THE BENEFITS OF A NEURODIVERSE TECH TEAM IN THE WORKPLACE
Research highlights strengths and skills associated with neurominorities, such as ADHD, dyslexia, autism, and more. Assumptions about neurodiversity often overlook people's experiences and abilities. The tech industry is beginning to acknowledge the advantages of a neurodiverse workforce. Unfortunately, employment opportunities for neurominorities are often filled with challenges rather than prospects.
The tech industry is only now realizing the benefits of embracing neurodiversity, which is surprising given the remarkable minds throughout history associated with conditions like autism and Asperger's syndrome. From Alan Turing and Albert Einstein to Isaac Newton and Elon Musk, these brilliant individuals exemplify neurodivergence.
WHAT IS NEURODIVERISTY?
Neurodiversity, a term coined by Judy Singer an autistic sociologist and author, refers to the different ways the brain can work and interpret information. Singer describes it as recognising the uniqueness of every living being and the distinctiveness of each human mind-body complex.
Everyone has different interests and motivations. Some people are naturally better at some things and struggle with others. A neurodivergent brain typically has a ‘spiky’ cognitive profile, meaning there can be significant variations between these areas of strengths and weaknesses. A neurotypical brain has a much flatter cognitive profile in comparison.
Approximately one in eight people are considered neurodivergent, but many are unaware of it. While autism is often used interchangeably with neurodiverse/neurodivergent, neurodiversity encompasses a range of conditions, some well-known and others less recognized.
THE DANGERS OF STEREOTYPING NEURODIVERGENT PEOPLE
In a 2016 study, The National Institute of Economic and Social Research explained that there is a “propensity for neurodivergent individuals to be stereotyped according to the more well-known characteristics of their condition."
Assumptions based on well-known characteristics of these conditions can undermine the whole person, disregarding their valuable experiences and skills. While acknowledging the challenges neurodivergent individuals face, creating an environment that allows them to leverage their strengths can provide a competitive advantage. Climate activist Greta Thunberg, for instance, refers to her autism diagnosis as a "superpower".
WHAT SKILLS CAN NEURODIVERGENT PEOPLE BRING TO THE WORKFORCE, PARTICULARLY IN TECH?
An inclusive workforce celebrates the differences between employees. It recognises the benefit of balanced teams, including a blend of ‘specialist’ and ‘generalist’ thinkers. Research reveals that there is evidence of specific strengths and skills associated with neurodiverse conditions.
Within the world of tech, focus, creativity and analytical talents could help leaders address a range of existing skills gaps and widen their talent pool:
• Autism: logical thinking, strong ability to focus and concentrate for long periods of time, ability to assimilate and retain detailed information, attention to detail, reliable, dedicated and loyal
• ADHD: high energy levels, hyper-focus, highly creative and inventive, behaving spontaneously, entrepreneurship
• Dyslexia: Very good “on the front line”, inventive and creative, established link with entrepreneurship, ability to see the big picture (‘out-of-the-box thinking’), visually manipulating 3D images, pattern spotting and working with complex data sets
• Dyspraxia: High verbal abilities, strategic thinking and problem solving, strong episodic memories, highly motivated, determined and a hardworking ethos
Skills Development Scotland also identified a range of positive traits linked to neurodiverse conditions that can benefit any business looking to recruit tech talent. These include:
• Creativity and innovatione
• High levels of concentration and the ability to work on repetitive tasks
• Methodical and focused on details
• Pattern recognition and identifying anomalies
• Investigative nature and inquisitive mindset
• Understanding rules and sequences
THE BENEFITS NEURODIVERSE EMPLOYEES BRING TO YOUR WIDER BUSINESS
While addressing the tech skills gaps is important, a neurodiverse workforce can also drive:
• Innovation: Dyslexic people are more likely to have stronger analytical thinking skills than others. Another study revealed Autistic people can display higher levels of creativity. Further research also revealed that Dyslexic or Dyspraxic people are better at ' thinking outside of the box’. As explained in this Harvard Business Review piece: “Because neurodivergent people are wired differently from ‘neurotypical’ people, they may bring new perspectives to a company’s efforts to create or recognize value.”
• Customer Experience: One study revealed that, contrary to stereotypical views, Autistic people can often be deeply empathetic. For a tech company, this could help you better understand your customer base and deliver innovative and meaningful products and services.
• Employee engagement: Softwarehouse SAP reports employee engagement has risen in areas that its neurodiversity programmes come into contact with.
• Productivity: Six months into the JPMorgan Chase’s Autism at Work programme, the Autism at Work employees were 48% faster and 92% more productive, compared to their peers. In addition, EY’s neurodiversity programme identified process improvements with its scheme. In the first month, the time taken by neurodiverse staff to complete its technical training programs had been cut in half. “They learned how to automate processes far faster than the neurotypical account professionals they trained with. They then used the resulting downtime to create training videos to help all professionals learn automation more quickly,” the report states.
THE BENEFITS OF A BALANCED TEAM
The tech industry is now recognising the benefits of having a diverse workforce and the unique range of skillsets and experience it offers. It is working hard to encourage diversity in any form, and things are starting to change. But change – across any demographic – is a long game. .
As Dr Doyle comments: “Allowing for difference means showing respect and understanding that different ways of doing things aren’t lesser.”
Follow this link as James Milligan, Global Head of Hays Technology, explains how tech companies can adjust their recruitment processes to hire a neurodiverse workforce.