained concentration and perseverance, an exceptional eye for detail and potential errors, amongst others. Typical workplaces, however, can often produce barriers for autistic people, resulting in unduly high unemployment rates. Some of these workplace challenges include:

  • the sensory environment (e.g. sensibility for noise and/or light)
  • vague or ambiguous communication
  • small talk, and requirements about “connecting” with colleagues and/or the wider team (e.g. joining team activities like lunch or birthday parties)

To bring out the best in our employees and to make us feel at ease, we support our neurodiverse teams from two angles: We have our own in-house job coaches and project managers. Our job coaches support our IT consultants from a social and communication angle, whereas our project managers support our IT consultants from the technical angle and also mentor their professional development.

“auticon enables me to work the way I want to work,” says auticon IT Consultant Martin Neumann. “I can fully focus on the quality of my work and don’t have to worry about those factors that may stop me from doing an excellent job. The best thing about working for auticon is that I can do what I’m good at.” 

David Reeve is global chief marketing officer for auticon, an award-winning social enterprise that builds careers for autistic adults in technology. Reeve is a 20-year veteran of digital marketing, corporate communications, design and brand development. His career experience draws from many sectors, including IT staffing, SaaS, aerospace, entertainment and advertising working at companies ranging from start-ups to such high-profile corporations as Universal Pictures.

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