Author: Andrea Swanepoel
Despite companies’ increasing focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace, the neurodivergent group is often overlooked and consequently under-represented in selection efforts. As a result, these individuals often experience higher rates of unemployment compared to the general population.
In the United States, it is estimated that 85% of people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are unemployed, compared to 4% of the overall population. The lack of awareness of this kind of diversity could result in managers and recruitment professionals not understanding the unique requirements of this population of workers (Mahto et al., 2022).
The neurodiverse population remains a largely untapped talent pool. Many people with these conditions have higher-than-average abilities; research shows that some conditions, including ASD and dyslexia can bestow special skills in pattern recognition, memory, or mathematics. Yet those affected often struggle to fit the profiles sought by prospective employers (Austin & Pisano, 2023).
The Information Technology industry seems to be a great fit for the neurodiverse population. Areas such as data analytics, software testing, business analytics, cybersecurity, and IT services implementation, whose tasks are a good match with the abilities of some neurodiverse people. Companies like Microsoft, Deloitte, IBM, and Dell Technologies have reformed their human resource processes to access the neurodiverse talent. Hewlett Packard Enterprise’s (HPE) neurodiversity programme has, over the past two years placed more than 30 participants in software-testing roles at Australia’s Department of Human Services. Preliminary results suggest that the neurodiverse testing teams are 30% more productive than the neurotypical team (Austin & Pisano, 2023). Inspired by this success, the Australian Defence Department in conjunction with HPE would like to develop their own neurodiversity programme in cybersecurity. These individuals, primarily on the autism spectrum will use their superior pattern-detection abilities in tasks to examine sources of messy data for signs of intrusion or attack.
The neurodiverse population is also skilled at innovation. In recent decades the ability to compete based on innovation has become more crucial for many companies. Innovation calls on companies to include people who see things differently and who maybe don’t fit in seamlessly (Austin & Pisano, 2023).
Some business leaders have openly talked about being neurodivergent. John Chambers, Cisco's former Chief Executive Officer mentions that 25% of CEO's are dyslexic but don't want to talk about it (Mahto et al., 2022). Research from The Institute of Leadership & Management has revealed that 50% of leaders and managers participating in the survey would not employ a neurodiverse person, despite an estimated 1 in 7 people being neurodiverse. Various reasons for this were provided:
• Lack of understanding and awareness of neurodiverse people in the workplace.
• A perception that neurodiverse individuals require additional supervision.
• Neurodiverse individuals cannot work independently.
• They are less capable and would cost the company more.
Other findings from this study include:
• Dyscalculia is the least understood form of neurodivergence.
• The most negative impressions were about people with ADHD/ADD and/or Tourette Syndrome.
• The most well-known and least discriminated against is dyslexia.
• Policies and procedures rarely address neurodiversity.
• Only 20% of companies provide training for their employees to understand neurodiversity.
• Neurominorities are uncomfortable sharing their conditions and asking for reasonable adjustments.
From this study, it seems clear that there are significant levels of subconscious bias against the neurodiverse population as well as a misunderstanding of their potentially valuable contribution (The Institute of Leadership and Management, 2020).
Companies are starting to recognise the potential of this untapped talent pool. When they start to ask us what do we suggest - are we as psychological practitioners ready for this challenge? Are we ready to assess and help build a more diverse and inclusive workforce?
Austin, R. D., & Pisano, G. P. (2017, May 31). Neurodiversity as a competitive advantage. Why you should embrace it in your workforce. Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2017/05/neurodiversity-as-a-competitive-advantage
Mahto, M., Hogan, S. K., Hatfield, S., & Sniderman, B. (2022, January 18). A rising tide lifts all boats: Creating a better work environment for all by embracing neurodiversity. Deloitte Insights. https://www2.deloitte.com/us/en/insights/topics/talent/neurodiversity-in-the-workplace.html
The Institute of Leadership and Management. (2020, October 28). Workplace neurodiversity: The power of difference. https://www.institutelm.com/resourceLibrary/workplace-neurodiversity-the-power-of-difference.html