Employing neurodiverse talent canÂ provide a competitive advantage,Â but this segment of the workforceÂ requires special considerations.
By Simon Kent
Many organisations look to embrace different thinkingÂ as a means to attain a competitive edge. Indeed, techÂ giant Appleâs whole branding strategy at one point wasÂ âThink Different.â Today, that mantra has taken on a newÂ meaning as businesses begin to view neurodiversity asÂ the next stop on their diversity and inclusion agenda.
Alan Price, chief operating officer at global employmentÂ law consultancy Peninsula, explains that the termÂ âneurodiversityâ recognises several neurologicalÂ conditions, such as autism, dyslexia, and attention deficitÂ hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). A business that is open toÂ these types of diverse employees can secure a number ofÂ advantages.
âNeurodiversity can cause certain individuals to haveÂ higher levels of innovation, have the ability able toÂ think creatively or more laterally than others, to analyseÂ strategically, and to develop highly specialised skills,âÂ explains Price.
Dr. Jill Miller, diversity and inclusion adviser at the CIPD,Â agrees. âAlternative thinking styles, such as dyslexia,Â dyspraxia, ADHD, and autism, can be associatedÂ with unique strengths that are sought after by manyÂ employers,â she says. âFor example, an ability to spotÂ patterns and trends, being able to process information atÂ high speed, and data-driven thinking.â
For brand growth specialist MediaCom, developing andÂ supporting a highly diverse workforce has helped theÂ business deliver to its clients. âOur whole purpose is toÂ connect clients with customers, so our workforce shouldÂ be representative of our whole audience,â says ElaineÂ Bremner, chief HR and talent officer. âIt makes us betterÂ placed to connect with everyone.âÂ Bremner notes that as MediaComâs business sector hasÂ become more data-driven and information-rich, the talentÂ the company requires needs to be able to tap into andÂ understand that data as well as bring a level of creativityÂ and innovation to each project. Neurodiversity offers aÂ window into a wider talent pool where candidates withÂ these capabilities can be found.
From recruitment to ongoing employment, Bremner lists aÂ number of interventions MediaCom implements to ensureÂ neurodiverse talent is valued and supported.
- Candidates are selected for their passion rather thanÂ education or CV contents. Incidents such as CV typos doÂ not automatically screen individuals out.
- Candidates are given complete details on what theirÂ recruitment process will entail, who they will meet, whereÂ and when it will happen, and what will be discussed.
- The company has even created a virtual realityÂ experience covering the journey from the tube station toÂ the office, thereby avoiding pre-arrival confusion.
Price explains why this kind of forward preparationÂ is important for supporting neurodiverse talent. âAsÂ neurodiversity affects the brain and its interpretationÂ of information, this can have a significant impact onÂ how an individual interprets communication, physicalÂ contact, and sight,â he says. âThese are all critical parts ofÂ the workplace and the working environment, meaningÂ an individual in this position may struggle at work andÂ present challenges for their employer.â
Making information available and ensuring the individualÂ fully understands what is going to happen, how, andÂ why, means these challenges can be mitigated.Â Such forward preparation is also in evidence duringÂ everyday work at Fujitsu. With an awareness that someÂ neurodiverse employees may find it difficult to contributeÂ to meetings if they donât know whatâs going to happen,Â background materials and agendas are shared in advance.
Social Support for Neurodiverse Talent
Fujitsu HR Consultant Karen Thomson says her companyâone of the first to sign up for the Valuable 500 initiativeÂ launched by Caroline Casey at Davos this yearâhas createdÂ an âAllies Guideâ which empowers all staff to take theÂ initiative in supporting neurodiversity and supports themÂ in calling out negative practices when they occur.
With a strong Disability Employment NetworkÂ operating across the organisation, raising awarenessÂ and introducing initiatives to make the workplace moreÂ inclusive, the business has also launched an app calledÂ âBuddy Connect,â which pairs new joiners with anÂ existing employee. The app enables the new employee toÂ indicate to their buddy how their day is going and if theyÂ need additional support at any time. The relationship isÂ therefore separate from their line manager, giving theÂ employee the assurance that someone in the business isÂ ready to help them whatever the circumstances.
Fujitsu has also introduced reverse mentoring betweenÂ neurodiverse talent and senior leadership. âWithÂ any diverse teamâdisability, ethnic, or religiousÂ backgroundâthe environment theyâre walking into, theÂ environment of their colleagues and leaders, has to beÂ inclusive for it to work,â says Thomson. âUltimately, it isÂ everyoneâs responsibility to support neurodiverse talentÂ in the organisation.â
The CIPDâs Dr. Miller confirms that success inÂ neurodiversity requires appropriate actions from theÂ businessâ leaders. âDo they make the effort to get toÂ know their team members, understand their strengthsÂ and what they find more challenging, and ask them ifÂ there is anything that would enable them to performÂ better at work?â she asks.
Measuring the presence and performance ofÂ neurodiverse talent in organisations is still somethingÂ that employers are developing. Recording the status andÂ experience of this talent is sometimes complicated byÂ the nature of their disability and how much informationÂ the individual wishes to share with their employer. ThatÂ said, both Fujitsu and MediaCom are on the road toÂ monitoring this aspect of their workforce in the future.
Even without exact data, these types of initiatives haveÂ already had a positive impact on how neurodiverseÂ employees are viewed in the workplace. As Dr. MillerÂ explains, âThe conversation around neurodiversityÂ used to be focused on what people canât do. ButÂ forward-thinking employers are realising the talentÂ theyâre missing out on and are focusing instead on theÂ strengths people bring to their organisation and theÂ adjustments that they can easily make.â