In a survey conducted by the UK-based Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, 72% of HR professionals said neurodiversity wasn’t included in their people management practices, and 17% said they didn’t know if it was included. This untapped talent market exists mainly due to a lack of awareness and understanding of neurodiversity.
To learn more, Gartner Senior Content Marketing Manager Kasey Panetta interviewed Rob O'Donohue, Senior Director Analyst, Gartner, on neurodiversity and neurodiverse talent for our ThinkCast podcast. The transcript that follows has been edited for clarity and length.
Download now: How to Support Workforce Diversity Initiatives
What exactly is neurodiversity?
There is a lot of confusion around the terminology. It is effectively a concept that refers to the neurological differences that are recognized and respected as any other human variation. These differences include labels like bipolar disorder, dyspraxia, dyslexia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and Tourette syndrome.
Neurodiversity itself is not a trait that an individual possesses. When we talk about diversity, we should not say that an individual is diverse. It’s typically a group, team or organization that is diverse. Individuals can be divergent, or neurodivergent if they fall under these labels — the opposite of which is neurotypical.
How can neurodiverse talent strengthen a workforce?
Neurodivergent candidates are wired to think out of the box and gifted in skills that are essential for digital success. For example, people with ADHD have exceptional focus and problem-solving abilities. Similarly, autistic people are meticulous and have higher analytical thinking.
By encouraging neurodiversity, organizations can reap huge benefits in terms of innovation, creativity and diversity of thought. It can also have a positive impact on neurotypical employees by enabling them to grow and prosper in varied ways.
CIOs can take examples of organizations that are running neurodiversity programs and achieving massive productivity gains by hiring neurodivergent individuals for roles related to quality assurance, testing and data analytics.
How can organizations change the recruitment process to hire neurodiverse talent?
There is a huge talent pool of highly qualified neurodiverse individuals, but they are often filtered out in the initial stages of the recruitment process. Neurodivergent individuals may not have the skills to manage people or be excellent communicators, and when they see such skills as a requirement for technical roles, they opt out.
IT and HR leaders need to rethink how they design specific profiles. If soft skills aren’t crucial for the success of a technical role, then it’s better not to mention them in the job description.
The interview process can also be tweaked to create an amicable environment for neurodivergent candidates. The interviewer can allow additional time before and after the interview to let candidates settle down and have the best opportunity to showcase their technical know-how and communication skills. In addition to this, an external job coach can prepare [candidates] for the interview and provide support during the acquisition process — and even after that.
What are good ways to create an inclusive environment for neurodiverse candidates?
It is so important to raise awareness among neurotypical employees regarding the do’s and don’ts of communicating with neurodiverse employees. Managers and team members need to have some training in advance to get the best out of neurodivergent individuals.
You can also see inclusion from the perspective of physical accommodation in the office space. From the research, we have seen that neurodiverse people are sensitive to noise, smell, light and crowded areas. Therefore, having their workstations in dimly lit and less-congested areas of the office can enhance their productivity. Organizations can also provide noise-canceling headphones to create a distraction-free workspace for their neurodiverse employees.
What are the do’s and don’ts when communicating with neurodiverse candidates?
Managers and team members should be clear, concise, and complete when communicating with a neurodiverse individual. They should be specific about who needs to do what by when and avoid asking open-ended questions. Also, it’s better to use literal expressions instead of metaphors or ambiguous messages.
Listen now: Why You Need Neurodiverse Talent
What accommodations do neurodiverse candidates need in a remote work environment?
In many ways, the shift to remote work or a hybrid organization is favorable for neurodiverse candidates, as they can work in the comfortable setting of home. As they don’t have to experience the physical or spatial distractions of a traditional office, they can [more] productively execute their tasks.
CIOs stand to gain several benefits from neurodivergent individuals if a holistic approach is implemented purposefully from the beginning. Not only can the new employees increase productivity, but their different approach to problem solving and business challenges can help evolve the culture of the organization.