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How to hire more neurodiverse talent

17th Mar 2022
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It’s no secret that some of the most successful business leaders in the world are neurodiverse, and even credit their success to their neurodivergence. Virgin’s Richard Branson says of his dyslexia: “I simply wouldn’t be where I am today if I wasn’t dyslexic. In the real world, dyslexia can be a huge advantage. Many people with dyslexia have great imaginations, creativity and problem-solving skills.” And Ingvar Kamprad, founder and chairman of IKEA, famously adapted the inner workings of his business to accommodate his ADHD.

Many global organisations have already launched programmes to hire and advance neurodiverse talent, such as Goldman Sachs’ ‘Neurodiversity Hiring Initiative’ and JPMorgan Chase’s ‘Autism at Work’ programme. But even so, neurodivergent people are still significantly underrepresented in the UK workforce, with ONS data showing that just 22% of autistic adults in the UK are employed.

“Neurodiversity is a dimension of diversity that’s poorly understood,” says consultant Jennifer Brown. Indeed, employers tend to focus on the perceived challenges of incorporating neurodiverse people into the workforce, rather than acknowledging the unique abilities, talents and skills that many neurodivergent people can bring to a job. Autistic people can have extraordinary powers of pattern recognition; people with ADHD can have the ability to maintain a deep focus; and many dyslexics have extraordinary spatial reasoning and visual imagination.

So, how can employers embrace everything neurodiverse talent has to offer and empower them to get the jobs and advancements they deserve?

How to hire more neurodivergent talent

The first step to welcoming more neurodiverse people to your workforce is simple: make them feel welcome and psychologically safe at work. Harvard professor Amy Edmondson defines psychological safety as “a shared belief that I can bring my full self to work, that I will not be humiliated or made to feel less good about myself if I speak up with ideas, with questions, with concerns, and yes, even with mistakes.”

Feeling psychologically safe at works means being able to be our authentic, whole selves at work, without fear of recrimination. The power of this welcoming, inclusive environment is not to be underestimated. Gallup found that having a psychologically safe workplace leads to a 27% reduction in employee turnover, 40% reduction in safety incidents and a 12% increase in productivity – amongst all employees.

This environment must also encompass the entire time an employee interacts with a company, from the hiring process onwards. Companies like IBM, with its neurodiversity hiring programme, are already taking steps to enable applicants to fully demonstrate their abilities during their candidacy. IBM hires for skills, and its neurodiversity hiring programme enables it to fill skills gaps in the company’s workforce of about 250,000, by being accommodating for all candidates. If a candidate discloses they need extended time on a test, for example, they can request a success enabler to help remove any bias in connection with hiring.

How to help neurodivergent employees be successful

As well as ensuring neurodiverse talent feel welcome, included and safe at work, it’s also important to consider the different ways to help them succeed – and this doesn’t mean trying to neutralise their differences or expecting them to work in the same way as everyone else. It’s about accommodating their strengths and unique abilities, and finding ways to make them shine.

This can be something as simple as providing neurodiverse workers with noise-cancelling headphones when they’re in the office, as some are more productive and happier when they don’t have the distractions of office comings and goings. It could also be ensuring that they have access to the likes of Slack or Microsoft Teams Messenger where they can interact online with their peers, rather than face to face, if that’s more comfortable for them.

It's important to ask each neurodiverse individual what would make work better for them, so that each unique skill is allowed to grow in the best way. Also, reach out to experts in the neurodiverse field who can provide answers on how you can best meet the needs of all your employees. Neurodiversity Hub also offers a directory of resources for employers.

There’s still more to be done

As with all employees, ensuring neurodiverse people are happy, productive and engaged at work is an ongoing process, so having the support in place to help them through all parts of their journey at a company is a must.

IBM, for example, offers neurodiversity acceptance training to all employees in multiple countries and languages.  Continuous Performance Development and regular check-ins are also another way to ensure all employees are on track and are happy at work. Indeed, checking in with employees on a regular basis, rather than just once a year can have a huge impact on their engagement and productivity, as managers are always able to keep an eye on how employees are doing, both from a productivity and personal perspective.

Social recognition programmes – in which all employees can recognise each other’s hard work from a central platform – are also a great leveller, encouraging everyone to show their gratitude for one another. Merck’s user-friendly global recognition programme, INSPIRE, for example, makes it easy for employees across 85 countries to both give points and recognise each other, as well as redeem for gift cards and merchandise. It has so far seen 400,000 recognition moments, with 72% of those between peers.

A human workplace

Neurodiverse people have a huge amount of untapped potential that employers are only just beginning to recognise the value of, but now is the time to empower all people, to have respect for all, and to understand their unique contributions and skills are what make a workplace great. They’re what make a workplace human.

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